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Locating an Internship

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Because internships can take on so many guises from the formal to the informal, and the paid to the unpaid, finding the one that is right for you might seem like a Herculean task. The possibilities seem, and nearly are, endless. Many potential interns begin the process feeling overwhelmed as they try to prioritize their search in terms of interest, function, location, prestige, amenities, hours, and pay. The article below will guide you through the thought process and steps characteristic of a successful internship search.

Your First Step - Reflection

My first recommendation is to forgo centering your search on the eye-catching but superficial qualities of prestige, amenities, hours, and pay. Instead, concentrate on the opportunity to perform substantive work in a field of choice.

Undergraduates in particular, often don't give enough consideration to what field really interests them. They prefer instead to apply to a range of internships, usually those listed in popular internship "bibles," because they believe that practically any internship with a large company in a metropolitan area will provide them with "direction" and a valuable, marketable experience.

While internship bibles and guides can play an important role in locating an internship that fits your unique ambitions and character, you can make the most of your internship search by first thinking carefully about your ambitions and goals. This kind of reflection will often narrow your search considerably.

For example, instead of applying for every paid internship with every company you can find, you might apply only to advertising firms. Likewise, if you are interested in the public sector, instead of applying to every prominent foundation and organization, you might apply only to those focusing on election reform.

Thinking about your goals BEFORE you begin your internship search will give you the confidence not to waste time and energy seeking internships in which you have no genuine interest.

Starting the Search - Survey the Scene

Once you have narrowed your search to a particular field or function, survey the scene. Visit a local bookstore or library and dedicate an afternoon to looking through internship books and directories.

You might also pull books off the shelves that refer to careers in your area of interest. Sometimes, internship information is included in these books. Even if it isn't, you might, for example, walk away with a list of companies doing advertising work for record labels. Take notes on possibilities that pique your interest, but use this exercise to give your search a foundation, not a conclusion.

You might also survey the scene online by visiting prominent job banks that list internships. These sites will offer you up-to-date information about internship opportunities and will be more comprehensive than printed guides, which often focus on prominent and established internship programs rather than on start-ups, non-profits, and small businesses.

Going the Distance - Networking

Once you have an idea of what opportunities are available, your work begins in earnest. Unless you are interested in a very narrow field, you probably have a variety of programs and opportunities to choose from. Networking can help you uncover hidden gems and narrow the programs to which you will apply.

Networking, while the word sounds formal, can be nothing more than asking professors and peers about their experiences and recommendations. Asking for advice from a career counselor at your school or attending a job fair is an obvious place to start, but few internship seekers branch out to network with the people who are most familiar to them: parents, older siblings, fellow alumni, roommates, and friends of friends.

If you are currently enrolled at an academic institution, consult professors, section leaders, and researchers affiliated with programs close to your field. You might be surprised how eager people are to talk with you and offer you advice.

You should also mention your internship search when striking up conversations. Informal dialogues have the distinction of being the most overlooked (and the most fertile) avenue for internship seekers.

For example, you might find out that a friend's parent works at a prominent think-tank and is looking for a summer research assistant. Your friend will not only be able to put you in direct contact with his parent, but provide the "personal touch" that often makes all the difference.

Likewise, the gentleman in the suit seated next to you on your flight home for Spring Break with the WSJ logo on his carry-on might be able to hook you up with the internship of your dreams! Share the fact you are searching with everyone you meet.

Networking offers you the opportunity not only to get the inside scoop on prominent internships, but to discover internships that you didn't even know existed.

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