It is still true in today’s economy that if you have graduated without one, ideally two, internships that your likelihood of getting a good job, quickly, is much, much lower. According to Forbes, “66% of employers view interview performance and relevant experience” as the most critical factors in making a hiring decision. So what should you do if you are looking for an internship and your resume is seriously lacking in pertinent experience? Here are 6 tips to get an internship.
1. First, take a hard look what experience you do have, whether it’s jobs, volunteer work, leadership roles, college athletics, club participation and mine it for marketable skills that would be useful in the workplace. Mowed lawns for a landscaping company in the summers? Sell your work ethic. Camp counselor? Chances are that you have developed great teamwork and leadership skills. Student tutor? To be a good tutor, you need patience, listening and communication skills. Waited tables? If you were any good at it, you clearly learned customer service and organizational skills. Washed dishes in a restaurant? You aren’t afraid to dig in and roll up your sleeves. And my favorite: nanny. Great nannies are responsible, reliable, organized and calm under pressure. Qualities any employer would love to have.
2. Start early. Winter break is when you should be looking for a summer internship. Start doing research now on opportunities and use your break to line up a few informational interviews. Many companies conduct interviews as early as the fall with most in full interview mode from February onward. Offers are typically made by the end of April. Don’t wait or you’ll be too late to this party.
3. If you are still short on experience, volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to help an organization in your community and build both skills and potential references. While it doesn’t pay, you’ll likely find that you get more back in terms of fulfillment than the time you donate. You may also learn new skills that you are good at that you can use not only on your resume and in your interviews, but also in your next job.
4. Learn how to sell yourself. An interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, talents and genuine interest in the role and the company. Make sure that you have practiced interviewing and have a great answer to the inevitable question: “So why should we hire you?” My motto when I was hiring at the Fortune 500 company where I worked was “Hire for attitude, train for aptitude.” It was far easier to teach a new hire the in’s and out’s of the position than it ever was to create a “can do” attitude. During the interview, be engaged, positive, know your strengths and be able to communicate how you can help the company.
5. Offer to work for free. Internships don’t have to be paid if you are getting college credit or not performing work that has a direct value to the company. Remember that when you start, every day is a continuation of your interview and an internship is essentially a try out for a job offer upon graduation. Go to work every day and give it 200% of your best effort. Show up early, stay late, volunteer to do anything that needs to be done, especially the boring, mundane jobs that no one wants to do. You’ll be demonstrating what a great fit you’d be for a job after you graduate.
6. Network. Talk to family friends, aunts, uncles, your parents’ co-workers. Ask if they can help you get an informational interview. Remember that an informational interview is a real interview, only without an actual job posting. During an informational interview, you are expected to be the interviewer at least half the time, so come prepared. Do some research on the person you’ll be meeting with, their company and the industry. You should have a list of 10-15 questions to ask that show your interest in learning more about what they do, their industry and what qualities successful people have in their professions. Great managers love to spot talent and if you are well prepared for an informational interview, they may create an internship for you.
Above all else, focus on getting experience in a business setting, even if it’s not your ideal internship. Getting started on your career is more important than waiting for the perfect role (which, by the way, basically doesn’t exist). Internships are a great way to figure out what you like (or don’t), and get valuable experience as you build your resume. Chances are that your ideal job today will be something radically different years from now. In the interim, get started figuring that out by interning. You’ll be that much further ahead when you graduate.
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