Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Finding Your (Nearly) Perfect Internship

With so many advice about finding your dream internship floating around the web, I wanted to share my own experiences and why I think there's no way you can or should start out with a "dream" internship.  

Be Realistic.  

If you've only ever worked as a fast food cashier, chances are you're not going to swoop in and get a fashion marketing position in NYC.  Understand that you'll need to start somewhere, so start interning early (think freshman year of college) in whatever position you can get good, related experience.  

Perhaps most importantly, do NOT get hung up on the job title.  One of my best "internships" was as a student assistant in the Tennessee 4-H Office.  My boss, after seeing how driven I was, agreed to let me build a social media outreach program for the entire state.  Once he saw how successful it was, he even took my work across the state and trained local employees on the same techniques I had taught him.  All that from what looked like a summer secretarial job!  

Gain Experience by Looking Outside the Box 

Not every internship is going to be packaged into a nice little paid position and advertised on every major outlet.  To give yourself a little direction, try what I did: 

1. Define your end goal.  As a freshman mine was to work in fashion marketing
2. Outline the qualifications you already have.  Mine were working in retail and winning numerous awards from DECA (a marketing association for high school students) and 4-H (a youth development).
3. Make a list of local companies that are related to your end goal.  For me this was shopping malls and boutiques.
4. Reach out to the companies on your list and ask for the opportunity to gain experience.  This might mean a regular part/full time job, job shadowing, or, ideally, an internship.  Thanks to this (and some help from my school's career counselor) I got a retail marketing internship with Simon Malls in my hometown (which later opened the door for other great opportunities!)

After Building up Your RĂ©sume, Focus on those "Dream" Jobs.  

Once I had several local internships under my belt, I made a personal goal to spend the summer before my senior year interning with a recognizable company in a major city.  Armed with experience, great recommendation letters, and a beefed up online presence, I applied to about 50 positions all over the country and received five phone interviews, three in-person interviews, and three final offers.  I included both "reach" and "fit" positions and refused to apply to anything that I wasn't going to love and learn from.  

Who you know and how well you know the organization definitely matters, so consider looking to regional or national offices for companies you've worked for in the past.  

Understand that No Internship is Going to be Perfect.  

While it's definitely cool to work for a big name company in a great city, I've learned from both my experiences and those of my friends that no internship is perfect.  Every job is going to have it's challenges and obstacles, and all of us are going to have days on the job that we'd rather not be there.  

However, choosing to learn from those times will ultimately make you a better employee and more well-rounded person.

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