Note: This article is directed at international students, but holds true for all students and recent graduates.
An internship can be full or part-time, and paid or unpaid depending on the employer and the career field. You will enhance your job prospects greatly if you can get a paid internship—but even if you are not paid; an internship offers the benefit of hands-on-learning and the potential to give you an edge over students without internships.
An internship can also provide you with important networking introductions and references needed to identify and land a job after graduation; and you may even be lucky enough to be mentored by executives, have the opportunity to input ideas to a project team, or present to a group of senior-level managers. If you cannot get a traditional internship, consider alternatives in order to gain experience. For example, if you are a finance student, try for a summer job at a financial advisor’s office if you can’t land a job at a major investment firm.
While some of the largest corporations recruit for summer internships as early as the fall semester, smaller businesses often don’t start to hire until the spring, so plan accordingly. You can search for internships through online job boards or reach out directly to organizations that interest you without a job posting, but it’s important to know that a large number of organizations prefer to find their interns through campus career centers, often using job fairs and on-campus interviews to identify candidates. Some state and local governments also offer internship opportunities. As with all jobs, one of the surest ways to land an internship is through a strong referral by a trusted employee or colleague of the hiring manager.
When you decide to contact a target company for your internship, identify the hiring manager and send him a note similar to the one below: He may respond to you directly, or may refer your email and resume to the person who recruits all interns.
Hello Mr. Steinfeld,
I have been researching your company, and came across your name and contact information. I have a strong passion for the media industry. I am hoping that ABC Company is willing to consider me for an internship this summer, and hope that you can direct my resume to the appropriate person. I believe that I can make a contribution to the company by utilizing my analytical and organizational skills as well as my knowledge and experience in marketing, social media, and event planning.
I look forward to hearing from you. I can be reached at 888-888-8888.
Please find my resume attached.
Thank you for your consideration.
Once you land that internship, think of the internship as a several-week interview, and work very hard to demonstrate that you have the strengths and skills that will make you a valuable addition to the company when you finish school. However, before you accept any internship, make sure that you will have significant job duties that result in achievement and learning.
Even if the internship is short-term and not immediately extended, continue to stay in touch with your supervisor and co-workers, and check job postings at the company in the months before you graduate. If there is a good match, contact your supervisor to express your interest in rejoining the company and to discuss the job posting. Even if there is no job posting, contact your supervisor prior to graduation to discuss anticipated job openings that have not yet been posted. As a known commodity to the company, you pose a low hiring risk, and there is an excellent chance that they will make you a job offer.
Even after graduation, you may want to take advantage of an internship. There is a common misconception that internships are only for college students. Internships are for anyone who has some knowledge in his field but lacks the relevant hands-on experience that employers want to see before they offer a regular full time position. For example, Wen Huang, a Chinese international student, graduated with a MS degree in Finance. When she did not have a job offer four months after graduation, Wen decided to get some more experience in the U.S. banking industry before returning to China. She applied for, and was given, an unpaid internship in a small bank that had never hired an international student in the past. Even though many of the tasks she was initially given were very basic (e.g., making copies or scanning and archiving documents), her competency and positive attitude did not go unnoticed, and she was soon given more responsibility. To her surprise, after doing a great job in the first few months of her internship, she was offered a full time position with a very competitive salary and an offer of H-1B sponsorship. Today, she is working as a Finance and Loan Portfolio Analyst at the same company.
Another international student who I met through my work with InternshipDesk*, who had just graduated, told me during a mock interview that she entered into her post-graduation summer internship with the understanding that she had only limited time to show what she could contribute to the company. For this reason, she looked for problem solving opportunities. She soon found one when she noticed that the company’s three business units were in conflict over the allocation of IT costs. She asked her supervisor if she could use her analytical skills to build a model that might settle these disputes by more fairly and equitably distributing these costs. He said yes, and the end result was that she was offered a full time position and H-1B sponsorship only weeks after starting the internship.
*InternshipDesk provides an International (F1) Student Career Development Program that is particularly helpful to international students who are seeking U.S. based employment post-graduation. The program includes guaranteed placement in a professional summer internship, a weekly career development series, city specific professional events, and the opportunity to learn from fellow participants from universities around the U.S. (www.internshipdesk.com).
Excerpt from 3 Steps to Your Job in the USA – International Student Edition (Amazon, Kindle, iBooks). Not an international student? Check out 3 Steps to Your Best Job Ever! (Amazon, Kindle).