Before the Job Comes the Internship

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 9, 2006

You weren't planning to spend your whole life on your parents' couch, were you?

Well, you probably shouldn't spend this summer there, either. If you want a good job after you graduate, you need an internship, and you need to find one soon.

To help get you motivated, I called Fran Quittel, aka the Career Babe. She's the author of "The IT Career Guide" for new graduates. An internship, she says, is a bridge between school and a real job. "It's a chance to learn and practice the skills you need to get someone to pay you to work for them."

Here's a condensed version of what she had to say about how to get -- and thrive at -- a great summer internship.

Q: So how does someone find an internship? What are some good places to look?

A: Everywhere! Ninety-nine percent of the time, opportunities come from networking and serendipity -- you just have to step outside the house. Students often go to their career centers when looking for internships, but they should also stop by the alum center. Find grads who are in your field, or who live in the area where you want to work, and call them up. Tell them who you are, how you found them and what you're looking for. Don't assume they are just going to hang up on you. They probably won't. The phone is the best.

What kind of tasks can an intern expect to do?

All sorts of things. They may send you to meetings. They may hand you a list of 100 people to cold-call. Whatever it is, do it. Cheerfully.

Most important, though, find someone who will help you learn to market yourself. The most important skill is to be able to package yourself. You'll need that no matter what field you wind up in. I recommend that every student take at least one sales internship. It'll help make you fearless.

How can students tell a good internship from a bad one? What should they look for in an interview or an offer?

Find someone who is interested in you, a person who can help you build your network. Ideally, they will let you help with a specific project. Look for someone who is willing to make you do something difficult, something outside of your comfort zone.

Big companies aren't always better than little ones. A company like Microsoft has tremendous resources, of course, but that won't matter if you get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes, just working for an independent consultant can be the best internship.

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