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You are Here: Home > Career Guidance > Internship Center > Locating an Internship - 2

Locating an Internship

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Improvisation - Internships Out-of-the-Box

While "bibles"tell you what internships are the most popular and networking will alert you to unpublicized internship opportunities, these avenues still overlook a source of incredibly rewarding internships: those that are intern-initiated. For those willing to think outside of the box, the rewards can be staggering.

By "intern-initiated," I mean that you should not limit your internship search simply to programs that exist. Although intern-initiated internships are often not paid, they often reap greater dividends in terms of experience and "fit" because you, yourself, shaped the parameters of your experience.

If, in the course of your research, you come across organizations or companies that capture your interest, approach them and offer your skills and time in exchange for your ability to learn more about their work. You might offer the firm evidence that you have particular experiences or values that the firm can use.

Consider proposing a specific project or area of interest that you would like to pursue. Be transparent about what you hope to gain from your internship and talk about what you hope to learn from your time with the firm. The fact that you are there to learn, as well as to work, distinguishes you (particularly in the public sector) from someone who is merely volunteering their time.

If you aren't sure how you would arrive at ideas for intern-initiated internships, you might just start reading trade journals in your area of interest and keep your eyes open as you go through your daily routine. Reading about your industry, for example, will not only give you a sense of where your ambitions might be headed, but it will offer you the names of companies that are doing cutting-edge work, or that are active in your area. If the company has exciting entry-level positions, you might approach them with an internship proposal that might train you for those positions.

Similarly, if you live and work in Los Angeles and happen to read an article in the Los Angeles Times about how the mayor is starting a civil rights commission, you might approach the mayor's office and ask for the staff member in charge of the commission. You might explain how you have a special interest in civil rights, are bilingual, and are writing your senior thesis on police brutality. Could you observe the commission at work and do outreach into the Hispanic community? They answer might just be, "Yes.

Once you open your mind to the possibilities of an intern-initiated experience, chances are you will be pursuing at least one or two opportunities that you have come up with entirely on your own.

Narrowing the Field - Before You Apply

If you have done your homework well, you will have a number of opportunities before you. Most likely you will have several "piles" of information:

  • The formal internship programs that are widely published and have firm deadlines and requirements
  • Internships you located online some of which you have detailed information and others for which you need to place calls
  • Information on companies or organizations with whom you are interested in working but have to formal internship program
  • A stack of business cards, cocktail napkins, and email that are a result of your "networking."

Narrow your search by combing through this material and making decisions about which opportunities to pursue. Center your thought process on the opportunity to perform substantive work in a field of choice. Even if your interests have shifted since you began the process, try to stay focused on what internships offer you the best opportunity to do the kind of work you are most interested in doing.

This is also the time to begin factoring in components like location and pay, if you haven't done so already. Be honest about where you want to be and whether you can afford to work for free. Remember to explore options like living at home, taking out a loan, or obtaining funding from an outside source.

If the work you are interested in doesn't pay or isn't in New York City, but you are committed to that work, then sacrifices might be in order. Maybe living at home in the suburbs but commuting into downtown is an acceptable compromise.

If you refuse to work in the Midwest, however, don't apply for an internship in Milwaukee no matter how great the internship sounds. This comment might seem obvious, but so many internship seekers apply to internships they would never accept unless it was a "last resort."

Many applicants also harbor the mistaken impression that internships that they are less interested in (those that are in less desirable locations or that don't pay), are somehow "easier" to get. The result is that seekers spread themselves too thin and don't end up following through.

Keep in mind that most internships are equally competitive. Just because you don't really want to work in Des Moines doesn't mean that there aren't lots of people who do.

Sort through your piles and create a single, manageable pile of internships that you would actually accept if they were offered to you. Begin to gather all the information you will need to apply to those internships. For companies that you are interested in, but which you are not sure offer internships, find a phone number or an email address for a recruiter and make contact.

If you don't get through or don't get a response, keep trying. Make sure you have a list of deadlines, qualifications, and required materials. Complete your research early. Your foresight will ensure that when you sit down to actually apply that you have all the information you need.

Good Luck!

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