A Complete Guide to Internships

By Derrick Dortch
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 12, 2003; 4:00 PM

If you want a great job after college you must do more than earn good grades and get involved in extracurricular activities. Good grades and extracurricular activities are looked upon favorably by employers but they are not enough. According to the 2001 Job Outlook Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers say that the perfect candidate is a graduate who brings relevant work experience to the table. This experience is mostly gained through internships.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with information on internships and give you a starting strategy to get one.

What Is an Internship?

An internship is a structured learning experience in a work setting that gives a student the opportunity to learn about a career interest and gain valuable knowledge and experience in a particular field. In an internship, you work just like an employee but your purpose is to receive mentorship, supervision, and training. Internships are designed to assist students in the career exploration process to determine if that career matches their interests and skills.

Are Internships Important?

Internships are very important to a college student preparing for the world of work. It should be seen as an integral part of your academics. To get this relevant experience, students should intern with employers who are doing the kind of work they are interested in pursuing after college. Here are a few reasons why internships are so important.

•Test your skills and interests.
• Provide insight into prerequisites needed for employment.
• Develop a network of professional contacts for future opportunities and references.
• Increase your awareness of the skills you need to develop.
• Provide valuable work experience such as workplace communication skills.
• Build a strong resume.

How Early Should I Begin Planning for an Internship?

Plan your internship as soon as possible. If you are able to intern your freshman year that is great but it should be a priority for your sophomore and junior years. Take your first semester in college and get acclimated but after you are settled, consider talking to your career center about internships and how to develop an internship search strategy. Even if you are not sure what you want to do, exploring various fields will help you decide on what career match your interests, passions, and goals.

When Are Internships Available?

The majority of internships take place in the summer but many are available year around. In Washington D.C. and other major cities, companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations will have interns working during the fall, spring, and summer semester.

How Early Should I Begin Applying?

Application deadlines vary from organization to organization. Summer internship positions in large organizations or very competitive internship programs sometimes have deadlines as early as October, November, or December. Others will have deadlines in February, March, or April. It all depends on the organization and their hiring process. During the beginning of the fall semester or even at the end of the summer begin planning where you want to intern in the summer. Check with the organization(s) about the application procedure and deadline. Remember proper planning and preparation are key to getting the internship you want.

How Many Hours Should I Work at an Internship?

Summer internships can be full or part-time positions depending on the organization. If you decide to intern during the fall and spring semesters, it is recommended that you work 10 - 15 hours a week maximum. Remember that your academic studies are a priority. Exceeding 15 hours at an internship during the semester/quarter is not recommended unless your class load is light and flexible.

Are Internships Paid or Unpaid?

Summer internships can be paid or unpaid depending on the organization and career field. The majority of summer internships are paid. If a summer internship is unpaid they may only require you to work part-time so that you will be able to get another job. Internships during the academic semester/quarter many times are unpaid but there are a few organizations where interns are paid. Some organizations will pay for travel to and from work so make sure you discuss this with the internship provider before accepting a position.

Do I Need to Do Anything Before Looking for an Internship?

Whether you are just beginning your career exploration process or if you're a veteran, there are some steps that are always helpful to follow. This process should begin with a self-assessment. Evaluate your interests, skills, and passions. Select the career fields that match you the best.

Where Do I Find Internships?

Your career center. The staff and resources of your college/university career center are available to help you find an internship. There are private career consultations and workshops. Most career centers also have a library and Web site with a number of books and online resources to help you find an internship. Career centers usually maintain internship opportunity listings online or in their resource area.

The Internet. Use the search engines on the Web and see what you discover.

Company Web sites. Most companies will list internships, summer opportunities and special programs in the employment or career opportunities section of their Web site. Look for Career Employment/Opportunities on the home page. This link is sometimes on the home page but if it cannot be found look in the site index, contact us, about us or search sections of the Web site.

Online internship listing services. There are a number of online internship search engines available for you to conduct your search.

Career books. There are a number of books published on internship opportunities. Two of the most popular are "The Internship Bible" published by The Princeton Review and "Peterson's Yearly Internship Book" published by Thomson Learning. Libraries and bookstores usually have a good selection of books on internships. Also online bookstores like Amazon.com are good resources as well.

Newspapers. Look in the employment section of newspapers. If you see a full time listing that interests you, contact that company and see if there are any internships available. Every spring, The Washington Post runs a section in the employment guide of internship listings.

Career fairs. Each university will usually have an annual career fair with companies, organizations and agencies looking for interns. Talk to your career center and find out when the career fair will be held and how to prepare it.

Alumni. Alumni can be a great resource for information on internship opportunities in their career field or place of employment. Contact Alumni Affairs/Relations office for alumni contacts in your field(s) of interest.

Network contacts. Networking is very important in your career development. Joining associations and attending professional events and job fairs will help you build your network. Use contacts to learn about opportunities that are available in your field of interest. Each career area has at least one association and newspaper or journal. Associations for various industry sectors and career fields (i.e. American Management Association, American Medical Association, etc.) may have internship listings in their publications or Web sites. Check out AssociationCentral.org for a directory of associations listed by industry or career field.

Professors/Professional staff. Many professors or professional staff will have contacts outside the university in organizations of interest. At many colleges and universities, a good number of professors are adjunct and maintain a professional job outside of teaching. They may have internships at their place of employment or know of organizations in need of interns. Talking with them about your interests may yield great contacts and opportunities.

Parents, family, and friends. Share your career interests with your parents, family member and friends. They may know of a contact who can help you get an internship in that area of interest.

Develop your own internship. You may know of a contact in a career field of interest. Talk with them about an internship in their place of employment.

Explore each of these options carefully and you will find that there are a number of internships available. Although there may be many opportunities remember there are many college students like you working to get the internship. Make sure you waste no time in sending out your sales package to assure your candidacy. Now you know where you want to intern, go for it!

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