I was asked recently from a college student about how to get an internship position, and took some time to share my advice and recommendations. One of the problems in the business and technology world is entry level positions do not seem to be truly entry level in terms of requirements. Many entry level positions still require a minimum of education and experience. I remember when I graduated school and stepped into the world, full of ideas, energy, and lacking skillsets and experience. For those who are in school, or about to graduate in a few months, this can be a tricky problem. You have the education, but every entry level position seemingly requires certain things you do not yet possess.
An internship may be the answer.
Use Your School Resources
The easiest thing to do as a student is to check in with the school job placement department. Every college should have a department geared for this. There are staff on hand to assist and to make connections.
Typically, these departments also provide training sessions for interviewing, resume and cover letter writing, or recommendations for dressing the part for interviews. Outside of class, engage these resources often, and well before you begin your senior year. Waiting until the last semester to plan for post-graduation will not do your career any favors. Use the school job placement office as often as you are able.
Get to Know the Professors and School Staff
For many professors, instructors, and service staff at a college or university, they often know people or organizations that may prove to be helpful. Most college professors have contacts in the professional world. A helpful professor may be able to introduce you to someone who can be helpful or in need.
While I was an IT manager at a community college, often times our instructors would approach me, asking about opportunities for some of their students. Sometimes we had openings for student workers or interns, and we were able to bring on individuals stemming from these conversations. Approaching others to ask for help can create an opportunity. Maybe the timing is not favorable, but you can show initiative and leave a lasting impression. Always plant a seed that may bear fruit at a later date.
Do not be intrusive or unprofessional. Dress the part. Speak clearly and professionally. Respect their time, and above all, respect their decision. Sometimes a department head or professor cannot or may be unwilling to help. Thank them for their time and move along.
For most people, cold calling/emailing is not a desired task. Telemarketing tales of horror come to mind, but in this day, there are easier methods. Get on LinkedIn, if you have not already done so. If you have a profile, before anything else, update it, make it look professional, and make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are in sync. Proof read it thoroughly and have others give you honest feedback.
Once your profile is squared away, reach out to others. A quick search for the term “recruiters” pulls up many people. For the most part, the sole purpose for their job is to target individuals for opportunities. They may work directly with a large company (Cisco, IBM, Apple, etc…), or in many cases, they work for placement agencies.
Either is fine. Your goal is to get your story out there for someone who can be helpful. These people are friendly and helpful. I have never met anyone in this role who was not a people person and did not want to help someone. Connect with them, but also send messages introducing yourself, your goals, your experience, and what value you can bring to an organization. They may wish to meet and talk in person at some point, and if so, treat it as an interview. Always treat professional conversations and meetings as you would an interview. Either as an intern, or even as a full employee.
Reach out, comment, and participate. LinkedIn is a global community. It may be easy to neglect or ignore, but contribute as often as you can. The ranks are full of people with much experience and looking for the right people. Success rarely comes overnight, but if you engage and keep at it, things can work out in your favor.
Demonstrating value, you can bring to an organization is often hard to quantify. If you do not have much experience, how can you demonstrate value you can add to an organization. Working with school resources, landing an intern or student work position is a great step. Organizations are not expecting interns to save the day. The story of an intern single-handedly saving the day is more fictional than reality. However, they will expect interns to contribute, learn, and grow.
Make clear that you will look at every task as an opportunity to demonstrate your worth. Many hiring managers look very favorably on an individual who is team oriented and have a positive attitude. From my own experience, I would take a team player any day.
Start Early and Be Persistent
Getting an early start is very important. For all students heading to college, or well into their first semester, the time to think about these things is now. Plan ahead. Have you settled into a major yet? What are your career aspirations? It may be easy to neglect or procrastinate, but the earliest you can invest in your career, the better off you will be. Look for work opportunities while in school, and if you have an opportunity for an intern position, do not hesitate.
The Journey Begins
Always be positive and ensure that your actions speak well of your attitude and personality. Intern, student, or part time positions are out there, and getting the right help is a great step. But keep an open mind. Part time positions, student workers, or even some volunteer assignments add skills and experience. Best of all, they add up on a resume that may otherwise be lacking in experience. Keep stepping forward and investing in your career plans.