Sadly, it’s no longer enough to just show up at college, do well in classes, and then step right into a six-figure, soul-satisfying job after four years. In order to increase your chances of getting that coveted position, you’ll have to spend some time in the trenches now—that summer-stealing concept known as “interning,” where you’ll eat ramen by night and fetch coffee by day, all for an empty paycheck.
But fear not students—if you play your cards right, the dreaded paper-pushing and coffee-making may not just be for a few measly credits. You can actually earn some cold, hard cash as an intern. So how do you get one of these fabled paid internships? All it takes is a little resourcefulness and drive, and you’ll be on your way to a nice little paycheck for your subservient troubles.
First off, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into when you start your search for a paid internship. Don’t forget why you’re working so hard and sacrificing your summer in the first place. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 70 percent of employers require new hires to have had internships in the past. This means that having an internship is pretty much a prerequisite.
Internships are usually worthwhile, providing real office experience, padding for the resume, and networking opportunities. But be wary, not all internships are created equal. There are noticeable differences between unpaid internships and paid internship, besides, you know, the getting-paid part. Think of paid internships as playing for the JV team. They’re basically auditions for real jobs. On-the-field training is an essential part of these internships. The talent pool applying to paid internships will most likely be a more competitive bunch, looking to impress and make the A-team.
Paid internships usually demand a bigger time commitment than unpaid internships. Unpaid internships are not as highly coveted as paid internships (for obvious reasons), but they’re much more prevalent. Popular fields like journalism have a plethora of unpaid internships because of the large number of applicants. Why pay one intern when you have a crowd of potentials willing to do it for free? Usually your bosses at the unpaid internships will have some kind of guilt attached to the fact that they’re taking advantage of your services for free, and take it (somewhat) easy on you. But regardless, the people you meet and work with during your internships may be invaluable when the time comes to look for a job.
So do yourself a favor and don’t roll your eyes when you’re asked to get coffee. You may just be laying the groundwork for a job hook-up later on in life.
Step 1: The Game Plan
At the risk of sounding like a PSA, the most important piece of advice for students is to stay informed and come up with a plan of attack. If you’re serious about finding an internship, you have to be resourceful, MacGyver-style. The first and most obvious place to check is your school’s career center. The career center’s website should be the cornerstone of your internship search. Career centers usually have a plethora of internship and job postings. Set up a meeting with a career counselor who will help you evaluate your past experience, resume, work skills, and (of course) career possibilities. This will help you formulate a general plan to run with.
Generally, applicants should start thinking about summer internships at the beginning of the winter term. Tightening up the resume should be the first priority, as it is the face of your application. If you’re looking to bolster your resume by adding references, make sure you have those on lock around the same time. Depending on the position, applications should be going out by March. This should give you enough time to weigh your options and plan the rest of the logistics (living situation, transportation, etc.), should you get the gig. The worst mistake you can make is to go into this process blindly—you’ll be quite disappointed with the results if you do. All the legwork you put in will most definitely pay off in the end.
Step 2: Cast a Wide Net
As helpful as the career center can be, you shouldn’t stop there. Try Craig’s List and other sites that cater to specific fields (like Media Bistro and Ed2010 for journalism, Idealist for activist/non-profit work or SummerJobs for – you guessed it – summer jobs). The downside to sites like Craig’s List is that, because anyone can post on the site, there’s no assurance that the post is legit. Do your homework here, and take everything with a grain of salt. You don’t want to find yourself interning at Kramerica Industries. That said, you can also find some hidden gems on sites like these. Just be careful out there.
If straying off the beaten trail is your thing, why not look in the more unlikely places for an internship? Writers to-be should look further than The New Yorker and Vogue, potential bankers can look past Goldman and Sachs, and so on. The point is that there are many, many, employers in every field. Just because everyone guns for the top five companies doesn’t mean you should only apply to the big names. Smaller offices, while lacking the name-brand, sometimes makes up for that by granting its interns many more responsibilities, the kind that juice up resumes with HGH-type results.
Step 3: Be the Social Butterfly
Never underestimate the power of networking. If you’re really looking for a solid internship, your ears should always be open. Talk to professors, fellow students, and even your mom’s friend who you’ve always found to be annoying but works at Wells Fargo. They can all be invaluable resources. Who knows? Someone you know may know a guy who knows a guy who can get you the internship you’re eying. Remember, there is never any shame in asking for help, and sometimes that’s the best way to get ahead. Swallow that pride, and ask for help wherever you can find it.
Step 4: Apply and Conquer
Once you’ve found a few viable opportunities, it’s time to apply. You know the drill here. Your resume should already be juiced from your meeting with the career counselor, but if you want, you can custom-tailor your resume and the corresponding cover letter to address individual internships. Again, make sure to do some background research on the company you’re interviewing with so you’ll have some intelligent questions to ask during the interview. In fact, asking questions in an interview for a paid position is practically required. You should be prepared to ask about the company, what your potential responsibilities may be, and future projects (if you’re feeling ambitious.) Asking questions shows that you did your homework and that you have a genuine interest in working with the employer.
There are a million things to think about when going into an interview, but the most important thing is to remember that you’re money. Seriously. If you walk in exuding an acceptable amount of confidence, you’ll impress your interviewers. Oh yeah, and wearing a snazzy suit never hurt anyone’s chances either. Good luck, you’re practically there.
The Secret? There is No Secret
Getting a paid internship isn’t all about luck, although some luck is definitely involved. Like most endeavors in life, it’s about preparation and work. Paid internships can sometimes be few and far between, but the best plan of attack is to prepare as much as possible. There are a lot of students out there looking for the same position you are, and you have to stand out. Sometimes this means dressing up when it’s not required, showing up to work even when you’re feeling sick, and yes, asking for more work. Whatever you need to do, do it.
It may seem like a hassle at first, but when you’re raking in some cash while your friends are getting nothing but a few credits, it’ll be well worth it.