Are you interested in earning some money (or looking for a way to solve student debt problems) and building your resume while you’re still in college? A lot of students are. That’s why paid internships for college students is such a hot subject. This is very different from a just a side job between classes. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, something like 70 percent of employers require new hires to have had internship experience. The competition is thick and increasingly requires some thinking outside-the-box to make it happen.
Of course if you go this route, you may not be able to graduate from college early. But in some cases, the benefit of having work experience (and a few shekels in your pocket) are more important. Some fields are easier to find paid internships in than others. Accounting, banking, government and information technology are among the best fields to find opportunities in. Social media marketing is another and has become one field where companies are specifically relying on the skills of college students to lead the way. And if you’re looking for vocational skills training and getting paid for it, a paid internship could be great.
Often, geography is an issue—there may not be opportunities in your area. If you’re looking for a summer internship, you may need to consider taking one in a different location.
How do you go about finding a paid internship in such a competitive environment?
Start with your school career center or counseling office.
True enough, there’s usually not a lot of action here when the job market is tough like it is now, but never overlook the obvious. Some students miss out on perfectly good assignments under the assumption that the school career office has nothing available. Some employers do approach colleges directly to find people, and you never know when one will pop up unexpectedly.
Another in-school resource is your professors. Many have contacts in business and government—some even worked there in previous lives. Take advantage of those connections! Also check with fellow students and see what they’ve come across. Often an employer who will hire one intern will also be open to bringing on others.
Network, network, network.
Many college students quickly become aware of the social component of networking, and it can just as easily be converted to business applications. Nearly everyone is on the various social media networks, including people who are in a position to hire you for an internship and, later, a full-time job. They should teach networking with people as a special class.
Facebook and Linked In are good places to start. In fact, Linked In allows you to join specific groups where you can literally find thousands of people in a given field. You can connect with as many groups and people as you want, let them know what you’re looking for and find out if they can be of any assistance. You never know who knows someone who needs what you’re offering, and the social networks are an excellent place to check around in an informal, nonthreatening environment.
Start with an unpaid internship, then trade up.
If internships are seriously tight in your field, you may need to start by doing an unpaid internship. That will give you a chance to gain enough experience to qualify for a paid one. That will, of course, be better accomplished as early in your school career as possible so that you’ll have time to move up to an all-important paid assignment.
Unpaid internships are valuable not just for the money you earn and the experience you gain, but also for the contacts you make along the way. Once you have a few contacts, the job of finding paid internships is considerably easier.
The Worldwide Web
There are websites you can go to that offer specific help with internships. Internshipfinder and Internship Programs are two such sites. The latter will allow you to browse by field, employer or date—something similar to traditional job boards.
If you’re looking for non-profit positions, check out Idealist.org. You can also consider some of the more traditional job sites, such as CareerBuilder, Monster.com and even Craigslist. None specializes in paid (or unpaid) internships, but such positions do show up from time to time.
Apply to employers directly.
You can also make direct application to employers in your field. This may not be a high percentage search method—after all, many people who are looking for permanent employment are finding this to be difficult—but it may offer a chance to make some contacts along the way. No matter who you speak with, always be sure to ask them if they know anyone in the industry who is looking for someone like you. Use your negotiating skills and work it.
Whether or not direct application lands you a paid internship, you should still embrace the effort. You’ll be learning critical job-hunting skills that will serve you well throughout your career life. The same skills that lead to success here can really pay off later on if you decide to go for some of your own entrepreneurial ideas.
Whatever course of action you choose—and you’ll probably need to go with several—in order to find a paid internship, make sure to get an early start on the search. It may take months to land one, so you’ll need to plan ahead and commit to working toward your goal.
Notes from Neal: I have seen statistics indicating that students who have paid internships are far more likely to receive job offers when they graduate. If you have to accept an unpaid position, constantly look for opportunities to trade up to a paid internship as soon as you can.