College sophomores should say goodbye to summers of lifeguarding, babysitting or ice cream scooping. Instead, they should look to gain professional experience through summer internships. Internships are no longer just added flair for your resume; they are becoming a must among employers. According to NACE, over 63% of recent graduates had at least one internship prior to graduation. This means, to be competitive in the job market, students are now seeking out multiple internship opportunities and starting their internship searches earlier than ever before.
But how do you actually go about finding an internship? We asked career experts from colleges across the country to find the answer. Based on their advice, here are five things all college sophomores can do to increase their chances of landing an internship.
[Need some more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
Visit your career office
Our experts all agree that visiting your college’s career office is extremely important as you begin your internship search process. “Most schools have career offices that offer a host of internship and/or co-op opportunities,” says career expert Uva Coles. “They also have online job boards for you to post your resume and review experiential roles and jobs.” The career services staff can help you understand the application and interview processes as well.
While you’re there, make sure to find out about other resources available through your career office. Add resume workshops, company info sessions and networking events to your calendar and make sure to attend.
Build up your professional network
Before you start applying for internships, it’s a great idea to build up your professional network. “In general, networking works well because people tend to hire people that they know, like and trust,” explains Mark Chan, one of our experts.
This can be as simple as staying a few minutes after class or attending your professor’s office hours to learn about his or her previous work and research experience. “Seek out faculty, administrators or alumni whom you trust and admire,” says career expert Thomas Ward.
Another easy way to build your network is to set up a LinkedIn account. Begin connecting with professionals, family friends, and other students. Actively update your profile to showcase your previous work, club, and leadership experience. Building up your professional network will be useful for informational interviews, which are explained in step four.
Assess your career interests
As you begin thinking about internships, you might be unsure which fields best suit your strengths, skills and interests. There is a wide variety of assessments available that can help you figure this out. Expert suggestions include: Focus II, ACT Discover, Self-Directed Search and Myers-Briggs. Ask your career services staff for more information and whether your school has subscriptions, so you can take the tests for free or at a discounted rate.
Set up informational interviews
Once you have a better idea of what careers might fit your skills and interests, it can be extremely beneficial to talk to individuals who are currently in the field. The holidays are a ood time to take advantage of parties to approach your parents’ friends and extended family members about their careers, says expert Marilyn Santiesteban. Career guru VA Hayman Barber encourages you to reach out to professionals whom you meet at company info sessions, career fairs and career events on campus.
Informational interviews will allow you to gain a better understanding of the jobs that are out there and what the day-to-day tasks might be. Come prepared with a list of questions to show the professional you have done your research and are truly curious about the field. Good topics for questions include career path, typical entry-level positions, typical work schedule and companies to consider. These interviews are also a good opportunity to share your interests and goals with a professional. This can be helpful in case they hear of any opportunities that might meet your needs.
Once you have completed the previous steps, your internship search will already be well on its way. Through your professional network and the informational interviews, you should have some leads on internships and potential companies. When contacting those leads, be detailed about the type of experience you are hoping to gain through your internship, the skills you can provide, and if you are seeking school credit or compensation. Expert Rich Grant notes that “students can create their own internships by tapping into their network.”
Keep the career services staff updated on your interests, which may have changed after the informational interviews and/or assessments. Set up an appointment with career services to learn how best to navigate online internship search sites such as InternMatch, Idealist or Indeed.
You can also use the NerdWallet cost of living calculator to determine whether you can afford to spend the summer in another city or if living at home or school is a better option. For those living in a smaller cities or towns, expert Jonna Myers suggests contacting local entities such as the Chamber of Commerce.
About the career experts:
Name: Jonna Myers
School: Southwestern Oklahoma State University
Position: coordinator of Career Services and Academic Planning
Other claim to fame: adjunct instructor at the Everett Dobson School of Business & Technology
Jonna says: “Relax! Though your sophomore year is the time to start making those important decisions, you are not signing your life away when you declare a major. … Research tells us that you will likely have many occupations over the course of your career.”
Name: Marilyn Santiesteban
School: Bentley University
Position: assistant director of Graduate and Alumni Career Services
Other claim to fame: Named one of the “Most Influential People Online” in 2010 by Fast Company
Marilyn says: “Sophomore year is the perfect time to start adding professors, classmates and colleagues from internships to your LinkedIn network. You’ll need these folks for professional references and LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements when you shift into active job-search mode.”
Name: Mark Chan
School: Oklahoma Christian University
Position: director of Career Services
Other claim to fame: former director of Orphan Operations for the Chinese Agape Foundation
Mark says: “A student’s goal should be to get one internship a year. Several internships will make you stand out from the pack. The job market is competitive. The more experience you have, the better.”
Name: Rich Grant
School: Colby College
Position: internship coordinator
Other claim to fame: president of the Maine College Career Consortium; blogger at RichCareer.net
Rich says: “The overarching advice I would give is to meet with a career advisor in your college’s career center. They can help you with almost every aspect of what you need to be doing each of the four years of college.”
Name: Thomas J. Ward Jr.
School: Adelphi University
Position: executive director of the Center for Career Development
Other claim to fame: business advisory board member for the Massapequa Partnership for Career Development
Tom says: “By interning early in their academic career, students can also learn what type of work that they do not like. It is one thing to read about a profession in a book but quite another to experience the nature of the work and to interact with professionals in that particular field.”
Name: Uva Coles
School: Peirce College
Position: vice president of Student Services
Other claim to fame: Leadership Philadelphia core member
Uva says: “Colleges are designed to help you succeed. It is important that you use all available resources and begin your career search as soon as possible. Finding a job—the right job—is not an event. It is a process. Start early and work hard! And then work harder!”
Name: VA Hayman Barber
School: Johnson & Wales University, Denver campus
Position: director of Experiential Education & Career Services
Other claim to fame: former resident director of Semester at Sea
VA says: “Enjoy your college experience and don’t be afraid to look ahead, not only toward the kind of job you want, but also what kind of career you want. You don’t have to know everything right now, but be proactive, ask questions, be professional. And know even these simple things can open up doors and lead you to new experiences.”
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