It’s that time of year when college students need to land a summer internship and in a poor economic environment that’s no easy task. So what to do? I am using my college student daughter as an example (without her permission).
How To Land a Summer Internship
Step 1: Create Your LinkedIn Profile
You probably have a resume and draft cover letter ready to go? If not, get on that pronto. Use your career placement office for assistance! Convert your resume to your LinkedIn online resume. You will need a headshot for this and you’ll want it to look professional (as in “hire me”!). Spend time building up your connections!
Step 2: Identify the Specific People or Companies/Organizations That You Want to Work For
This can seem like an intimidating task so start small. Are there professors whose classes that you particularly enjoyed? Go to their office hours and express this. Let them know that you are looking for summer internships and would they help brainstorm how this class topic might translate to a real-world company or organization? Perhaps your profession has connections that she or he might point you to.
Think about the products and services that you personally buy and rave about. Research these companies, especially the small ones. Remember that they don’t have to be located in an area that you live in. Remote work is a thing now.
My daughter does all the photography for her company indigo clothing co. and has amassed a large collection of cameras and equipment. She was always on the search for the “perfect” camera bag because the right bag makes all the difference when she shoots on location. One bag was too heavy. One was too bulky. One just made everything inside disorganized. She finally found the perfect camera bag. She loved this bag so much.
The company, Brevite, was based in Boston where we live. The founder was an alum of Rhode Island School of Design where she was then a freshman. She contacted him via email and secured a phone call. She told him about her great love of his camera bags. The design! The materials! The weight! She asked about summer internships. She would work for free (she was so passionate about the company).
Here’s the thing. One of the co-founders, Brandon Lee, went to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where my daughter currently attends. He told her that the company was too small to have interns. They kept in touch. One year later, he called her to tell her that he needs interns and offered her a job. Sadly, my daughter thinks that she’s too busy to take the internship because…
She really wanted to work at MIT Media Lab. She asked me if I knew anyone there. Sadly, I did not. She researched to find professors that she could contact because she knew that RISD had a joint program in Industrial Design (her major) with MIT that she intended to take when she is a senior.
She found a professor there and contacted her. Gently hounded might also be another way to describe it. She explained how passionate she is about Adaptive Design (the focus of the professor’s work) and landed an internship this past month as a sophomore. I don’t know if it will translate to a summer internship but she’s very excited to be doing research to bring their product to market. It’s a neuro biofeedback device for ADHD.
Step 3: Apply for Summer Internships through the Career Center at Your College
My daughter went through the interviewing process for Urban Outfitters. Because she co-founded a clothing business, she could demonstrate an interest in their industry. The internship, however, is for Industrial Design. She landed a “shortlist” spot and was encouraged to apply immediately.
Timing is everything. My daughter is excited about Urban Outfitters but she thinks the summer internship is located in Philadelphia. If so, she will have to decline as she will be in Providence this summer to work on new business start-up.
Step 4: Identify What You Bring to the Table
As a college student, it’s understandable that you don’t have a lot of work experience or applicable skills to offer a company or organization, but you have more than you realize.
Social Media: think about how your social media presence and skills could apply to an organization. Is the company on all the right social media platforms? Are they using it to the fullest? What would you change or suggest? Have you used social media to achieve a goal such as promoting a student event?
Writing/Editing: All organizations need to communicate and you don’t necessarily need to be a communication major to demonstrate your writing chops. Create examples of your writing ability of what you might want to be doing. For example, edit a few pages of the company’s website. Perhaps you created flyers or social media posts for a student event.
Use your extracurriculars to draw marketable skills examples. Did you organize an event? Did you create a website? Did you write for a school newspaper or magazine? Did you take classes that gave you a rudimentary skill such as accounting or statistics? Did you learn to use a particular software package or machine?
My daughter acquired mad woodworking skills which she translated into a part-time job as a woodshop monitor. It also helped her land a TA (Teaching Assistant) position with her Industrial Design professor.
Step 4: Work for Free
Your summer internship doesn’t have to begin in the summer. See if you can convince the company or organization to give you a project that you can do for free while in college with the expectation that if you impress them, they will consider you for a paid summer internship. To get your foot in the door, as them about their point of pain. Where do they most need help? Offer to do this! For free!
You Are the Driver in this Expedition
My final advice is to take charge. It may seem like less work to find internship positions at your college’s career center and send out a pile of “cut-and-paste” cover letters and resumes. As someone who has interviewed over 1000 candidates, I would recommend the custom approach instead.
Just like your college supplemental essay application when you wrote “why this school,” you want to spend the time to convey “why this company or organization.” You also want to take the time to articulate WHAT COMPANY or ORGANIZATION you want to work and WHAT TYPE OF WORK you are seeking. This makes it easy to build your case of why you are the perfect candidate and what you bring to the table.
Many of us who hire recent college graduates and college students have been “ghosted.” We are gun shy and reject resumes that seem to be cut and pasted and shotgunned in. We like it when students have the wherewithal to get a position created for them. And honestly, there is a lot less competition for a job that doesn’t exist yet!
If you can articulate where you want to work and what you want to be doing, then others in your networks can help you with referrals. “I just want a summer internship” isn’t specific enough. It seems like you might take anything, then decide that you don’t actually like this, and disappear (perhaps even before the internship is over.). Nobody likes this.
Use your college career center for its many resources including diagnostics for what might be a good career fit, mock interviews, alumni databases, and more. Being a student means that you can reach out to alumni to ask for informational interviews.
Think creatively about who you can approach for networking: alumni from your hometown, alumni from organizations that you belong to such as fraternities and, sororities, alumni who played your varsity sport, your parents’ connections (search their LinkedIn and their email contact list), and your LinkedIn connections two or more degrees of separation.
You can also do a call out for help via email or your social media about specifically what you are looking for. For example, “Does anyone have contacts at a non-profit in education for a social media or marketing intern?”
If you need inspiration for jobs that you might be excited about, I suggest that you check out this nonfiction children’s book Incredible Jobs You’ve (probably) Never Heard Of.
Good luck on your career journey. You got this!
It might feel like we as, parents and guardians of our children, want to jump right in to help them in as they start the first step in their career path, but just like we didn’t always jump when they asked us to “help me with homework,” we should offer advice to empower them on this journey. Just like in school when there are other alternatives for homework assistance (peer tutors, ask your teacher, ask a friend, Kahn Academy video, etc.), these are ideas to help them on their way.
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