Written by: Helen Fang (guest student blogger)
It’s February, and if you’re anything like me, it’s been pretty hard to think about summer internships when everything is still buried in a least a foot of snow. Except that so many of my friends already have their summers lined up…
Since this is my third year going through the process, and a lot of my experiences have been ones I’ve created for myself with companies that didn’t even have positions originally / had something different in mind for their intern, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Figure out what you want
I know this is super broad and sometimes the hardest question to answer, but it helps to at least have some idea of what you’re looking for. You don’t have to have a specific internship in mind! Thinking about general areas can help a lot, too. For last summer, I started my search with literally the criteria of “I want to go somewhere far away and do something meaningful that’s EXCITING.”
I have friends who have narrowed it down by area of the world (ex: I’ve always wanted to go to Europe!), and friends who have targeted specific companies they wanted to work for. Anything goes — just try and make some sort of list of what would be important to you.
For example: Do you want to go to a foreign country or stay in the USA? Do you want an internship or a study abroad program? Work for a big company or at a startup? Is there a particular area you’re passionate about (education — technology — environmental)? Is there a specific industry you want to work in (consulting — nonprofit — programming — journalism)? Or even being able to figure out if there’s something you definitely don’t want to do.
And keep in mind - this isn’t a “set” list that you need to stick to - it’ll just give you somewhere to start, which is often the hardest part. It’ll probably change as you start applying places and talking to people, and that’s great. Staying open to a lot of different possibilities is often how you get the coolest and most rewarding experiences.
2. Use your obvious resources…
A great place to start your search is with your University’s career services. Most schools have some sort of database of summer internship opportunities, which can be a great place to start looking. You’ll definitely come upon some that sound exciting that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own.
You should also schedule an appointment with the career counselors at your undergraduate career services. They can be really helpful in helping you start your search, or even just helping you learn to navigate your school’s career website, and can often point you to things you missed. If you have specific interests, they will also probably be able to suggest people you can talk to or companies you can apply to. It’s literally their job to help you with this - so utilize them!
3. …but don’t feel limited by them
Career services are only a starting point. There are a lot of places you can discover on your own, and oftentimes what you really want for your summer won’t necessarily be something that will be listed on your school’s career website…which brings me to my next point:
4. TALK TO PEOPLE
The people you know are your best resource. If you don’t take ANYTHING else away from this blog post, please remember this. Think about it. (I’m not talking about knowing the CEO of the company you want to work for). You’re surrounded by upperclassmen / friends / family / professors. Ask around, see what they’ve done with their summers. Chances are, even if they don’t have something that fits your interests, they know someone who’s done something cool with their summer in the area you’re interested in.
Something that really surprised me when I first started looking is that people want to help you. They will go out of their way to help you — it’s exciting that you’re excited for your summer, it’s exciting that you’ve reached out to them, and they want to do everything they can. My school even has a database of alumni who work in different industries that are open to being contacted.
I was talking to someone about the possibility of taking an education internship in Kentucky for the summer, and at the end of our coffee chat it turned to conversation about our interests. I mentioned I loved soccer and he told me about a school in the area which had just started a soccer program and needed an assistant coach (I ended up getting to coach in the fall!!).
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want - they want you as much as you want them!
Last summer, I had committed to 6 weeks in London for study abroad, but found a fantastic nonprofit internship in a fishing village in Alaska after I had already decided on London! The dates were from July-August, but I contacted them and let them know how much I wanted to work there, and they were able to adjust the dates specifically for me - so I was able to spend half my summer (May-June) in Alaska and the other half in London.
I also had the chance last season to coach soccer at a high school, but it would mean having to quit my job at school and commit over 10 hours a week to coaching. I needed the income - so I talked to them about it, and they were able to give me a stipend for the season to partially offset my lost job.
And finally, I had read about a really cool running app (with over 300,000 users!) in PC Magazine, and saw that the owner had stated their greatest challenge was not having enough personnel at the time, I did some research and reached out to him to see if I could help, and ended up being able to blog for them during my summer in London!
6. And remember - the worst they can say is no
There will always be more opportunities and more chances out there, and even the people who say no might surprise you!
I interviewed for a position last summer and didn’t get it, but since it was in the same city in Alaska as I ended up working for, I gave a heads-up to the guy who interviewed me. He ended up meeting me once I got there to see what he could do to make sure I had a great summer outside of my internship. He ended up connecting me to the chance to volunteer at a summer music festival there, where I got free tickets to all the concerts and a private lesson from one of the world-famous cellists who was performing!
I hope these tips are helpful as you try to land YOUR perfect summer internship.
Helen Fang is currently a junior at Yale University “studying” Economics. Follow her on Twitter - @fang_helen.