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No experience? No problem! 4 Ways to Land Your First Internship

first internship
Leo Thom
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Published on January 5, 2015

We’ve all heard about the benefits of an internship. The opportunity to learn job skills while getting paid and networking is a pretty sweet gig.

But how do you get an internship in the first place? What about getting hired at competitive companies like Google? How do you get one with little to no experience, or with bad grades?

The good news there are many ways to make yourself a qualified candidate, without even leaving campus. While you might not get an offer from Google your first try, this article is about building your candidacy over time.

In this article, we’ll break down the steps needed to land your first internship.

Volunteer

If you’re reading this article, chances are you have little to no internship experience. This isn’t meant to be a slap in the face, but rather an obvious statement that experience matters. There is no substitute.

Now you’re thinking: “Why should I work for free? I can have an on-campus job at the dining commons and get paid – let me focus on that.”

True, there are many on-campus paid positions that don’t need any skilled labor. You can make money now while gaining “experience”, so it’s all good right?

WRONG. The point of working now isn’t to make $15 / hour when you’re a Sophomore washing dishes at the dining commons. The point is to make $100K when you graduate as a Senior because you had the relevant skills and experience. Skills that you can market to future employers DO matter over making money now at a job anyone can do.

Volunteering is a great way to build experience because there are few places that will turn down free work. There are likely many open volunteer positions at your university career center also. What matters is the experience you’ll gain and the connections you’ll meet.

A “marketing volunteer” for a campus group can learn more about social media marketing and working with many teams. An “outreach volunteer” can learn recruiting techniques and PR tactics.

If your financial situation demands you need an on-campus job, there is nothing wrong with working now. But if you can, don’t focus on quick money. Instead focus on accumulating relevant experience for big opportunities when you graduate.

START TODAY: Visit your university’s career center to learn more about volunteer opportunities. Don’t just write this down and ignore it when you get to campus. As a student, you’re paying for the career center – use it.

On-campus Jobs

“But you just said on-campus jobs were bad, Leo. What gives?”

My exact sentence from above: “Skills that you can market to future employers DO matter over making money now at a job anyone can do.”

As long as you’re gaining experience that you can market in your field of choice, getting paid is awesome! Being part of an official school department is a great badge to carry into future job applications as well.

If you have an on-campus job, pat yourself on the back. Getting paid to learn is one of the best things that can happen to a student – who usually pays to learn instead.

Again, the focus is on building relevant skills. Getting paid now is an added bonus.

Student Organizations

On top of employment opportunities, you can join a host of student groups to gain experience. Typical college groups include business fraternities, national associations (i.e. Marketing Association) or community groups (i.e. Rotaract Club).

If your class schedule won’t allow a part-time job or volunteer work, consider joining a student group instead. Most groups meet once per week, are free and connect you with like-minded students you can learn from. These groups typically have official positions and exclusive benefits (like an alumni network).

Joining a student group benefits you long after graduation as well. For example, if your friend from the Marketing club gets a full time role at Google, you not only get access to their knowledge at Google but wherever company she ends up next as well. It’s a virtuous cycle of improvement, and your network will naturally become more valuable over time.

START TODAY: Plan your legacy. If you’re interested in running for a position of a student org, like President, join early. Joining early will give you both the necessary experience to govern effectively but also the seniority needed during elections.

Freelance

If you don’t want to deal with a job, a volunteership or the inevitable politics of a campus group, consider freelancing.

“Whoa whoa whoa, hold up. You want me to work for myself, Leo?”

Yes, absolutely and definitively yes. Freelancing allows you to pick what skills to build, what market to enter and how intense you’d like to pursue your work. You will never front on yourself, your own skills or how hard you’d like to work.

There are no excuses when you define your own work.

It’s also motivating know your work directly adds value to another person’s life. And just like with student groups, your clients and partners will become your network. You will succeed as they succeed, now and into the future.

There are many website to find freelance projects, including elance, oDesk and project4hire. Serving a market will also give you insight on what skills to learn and what to ignore from school.

Summary:
1. Volunteering is a great, low-risk way to get experience building relevant skills.

2. On-campus jobs are great – so long as the skills you’re learning are relevant. Getting paid is a plus.

3. Student orgs offer more flexibility than jobs, and can build your network now and far into the future.

4. Freelancing offers the ultimate flexibility. You choose what skills to learn, what market to enter and how intense you’d like to take things.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Leo! I’m a web developer at LinkedIn and co-founder of Oppin, a blog focused on millennial success. Before becoming a web developer, I spent over a year on LinkedIn’s online marketing team. I’ve also held roles at Intel Corporation, foursquare and the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. A born nerd and student of the Internet, I’m focused on coding, design and online marketing. You can learn more of my job hacks at Oppin.co and reach out to me directly at contact@oppin.co (I read all emails). Happy hunting!

Leo Thom

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