Guest Author: Kirrin Coleman is the co-author of Life After Graduation: Your Guide to Success.
The best time to start your career is before you officially enter the workforce. In other words, now. Even if you are a first-year college student, it is not too early to find an internship. Internships are short-term employment assignments during which you receive hands-on training and experience in a career. Some internships last a term, some a summer, and some may last a year or more. Some are paid positions and some are not. Internships can provide an inside view of the fields you find interesting. You’ll learn exactly what the day-to-day work is like, what kinds of skills you’ll need to be successful in the field, and—most importantly—whether or not you like it.
Internships can also give you an edge when it comes time to applying for jobs. Not only will you gain invaluable confidence from the experience, you’ll also have something
to talk about when prospective employers ask you about your “relevant experience.” In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students with
internships are more likely to be offered a job upon graduation and more likely to be offered a higher salary than their peers who did not do internships.
In order to find the best internship possible, you first have to figure out what you want to learn from the experience. Do you want a position that will help you develop the skills and experience you need to land a specific job after college or do you want a unique experience that may not be directly related to your chosen career? You may already have a “dream company” in mind and be set on getting your foot in the door as soon as possible. On the other hand, when you begin your search, you may find an internship opportunity you would never have considered but that sounds too appealing to pass up.
Let’s talk a bit more about networking, as it’s arguably the most important factor in locating opportunities and jobs. Networking is nothing more than connecting with
people—instructors, other students, community members. Your network is simply all the people you know, and in college your will probably expand it exponentially. Connecting with others will make your college years more interesting and fulfilling. Your network will also be a means to find out information (about great restaurants as well as awesome job opportunities) and to get your name out.
Now is a good time to reflect on your use of social media, which can be a great way to network—or can lead to complete disaster. Assume professors and potential employers will be able to see everything on your Facebook page; “privacy” settings do not guarantee you privacy, and plenty of people have found out the hard way that employers and colleges can gain access relatively easily. Make sure your image in cyberspace isn’t a drag on your current reputation or future prospects.
Internships are a fantastic way to gain knowledge about a field and explore your interests. As an intern, you can practice and apply what you’ve learned in the classroom. You might uncover a passion you didn’t know you had or figure out that your “dream job” is actually a bore (both experiences are valuable, though the first is a lot more fun). You’ve got great resources available to you on campus.
Those resources plus some legwork on your part will open the door to the best internship possible—and maybe even your first post-graduation job.
Contributor: Life After Graduation, LLC