In meeting with a group of recent and soon-to-be college graduates, I fielded a lot of questions about internships.  Psych, Poli-Sci, Media & Communications majors, among others, shared equal interest in how to find, and get accepted into programs that would provide them a chance to gain experience and exposure to their chosen fields.
Their major concerns were typical and well warranted.  These days, more and more students in many disciplines are staying in school to pursue post-graduate, masters and even doctoral degrees.  Because the economy has noticeably reduced the number of good jobs available to those who have completed four-year programs, there are a lot of recent grads who are having a very tough time finding jobs!  And those staying in school for post-grad curricula are hoping and praying that the economy will improve and that there will be more jobs by the time they receive their advance degrees.  Let’s hope so!
The common assumption among the group was that there would be increased competition for any open (paid and unpaid) internships, as well as traditional employment.  I reminded them that there are always going to be far more applicants for both jobs and internships than there will be open positions, regardless of the economy.
But the increase in grad-school applications hasn’t actually reduced the competition for jobs that may be open or appropriate for new graduates.  And the weakened economy has forced many employers to cut back on their internship programs. Companies that formerly offered respectable stipends to their interns have been forced to lower or eliminate entirely the compensation previously offered.  And perks such as moving and housing expenses, student loan payments, and per diems are also disappearing, making it even harder for interns to consider working for companies outside their own communities. Or worse, forcing students to take jobs in addition to their coursework and internships.  A heavy load indeed!
At the same time, the bar has been raised and the academic requirements have become more stringent, making it more difficult for applicants to even get considered for those remaining open internships.  It’s gotten tougher all around.
So, what’s the best way for grads and soon-to-be grads to find and apply for internships to be filled after graduation?  Some of the most important considerations include:
Start gathering research for where you’d like to intern before the end of your junior year – certainly before the start of your senior year – so that you know about the application requirements and timetable for application submission.  Not all internships start the summer after graduation.  On-time submission is absolutely critical; your ability to follow instructions and adhere to submission directions and requirements will be fastidiously judged from the get-go!
Network your butt off!  Use the resources of your school’s alumni office to find people and companies that have ties to your chosen field of interest.  Do your best to be professional and respectful of these contacts, of their time and their efforts on your behalf.  Give them reason to help you by addressing your goals, ambition, existing relevant knowledge, coursework and experience.
Thoroughly research the industries and companies that interest you.  Know as much as you possibly can about their products and services, and their management team.  Hands-on product knowledge and experience is also invaluable.  Use the ‘net, your local business library and your school’s library to learn all you can about the major industry players and why you’ve selected one company over another.  The more you know the better!  And if there’s a company where you’d really like to work that doesn’t have an internship program, volunteer to be their first (and maybe only) intern, and help the employer create, legitimize and perpetuate the internship program by generating documentation of the process as you go. You can become an asset to a growing business by showing your willingness to help them help you.
Keep in mind that internships are valuable tools for employers too!  Yes, for many businesses, interns do all the grunt work, often don’t get paid, and are looked down upon by some staff.  But for smart employers, internships benefit their operations, allowing them to identify and observe potential future employees.  When the employer sees fist-hand an intern’s passion, commitment, creativity and effectiveness, there is a stronger potential for a long-term employment opportunity.  In the process the intern gets encouraged and mentored.  Even if they don’t get brought on board, the experience will be an education unto itself!
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