Why Traditional Internship Search Approaches Will Fail You
You have probably heard it a million times from everybody around you: “Get an internship.” The traditional internship search that many students will take involve reading a few emails from the career center on tips, searching through the school’s job posting site, visit an online job site like Indeed.com, pick out interesting internships that are paid, and then pray for the best.
This is the internship search format that you’ll hear from many career centers. The problem with listening to their recommended approach is that it’s a one-size-fits-all deal where thousands of other students are following the same advice and applying to the same jobs.
Some students will end up fine with this information but most of you will not be successful if you follow the cookie-cutter advice given to all college students.
To be honest, it’s not the career center’s fault for this. You can’t expect that a small group like that would be able to individually support thousands of students at once. As a student, you have to take matters into your own hands.
In this post, I want to share some common internship approaches that will likely fail you.
1. Joining a Campus Organization. While many career centers urge students to get involved in campus organizations as a boost to your employment odds. However, relying on membership in an organization to guarantee you a job is a stretch. Taking leadership roles do help you stand out but you have to make sure they are related to the job you are going into.
For the hundreds of thousands of non-traditional students out there, this isn’t even an option. Commuters do not live on campus and older students work during the day do not have time for evening meetings.
What many students should understand is that the experience and expertise that employers look for is not measured by how involved they are on campus. For example, I am a journalism major. I do not have time to get involved with my campus newspaper, but I have experience with freelancing for online publications and editors which has helped me build a great portfolio and experience.
2. Only Apply to the Perfect Internships: Many students only apply for a handful of internships that meet a strict list of criteria. A common belief is that you shouldn’t settle for anything less than your dream internship. This stubbornness backfires when none of those options work out. Many only apply for paid internships.
Don’t limit yourself to a shortlist of internships. Any experience is good experience and can help you work your way up to where you want to be if you are patient.
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and do an internship that is out of your current realm of knowledge. What you learn may help you stand out to future employers and can give you an extra skill set when you are finally interviewing for that dream job. Be flexible and open to any opportunity that provides relevant experience.
3. Focusing only on Paid Internships: Most students only apply for paid opportunities in their internship search, but a majority of valuable internships are unpaid. Many companies won’t have a budget for interns. You’ll especially run into many of these situations for fall and spring internships that occur during the school year.
Paid internships are often the most competitive to get and require other internship experience before you can even be considered. Believing that your grades and extracurricular activities are sufficient replacement for real experience is simply wrong.
Don’t be afraid to add unpaid internships to your list because the experience will serve to be invaluable later in. Not getting paid isn’t an excuse to slack off either. Remember to work as hard as you would if you were getting paid.
If you really need a paycheck you can still work in an unpaid internship. I personally know first-hand how overwhelming it can be to gain experience at an internship while supporting yourself with another job and going to school. If you are able, schedule your classes and internship to the weekdays and work weekends. It isn’t always easy, but getting your dream career will be worth it. Hard work pays off!
4. Creating a Resume with Only Relevant Experience: Career centers tell students to put only directly relevant information on resumes. For example, students who are applying for an accounting job would be directed to list accounting courses and experience with quantitative analysis but may be discouraged to include experience from about writing a blog. Irrelevant information is just a waste of space, right?
That’s not true. Any experience is better than having a blank resume, and many students don’t realize how you can connect seemingly unrelated experience to the position they are applying to.
One piece of advice that I remember from a recruiter at the Wall Street Journal is to use your cover letter and resume to tell your whole story instead of just what you think they want to hear. Your cover letter specifically can be used to give an employer a sense of who you are and your experiences, especially things that didn’t make it in your resume.
At the end of the day, this is the only thing that employers have that to go off of and you are selling yourself short if you don’t make the effort to work in all your experience. If we go back to the example above with the accounting position, you can pitch blogging experience as a skill to help write persuasive opinions and recaps on the financial statements that you’ll analyze as an accountant.
5. Relying Solely on an Internship Guide: Students that create resumes and job applications based on internship guides they read will create outputs that look identical to many other students. This makes it extremely hard to stand out if you don’t put additional effort into crafting your applications.
One area that students fail to focus on is keywords that should appear on their resume. They only include language and vocabulary listed in the internship guides instead of reading into the job requirements and using the key phrases that the recruiter will pick up on.
For example, as a journalism major, I have seen internship requirements say that I should be proficient in WordPress, social media, and writing. While I may also emphasize my communication and content management systems skills, I want to make sure I hit the fact that I have WordPress, social media, and writing skills because it doesn’t leave the recruiter guessing if I have the relevant skills.
Given that many resumes go through an automated screening process by computers before they reach an actual person, it is important that you have enough of these keywords and requirements listed.
Good luck on your internship search!
This article is from Ashley Paskell. Ashley is a journalism major at Temple. She is a contributing writer to publications such as FastWeb and the Odyssey while interning at Metro US.