By Chris Barton, Co-Editor
On Wednesday I heard back from an internship that I had applied for a little over a month ago. It was one I had an eye on for a while, and which I was excited about – but we were so close to summer that I was starting to get worried. What if they said no? Was I going to have an internship this summer?
Luckily for me, I got the internship I was aiming for. My success had a lot to do with some good advice that I was given along the way; and since it’s now borne fruit, I’d like to pass that advice on to anyone else still looking for an internship.
If you don’t have an internship yet, don’t worry, all is not lost. It’ll be ok. There are plenty of ways you can still find one. However, your tactics might have to change:
“Yes.. I needed an intern!”
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask people, even out of the blue. That’s how I found my internship: I found a company I liked and wanted to work for, found an employee in that company that I had met, and I sent her an email. I outlined why I was interested in her company, what I thought I could bring to the team, and suggested an internship. I made clear that I knew a lot about the company and that I could offer something valuable. Although I still had to apply through official channels, the fact that I already had reached out meant that I had an advocate on the inside. When it came time for a second round of interviews – with my contact as the interviewer – she skipped the interview entirely and offered me the position.
My experience is that people respond well to out-of-the-blue communications, especially if you make clear in why it is in their best interest to talk to you. The worst that can happen is that they don’t respond; and in that case, you’re out nothing.
Annoying … or enthusiastic?
My mentor and I are constantly having variations of the same interaction: he suggests that I do something that to me seems outrageously brash, I look at him in indignation, and he explains why it’s actually the logical thing to do. His advice to me for this internship was that I shouldn’t be afraid of being annoying. I should constantly (but politely and strategically) keep up my communications with my contact until I either got what I was after or got a hard no. I don’t know if I was annoying, but I certainly was persistent. After my contact promised to send me the application, I must have emailed her a half dozen times asking about it. I even asked a friend who works with her to talk to her in person. But by sticking to it, I was able to show that I actually did really want the position, and kept myself in the front of her mind.
If you see a square hole, don’t be a round peg
Interestingly, I was actually offered a different position than the one I applied for. For half a moment, I was concerned: I knew I was prepared for the job I applied for, but what about this new one? Then I realized that they thought I could do it. They had seen my credentials, talked to me, suffered through my barrage of emails – it was possible they saw in me something that I hadn’t even seen. They were offering me a different position because they thought I’d be good at it. I just had to trust them. I have a strong suspicion that this change in position will be a blessing in disguise. But I needed to be open to change and to stretching my expectations for the position beyond what I thought my resume supported. For anyone still looking for an internship, don’t be afraid to pursue something that you don’t necessarily feel qualified for – you might be pleasantly surprised.
Take a tip from Marx
Every internship is basically you selling your labor power, over the short term, in return for experience and (ideally) a paycheck. The paycheck is nice, but not a necessity for most of us. This puts us in a very unique and powerful position: we can offer our services for free.
If you’re approaching your internship search as looking for a particular type of experience, as I did, then it helps to remember that the company isn’t hiring you, rather you are hiring the company. You’re looking for a way to spend your summer that will give you the experience you need on your resume to make the next career step – and in return the company that hosts you gets your labor. Any payment is just icing on the cake.
Instead of thinking of yourself as an inexperienced employee, think of yourself as a massively overqualified volunteer. And then reach out from that position. If you find a company you want to work with, volunteer to do things for them. Ask them, “How can I help?” and offer your services to them in a way that adds value to their organization.
The difference is that now your internship relies not on them saying “Yes, we want you as an intern,” but instead on them failing to say “No, we don’t want your help on this.” It’s harder for someone to actively turn down help from a highly trained and highly attractive Master’s student than it is to sign up to take care of an intern.
Intern for yourself
My other choice for an internship this summer was to ‘intern’ for a venture I’m working on with a few of my ex-colleagues. Was it an ‘official’ internship? No. I’d have been my own boss. But would it have been great experience? Sure! It would be exactly the experience I wanted it to be. And when it comes up on my resume, who cares whether “Hush Valley” is an organization that I sought out an internship with or an organization that I started and ran? What matters is the experience you get and how you portray it to people.
If you don’t end up finding an internship, don’t freak out. You can still get a lot of good experience doing what you want to do this summer. Find a way to get the experience you want, either through your own work or with a needy organization you find nearby.
And remember: whatever experience you end up having, you get to define it and you get to decide how it looks on your resume. Do the work that you want to say that you’ve done, regardless of who you’re doing it for.