When Do You Start Your Internship?

Talking with some imminent graduates the other day, I asked, “When do you start your internship?”  The quizzical look on their faces spoke volumes.  One said, “Once school is over, I will start looking.”  Another said she hadn’t given it any thought, believing that her newly minted degree would assure her a position in a prominent firm.  I hope she’s right!
For the record, the best time to look for pre- or post-graduate internships is before the conclusion of one’s junior year of school.  Getting a foot in the door of a company that does work relevant to your degree and/or chosen profession before graduation gives students a better shot at post graduate employment.  And finding an internship before senior year provides other advantages too.
Primarily, after graduation the competition for jobs will be much more intense than it is before.  This isn’t to say procuring an internship isn’t competitive; it most certainly is!  But finding an internship the year before graduation allows the candidate to “try out” the industry of interest, and maybe even explore multiple positions within an industry to have a better understanding of where one might fit in after graduation in their chosen profession.
More importantly, through an internship you can demonstrate your value to an employer and demonstrate some of the contributions you can make, developing a much stronger likelihood of having a place to go after graduation.  Prove to an employer that you have the skills they need and the ability to succeed in their industry and you can almost guarantee the beginnings of a sustainable career.
Not all internships are created equal, nor are all candidates that want to fill them.  Some businesses will provide more opportunities for their interns to learn and offer them opportunities to make real contributions, while other employers will hand out “busy work” that could bore you to tears.  And there are interns who will approach these positions with vigor and interest, being open to ideas and methodologies, who will listen to instructions, take criticism and really learn something.  And others who believe they already know everything, think the pay and tasks are beneath them, are biding their time and just looking for something they can use to pad their resumes.
When there is synchronicity between a company and an intern, there is a kind of magic.  These are places and circumstances that nurture personal and group creativity, and provide encouragement of independent thought and the development of ideas.  This in turn leads to new products and better ways of doing old tasks
About now, you may be asking yourself some questions, like:

Aren’t internships low paying or no-pay?

Sometimes.  In many cases interns receive what amounts to a stipend; enough to pay for the commute to get there.  But the experience one can get during an internship should have value and merit far beyond the minimal monetary incentives.  You take out of it what you put in to it.  Experience, resume and network building are just the start.

Why shouldn’t I just get a job in my field and forgo the internship?
Good question!

  • Internships are meant to provide some experience and make you more job-ready before graduation.
  • After graduation you are competing with both experience and inexperienced job seekers.
  • A job will come with higher employer expectations about your skills and performance than will an internship.
  • Knowing that you will stay on the job only a couple of months before returning to school does not provide a great deal of incentive for an employer to hire you.

OK, so how do I get an internship?

  • Start looking as early as possible. Now’s good!  But late winter or early spring may be best to minimize the competition. Filing dates may differ for each internship.
  • If your school has a career planning department, make use of it to the fullest extent possible. They may know of specific internships and provide contact and referral information.
  • Contact the alumni office and ask them for help in identifying former grads who work for the companies or within the industries of interest and ask to meet with them to learn of internship opportunities where they work.
  • Research the companies and industries of interest and find out who offers internships.
  • Use websites like: internships.com; internmatch.com; and even the big job boards to find relevant internships.

Finding an internship can be just as daunting as finding a job.  You must put in the time and effort to find the right situation.  You must be willing to put your ego in your back pocket and demonstrate a willingness to “learn by doing”.  You’ll discover more employers to be open to the contributions you can make.
So, when do you start your internship?
For more ideas on internships, job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.