Start early to get a jump start on your and a career.
Finding the right internship can make all the difference in launching a promising new career, and not only for young people just out of college or graduate school.
But how do you find the internship that’s right for you? That’s up to how much work you want to put into a search. To get the best internship, narrow your focus as early as possible, deciding which industry and even which company you want to intern for.
In some cases, the field may already be pretty clear. MBA students, for example, often head to Wall Street to spend a summer working in investment firms there. Likewise, journalism students naturally gravitate to newspapers, TV stations and wire services.
But in other fields, explains Peter Veruki, director of career planning at Vanderbilt University, there is a less obvious path. Careers in retailing, for example, traditionally don’t begin with internships, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get one in that field.
The key? Do your homework, and learn as much as possible about your industry of choice. Then, target companies you may want to work for. If you’re still in college or graduate school, your school’s placement office or career center is a good place to start. You can also tap into your own network, including alumni groups, college organizations or other students who have already had internships. There’s also a growing number of Web sites that post internships.
You also have to research the answers to questions arising from your personal circumstances: Does the internship pay? Does it offer academic credit? Is it summer only, or can it be during the winter semester? Is the company’s “culture” a good fit for you?
Next, begin your campaign by sending query letters to their human resource departments, accompanied with a good and a list of references. Don’t just send letters blindly, but instead concentrate personalized approaches to firms that really interest you.
Don’t be shy about listing your accomplishments and experiences. Your letter should be clean, simple and straightforward, while also conveying a sense of sincere interest, if not outright passion, about obtaining the internship. If you have work samples, such as published articles or design samples, include them as well.
For post-college interns, the approach has to be even more specifically focused, says Veruki. “People can use an internship to segue into a new career path, but they have to sell themselves pretty well. You have to be very believable, and convince a company to take a chance on you. Once you have your foot in the door, half the work is done.”
Finally, you need to learn as many specific details as you can about the actual work you’d be doing. For example, a good internship is one that is a blend of a little “grunt work” along with some real “substantive involvement” in the company’s product or service, says Dean V., who served several internships on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
“You need to make sure that it’s not all drudgery before you sign up and start,” he warns. “Otherwise, it’ll be too late to switch.”
And if you do strike out, or have trouble finding the right internship for you, “don’t give up,” advises Veruki. “There’s a good internship out there for almost everybody. You have just have to get the right fit.”