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You might have straight A’s in all your classes and a stellar GPA, but these things might say little or nothing about you or your skills to a potential employer. Your experience and how you handle yourself in work situations is typically more important.
More than ever, internships are critical to landing a job for the post-college student. They provide experience, connections, networking opportunities and the ability to learn and grow in a real-world environment.
Some internships provide college credit or cash for services, but the bottom line is that the experience can pay off in huge dividends. Due to the poor economy, many companies don’t have the time or resources to offer internships. Here are five steps to seize internship opportunities on your own.
Talk, Talk and Keep Talking
Talk to your professors, your career advisors, your parents, your family and your friends. These people have connections to other professionals in your field and know what types of jobs are available. In particular, your professors can help you set up possible internships to gain valuable experience. Being vocal and persistent is the key. How will people know you are looking for a job if you don’t tell them what you are seeking? Remember, it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Go to a Career Fair
Career fairs are an excellent way to network with potential companies, whether or not they are hiring new employees. Some career fairs offer interviews on the spot. At the very least, they give you a chance to connect face-to-face with companies of interest. Introduce yourself, ask questions, obtain a business card and write a follow-up letter explaining your interest if an internship would become available.
Work for No or Little Pay
One student I know volunteered a summer in the marketing department for a performing arts center. She wrote press releases, created media kits, provided web copy, took videos to local television stations and did anything else that was asked of her. What did she get paid? Nothing. However, she earned a job at this center out of college in another department because of the excellent services she had provided.
Volunteering for non-profit organizations in your community is a sure-fire way to get your foot in the door. Doing community service gives you a chance to see what kinds of jobs are out there while gaining valuable experience.
Before you begin the internship process, you need to have a polished cover letter and a sharp-looking resume. This is where your career adviser and other mentors can come in handy. What kind of resume best highlights your skills and abilities? What are you going to say in your cover letter that sets you apart from the rest of the competition? What kinds of examples should you have in a portfolio?
Take the time to develop these tools. I know companies who have dismissed potential employees due to a simple spelling error on their resumes. The same cover letter should also not be used over and over again. The time you spend on these materials will be well worth it in the end.
You’ve impressed a potential employer enough on paper to land an actual interview. Now what? How do you handle tough questions? Do you fidget with your clothing or hair when you are nervous? What do you say when asked about your three biggest weaknesses?
Mock interviews scheduled with your career adviser or another professor can alleviate some of these fears. Better yet, tape yourself during one of the interviews and decide where you can use some improvement. More often than not, an employer will dismiss someone who comes across poorly in an interview regardless of the skills on paper. The more you practice, the more you will knock the interviewer’s socks off and obtain the internship you want.
During tough economic times, it is essential you are prepared, aggressive and willing to do whatever it takes to land an internship and eventually a job you want and deserve. These five steps are sure to guarantee you success.
Written by Seomul Evans