Getting an internship while in college is a key stepping stone between school and career. But with so much competition for paid internships at the college level, how can you get an edge?
Looking for an (unpaid) internship while you're still in high school is an invaluable way to learn how the process works and to boost your appeal to companies offering paid internships down the road. Besides being linked to better employ-ability after college, an internship allows you to learn new skills, make professional connections, and determine whether your dream career is really a good match for you! Not only do you gain a realistic perspective about your chosen field, you also gain valuable experience that adds skills and clout to your resume.
But you don't have to take my word for it! Here it is--right from the source-- a student's perspective on summer internships.
Adhiraj is a sophomore at USC, majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in finance. This past summer, he was able to complete an internship at a Silicon Valley green tech company. He shares his experience below.
Whole Education: Where did you intern?
Adhiraj: Slingshot Power -- a solar green energy start-up.
WE: How did you apply for your internship?
A: I applied through the company website. The only documents I submitted were my resume and a cover letter.
WE: Describe the interview and selection process.
I was called for an interview within a week of applying for the internship. I met with the COO, who seemed to like my background and interest in the environment. He then scheduled a short meeting with the CEO, and they offered me a job, which I accepted at the end of the meeting.
WE: Did you do anything else to demonstrate your enthusiasm or commitment?
I voiced my interest and enthusiasm and was prompt in my communication and response time. While I was in high school I took a few courses in environment [issues], and also being an active member of Sierra Club was sufficient to validate my interest and enthusiasm in the environment.
WE: What were your responsibilities as an intern?
- Processing documentation
- Strategic planning
- Installation Process improvement
- Pricing and Financial analysis
WE: What was the most challenging part of your internship?
A: Obtaining permits from the city departments.
WE: What surprised your most about your internship experience?
The amount of trust and responsibility assigned to me despite my little experience in the field.
WE: Now that you have had experience as an intern in this field, do you think you would pursue a career in it?
I am majoring in Business finance, and the internship provided me with significant exposure in operations; however, I do not see myself leading operations in the solar initiative.
WE: What advantages did the experience give you that you think would help with employment in the future?
Real-world, broad working experience ranging from operations to finance
Building interpersonal relationships
Analyzing situations in real time, and making and supporting decisions
WE: Is there any advice you would give to other students considering an internship?
A: Do your best and come to work with a can-do attitude to make a difference to the bottom line of the company. Learn to trust your instincts, and learn to bring your game-face to work, everyday.
What worked for Adhiraj?
Adhiraj brought to the table an impressive resume that showed his dedication to turning his passions into deeds. In addition to being active with the Sierra Club and being an Eagle Scout, he had wide experience in volunteering and leading youth groups. He was able to list specific projects that he helped bring to fruition within the organizations he belonged to, and he successfully showed a theme of interest throughout those activities: business and the environment. Adhiraj had also completed a previous internship during a summer of his high school career, which signaled his maturity and dedication.
His extensive participation in everything from mentoring the mentally handicapped to helping design software for a lab at Stanford showed Adhiraj's commitment to learning by doing, and to being involved in his community. His myriad "real-world" interactions demonstrated that he was ready for the challenge of working at a fast-paced start-up company.
What can work for you?
Be pro-active! Create your own opportunities by talking about your interests and passions with your teachers, your coaches, your scout leader, your guidance counselor, your neighbors, and even your parents' friends or colleagues. Don't be afraid to reach out to that company you respect or that CEO you admire. As long as you stop when you get a No and don't make yourself a nuisance, it doesn't hurt to send a well-crafted, enthusiastic cover letter and resume.
How can you get started?
Start drafting your resume now! Brainstorm on the experiences that gave you the skills or perspective that will make you an excellent intern. Do you have a lack of experience? Balance it with with evidence of your quick learning. Is your experience from widely different fields? Talk about what you learned from these experiences and look for common threads -- responsibility? quick-thinking? conflict-resolution?
Approaching a small start-up might work for you, too. Adhiraj gained direct access to the COO and CEO of the company he interned for due to the small size of the company and its newness: its directors are still very hands-on in daily operations. By querying the company unsolicited, Adhiraj demonstrated his motivation and action-oriented personality. On the down side, a smaller company is less likely to offer paid internships. But realistically, while you are still in high school, it is unlikely that you will find a paid internship. That means that approaching a small, local company in your field of interest can be a great way to get started. You will see more clearly whether you want to pursue this field in college, and you'll also put experience in the "resume bank" to be cashed in for more opportunities later on.