Posts tagged ‘finding an internship’
by the Intern Coach
Erin T., a Journalism major at the University of Pittsburgh, wants to work in New York City, after graduation—for a magazine like Cosmopolitan. She knew she needed to have internship experience to achieve her goal. But an internship in the Big Apple was out of the question—housing would be too expensive and she’d have to give up her part-time job that helped pay her college tuition.
Then, she discovered the perfect solution—a virtual internship with the online edition of a startup lifestyle publication located in New York City. She earned 3 credits for writing 10 articles of 1,000 words each over a 10-week period. “The company encouraged me to find my own topics and even gave me a byline,” says Erin. “I worked from a computer in my dorm at my convenience and still held down a part-time job.
Erin is part of the growing group of interns taking advantage of virtual internships that remove geographical barriers, allowing students to sample different fields or concentrate on a niche industry while still going to classes and working. More and more employers—especially small to midsize ones—offer virtual internships because they have a larger pool of talented candidates, and they save money on office overhead. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
The most common virtual internships are in information technology, software development, research, sales, marketing, blogging, and social media. Companies are looking for self-reliant, self-starters who are comfortable with web conferences, emails, and phone calls.
Companies should expect students to follow the traditional process to apply for a virtual internship—resume, cover letter and a phone interview. Students applying for virtual internships may have the following questions:
- How much mentoring and feedback will I receive?
- Who is my key point of contact and how often do we make contact?
- What is the type of work and what are the expectations?
- Will I receive payment or college credit?
- How many hours a week are involved and for how long a period?
- Will I get a letter of reference if I do a good job?
- Could I view the work of former virtual interns?
The downside of virtual internships is that intern managers may not meet the students working for them. However, Lee H., a science major who researched projects for a non-profit in a virtual internship, liked developing his own way of doing things. “I learned how to work independently and more efficiently.” He pointed out that millions of people already work virtually across the US.
It’s also possible that virtual internships are a way to extend a traditional internship. Keisha P. enjoyed her traditional 3-month summer internship in marketing so much that she didn’t want it to end. She asked her supervisor if she could continue with the company in a virtual internship during the school year. Now she’s preparing PowerPoint presentations and emailing clients from the comfort of her home.
The exploding number of online organizations indicates the future increase in virtual internships. For example, online schooling is expanding rapidly. In response, the University of Florida offers virtual internships to prepare student teachers for the new world of the virtual school. The advent of virtual internships in all fields gives students multiple opportunities for both traditional and virtual career-related experiences—adding considerable value to the academic degree.
One of the most gratifying jobs I’ve had over the course of my career was my time working at the career center at the University of Texas at El Paso. Being responsible for the University’s cooperative education and internship programs and helping college students gain their first professional experiences provided me with a lot of personal satisfaction. During the almost five years of working in that setting, I had the pleasure of seeing many of these same students return to campus as company representatives to recruit the next generation of UTEP graduates. Along the way, I was able to make lifelong friendships with many of these students, first as interns and later as professionals. One friend in particular is Mario, who is now a successful leader at an aviation company.
Sixteen years ago, Mario’s first major in college was marketing. In fact, his first internship experience as a sophomore was working in the marketing department for a large insurance company. When Mario returned, I realized his internship experience had not met his expectations. The root of Mario’s unhappiness wasn’t due to the work he did, but more so due to the work he didn’t do. Mario realized his passion wasn’t in marketing but in information systems. Luckily for Mario, his supervisor during the internship was also technically inclined so he introduced Mario to areas in the organization where he could begin to learn about his newly discovered passion. Needless to say, Mario switched his major to information systems, went on to complete another two internships in his new major, and today is still very passionate about his work.
One appealing aspect of an internship program is its ability to serve as a bridge between the world of theory and practicality. However, the bridge that connects both worlds also needs to have a support structure. Within an internship program, “the glue” that holds together this support is an intern’s supervisor. And while a supervisor’s role is to offer an intern guidance and direction in a work environment, another role should be one of an advisor. Mario often points to that one supervisor, from 16 years ago, as having made a significant impact on his career. From a Hispanic perspective, being an advisor or consejero is an important element of the supervisor/intern relationship. Hispanics are a determined people and are culturally wired to complete one task before starting another. Hence, changing his major after two years of college was not something that came naturally to Mario. Whether Mario’s supervisor at the time knew it or not, his timely advice made the difference between a successful professional and someone that might still be searching for his passion.
There is no question that summer is the most popular period for internships. Students are able to take advantage of a three month break from school to apply their classroom knowledge in practical settings. Additionally, over that same period, employers are able to leverage a reliable source of skilled employees to accomplish short-term projects as well as shore up teams that might be understaffed due to summer vacation schedules. By and large, participating in a summer internship program is highly beneficial to students and employers. So why should employers only take advantage of these benefits in the summer? There is no reason why employers can’t continue building their professional employee pipeline other than in the summer months. Consider the following arrangements to implement an internship program on a year round basis.
Break the Mold
When I managed the internship and cooperative education programs for the University of Texas at El Paso Career Center, there were often many reasons (e.g. financial, personal, career, etc.) students chose to extend their summer internships. While some colleges might not officially sponsor such arrangements, students might opt to continue working into the fall to meet certain personal obligations or needs. Furthermore, based on these same needs, many students might consider internship opportunities that make use of spring/summer combinations rather than the traditional summer schedule. In a nutshell, consider internships that might not fit the traditional internship “mold” – chances are good there are many students out there who will jump at the opportunity.
Flexibility in Quarter Systems
Both semester and quarter systems furnish college students approximately three months each summer for employment opportunities. However, quarter systems might offer employers additional choices when trying to implement an internship programs on a year round basis. Students attending colleges on quarter systems can provide more flexibility, particularly if projects well-suited for interns present themselves through out the year and not just the summer months. Quarter systems allow students to complete an internship in the middle of the year and still remain on track for graduation. Employers can even consider recruiting at schools using each system in order to meet their year round needs.
Depending on the college, some internship programs allow students to work 10-20 hours per week during the academic year. These types of internship arrangements allow students to work and potentially earn college credit provided that a student’s work experience is directly related to their area of study. These scenarios are a great option for local employers or organizations that offer virtual opportunities. For employers, it provides yet another opportunity to maintain an internship program year round.