For college students and recent graduates, the right internship can be a make-or-break component when it comes to landing that first job. While the pandemic turned many hands-on internships into virtual opportunities over the past two years, as more companies welcome back employees to the office, internships are becoming an area of focus again. A recent survey from the Harris Poll, commissioned by Express Employment Professionals, found that 44% of businesses intend to bring on interns in 2022—and 94% plan to hire those interns full- or part-time after the internship.
But some students don’t realize how early many companies start the summer internship process, says career coach and University of Cincinnati assistant professor Nadia Ibrahim-Taney. At larger companies and those with formal programs, it’s not unusual for applications to be due in October or November for the following summer.
First things first: “Don’t panic,” says career counselor Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, which provides career coaching for college students and graduates. “We’ve seen [that] internship recruiting this year is not what companies thought it would be,” she says. The pandemic, shifting workplace norms, tight and tumultuous labor market, and even supply chain issues and other disruptions have all affected companies’ hiring practices now.
If you’re one of those students who missed earlier deadlines but still wants to gain field-related experience this summer, don’t fret. There are still opportunities available to you. Here are some ideas.
Start with school resources
One of the best places to start could be your school, Tipograph says. Stop by your school’s career services office and ask if the team there is aware of any last-minute opportunities. In addition, professors may have information about opportunities for research or other projects, part-time jobs, or even independent research projects, she adds. If you have done well in a particular class or know professors or teaching assistants who work in subjects related to your major, ask them if they know of opportunities or have advice, she suggests.
Get active on LinkedIn
This is also a good time to begin building your LinkedIn profile if you haven’t done so already, Ibrahim-Taney says. Build your network of contacts by connecting with people you know, following companies for which you may want to work, and joining groups that represent your interests. Post relevant content and participate in group discussions. You can also use LinkedIn to let your network know that you’re seeking internship opportunities. LinkedIn also has a job search feature that may have internship opportunities.
While we often think of internship opportunities as the domain of big companies or organizations, small businesses or one-person offices may need help, too, Ibrahim-Taney says. If you’re a business major, working at a small financial services firm or assisting a consultant for the summer could give you more hands-on experience than working at a big firm. So, if you’re heading home for the summer with no industry-related job lined up, look for related small businesses and reach out to them, she says. When an organization is smaller, you may have the opportunity to make a bigger impact.
Focus on independent skill-building
Another good way to gain valuable skills during the summer is to create your own skill-building boot camp. Tipograph suggests analyzing the types of skills you’re going to need for the job you want. Then, look for ways to build them on your own. For example, most marketing internships are going to require some type of analytics skills. So, turn to online training centers to learn about analytics and take a course. Build a portfolio of work and show how you analyzed and improved your own analytics. Learn about related software and how to use it.
“Over 60% of employers say college graduates don’t possess the knowledge and skills needed to succeed an entry-level position. So, that means going back and looking for skills to make sure you build them,” she says.
Working for no pay is always a controversial topic. Many argue that unpaid opportunities exploit the worker, and privilege those who have familial financial support. However, volunteerism can be an important way to build skills, network, and even find job opportunities, says Ibrahim-Taney. Just as nonprofits need staff to run fundraisers and events, they may need help with marketing, graphic design, bookkeeping, or other areas that can build valuable skills. Contact local nonprofits or look for opportunities at places like Create the Good, Idealist, or Volunteer Match.
Plus, volunteering does speak to your character, Ibrahim-Taney says. “If you’re a finance major, and you get a job at Bank of America, nobody’s going to be particularly surprised by it,” she says. On the other hand, if you’re working for Habitat for Humanity, helping out with finance tasks because it played a significant role in your life and you want to give back, “that says so much about you,” she says.
Highlight the value in “pay the bills” jobs
Sometimes you have to choose the job that will pay the most instead of the job that will give you skills. And that’s okay, Ibrahim-Taney says. Look for the transferable skills you’re building and highlight those on your résumé. A summer job as a restaurant server or bartender might teach you valuable communication and people skills, as well as how to work under pressure.
“It’s really just a rebrand,” she says. Think about the transferable skills that you could develop in those jobs, and then how you can bring that to a work environment that is more closely aligned with your goals. “Some of the best students that I’ve ever hired have only had ‘pay the bills’ jobs,” she says.