The Everlasting Internship Search

Well, the big search is finally over for me.  A process that began in January has finally ended: I have secured an internship for Summer 2014.  This actually wasn’t my first internship search; last year I interned at a law firm over the summer.  But I set out to secure a paid internship this year, a process that proved to be more daunting than I could have imagined.  In the modern job market, it is common for college students to get internships in the field they’re interested in.  Unfortunately, a large number of internships are unpaid (The New York Times found that over half (!) of college students who take internships are unpaid) and many internships can beunfulfilling while leading nowhere.  My goal was to hit the sweet spot: obtain a paid internship in the field I’m interested, all while doing meaningful work. Obviously it’s April, not summer, so I can’t speak for the overall experience.  The whole search took nearly 4 months, and while I labored through it, I picked up a few tips along the way, which I’ll share below:

  1. Expand Your Horizons – I’m from Milwaukee, a city that has only has around a dozen companies with large, formal internship programs (read: formal, structured internship programs are usually the ones that pay).  I applied to 6 of these companies, and only heard back from one.  The biggest issue was that I was one of hundreds applications landing in HR’s lap, and there can only be so many call backs (more on this next).  The other big issue was that I do not go to college in Wisconsin.  Milwaukee is a “regional” city, and many of the companies based there use schools like UW and Marquette as pipelines for future employees.  They’re more inclined to give the position to a student who is a part of the institution with which they have a relationship.  I had to expand my horizons to larger “hub” cities.  I found more opportunities in Chicago, Washington DC and Los Angeles (I’m lucky in that I have relatives in each region to live with).  Sure enough I got call backs from all three cities faster than anywhere in Milwaukee.
  2.  Milk Personal Connections – This might be the biggest key to getting a meaningful internship.  Keep in mind that recruiters get hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for 40 or so spots.  Everyone who applies is well qualified, which means you need to do what you can to distinguish yourself from others.  This is where personal connections come in.  Take advantage of your personal network and ask everyone for leads.  Referrals won’t necessarily get you the position, but I found that every single time I used my personal network with a position, I got a call back and an interview.
  3. Ask Questions – At the end of an interview, you’re usually asked if you have any questions.  This is the chance to vest whether or not the position is all busywork and coffee-fetching, or meaningful and objective-based tasks.  It also shows that you’re a willing learner.
  4. Don’t Give Up – My internship search took forever, and there were many points where I considered just staying in Ann Arbor over the summer and working the job I have during the school-year.  But, I was always reminded of my personal goals, and kept my search up.  It wasn’t until March that I found the perfect fit for me this summer.

Best of luck to you on your next job search.  In the comments below, I’d like to see any tips others have for finding the perfect internship!

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