Here’s why a summer job can be just as good as an internship…
Why has “intern” become such a coveted title in the college world? There is no proof with the students I coach that having an internship provides a greater learning experience than working as a bartender, server, truck driver, babysitter or dance instructor.
So, for those of you that are disappointed you couldn’t find an internship, or need to focus on earning money this summer, please don’t fret. You can still gain the skills and experience that will help you build your resume and earn the respect of future professional employers. In fact, because employers aren’t held to any standards when designing an “internship,” your experience might be more valuable.
Consider thinking about your “menial” summer job as an internship. A good internship often consists of taking on a non-critical but useful project for an employer and completing it under their supervision. Can you take on an extra assignment that would help out your organization?
For example, a young woman I coached put together a Facebook page for the ice cream stand where she worked for the summer and helped drive a few hundred followers to the page.
Ben asked the owner of the restaurant where he worked if there was a small research project he could take on. The owner was interested in changing the prices of some of her menu items, so Ben researched the pricing of all the local competitors and made an excel spreadsheet that gave his boss a clear sense of what her clients would be willing to pay. She was able to raise her prices and was thrilled with Ben’s work.
In both cases, these students were able to add substantial projects to their resume. They also have great stories to tell in interviews. Employers look to past experience as a future predictor of success, so the more accomplishment tales you have to tell, the better.
If there isn’t an opportunity to take on a project, perhaps you could convince your supervisor to give you more responsibility.
One of my students recently became a shift supervisor at the donut shop where she works, and trains many of the new employees. She’s had to deal with a lot of crises on her own. Not only does she have a number of interesting and positive stories to add to her resume and discuss in depth in interviews, her boss is also going to give her a great reference when she leaves.
There’s also no law that says you can’t network while working! Get to know your regular customers and connect with them on LinkedIn. You never know what might happen.
Consider the story of another young woman I coach. She was a counselor at a summer camp last year and was able to connect with some of the parents. Those connections paid off, as one of the parents helped her get a marketing internship for this summer.
You should also take the time to meet professionals in your fields of interest throughout the summer. It might seem daunting, but it is well worth it. Ask the professional adults you know for help finding connections. LinkedIn is also great resource. You can find connections by reaching out to the alumni and career centers of your university to see who they can connect you with. You can also attend local networking events.
When you meet someone you would like to have as a professional contact, ask them for an informational interview. An informational interview is a great way to get to learn about an industry, and gain insight into a career track. If you conduct yourself professionally in the informational interview, in most cases, you’ll also gain a valuable advocate going forward, so make sure you stay in touch with your new contacts afterwards.
Finally, if you have time, squeeze in a small volunteer project into your busy schedule. This is a great way to not only give back, but also meet people and gain some experience. See if you can find something in your field. Film major? Volunteer for a film festival. Graphic Design major? See if you can design the poster.
The bottom line is, you should not be embarrassed about having to work hard during your summer. Stand tall and confident. You are already in the “real world,” gaining experience that employers value. Learn to sell yourself as the great employee you already know that you are and be proud of your accomplishments.
Dr. Emily Porschitz Benson is a Career Coach at LaunchingU and an Associate Professor at Keene State College. She has worked in Human Resources in the IT and Construction industries and has been researching the transition from college into career for over ten years.