How to Find Internships for College Graduates

Posted by on in Life Transitions

After you graduate college, you might realize that you do not have enough experience to get the job you want. Or maybe you discover that the job market for the field you would like to enter is not strong. Instead of giving up entirely, you might want to consider finding an internship. Internships for recent graduates often provide the experience, skills, and connections needed to enter your chosen career field. As someone who is preparing to graduate or as someone who has already graduated, you might feel that being an intern is beneath you. However, internships are becoming increasingly important, and many employers are likely to interview candidates with relevant internship experience, figuring those candidates would require less up-front training if employed.

Before you even graduate, be proactive and begin researching your prospects. Visit your career center for guidance. If a job is not on the horizon, then research potential internships that would help you get your foot in the door. It is often difficult to enter any specialized field. You often have to start at the bottom and work your way up the ladder. While having an internship may not be ideal for you and your situation, think of it as a stepping stone into your future and what it could mean for your future career. With that in mind, be strategic in applying for internships. Apply only for positions that interest you and that could help you move ahead in your desired field. It is important to find the right internship for you and your goals.

What to Look for in an Internship

Today’s job market can be quite challenging, however. A lot of companies are offering students and recent graduates different internship opportunities. Internships provide the intern hands-on training in a specific career field. This means when the internship is over you have experience, an expanded skill set, and connections. Your internship experience can serve as the foot in the door or that stepping stone to your next job. In the meantime, you need to make sure you are choosing the right internship that will provide you with some great benefits. In this case, benefits do not necessarily refer to vacation time, sick days, and health insurance. Rather, benefits here refer to what the internship experience provides you. Here are just a few things to keep in mind as you are applying to internships.

Experience: Again, this word may be slightly misleading. When it comes to finding the right internship after college, you need to make sure that it provides you with relevant and hands-on experience. You do not want to settle for an internship that only teaches you how to file and make copies. While these skills are important, you also want to gain real experience within the field you wish to enter. Often, this means having the opportunity to work on specific projects, overseeing certain tasks, or working closely with someone higher up in the company.

Opportunities: You might be wondering what is the difference between experience and opportunities. Opportunities are similar to experience, but much more specific. For example, an opportunity in your internship might come in the form of a project that you plan and execute (maybe it would be a donor cultivation cocktail party). Or maybe you would have the chance to travel in order to help your supervisor’s presentation at a conference. Opportunities are the small things that are actually huge and will help you when you actually start seeking a full-time position in the future. These are the specific things you will be able to reference on your résumé and in an interview.

Goals: As you begin searching for the right internship after graduation, you need to consider what are your career goals and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in five years? What type of work do you hope to be doing? What kind of lifestyle do you want? Ask yourself these types of questions, and then make sure your internship will help you get started down that road. You also need to have goals in mind for the internship. What skills do you want to acquire as a result of your internship? What do you want to learn? Of what kinds of opportunities would you like to take advantage? To be really satisfactory, you need to communicate these goals to your supervisor and plan how to achieve them.

Pay: Because you are going to be participating in an internship, you should not expect to be paid much or at all. Intern pay varies depending on the company or organization, the number of hours required of you, and the kind of work you will be asked to do. In some cases, companies simply do not provide you with any sort of compensation. For most recent graduates, this is not an option. However, if the internship will help you down the line, and if you can make it work, then it may not be an issue for you to intern for free. For others, you need to make sure you find an internship that provides you with the experience you need and enough money to make it worth it.

Under-Employment Challenges

Since you are applying for an internship, you need to know that you might end up being under-employed. Being under-employed is completely different than being unemployed. Unemployment is having no job at all, while under-employment is having a lower-paying job or position not commensurate with your education or experience. Under-employment has its own frustrations, and interning is no exception. However, remind yourself that your internship is going to help your future career and is going to, ultimately, make you more successful. As you prepare for your internship, you should prepare for a few under-employed challenges.

Pay: As mentioned above, most internships do not provide much compensation, and in some cases there is no compensation whatsoever. For some, the opportunities provided by the internship are enough compensation. However, most recent graduates will need some kind of stipend during their internship, but you cannot expect a living wage. An internship is a learning experience and often requires more work from the employer than the intern produces.

Benefits: Interns are not typically offered benefits such as health insurance, paid vacations, or bonuses. If staying on your parents’ insurance is not an option, you will need to seek out alternative medical insurance solutions during your internship in order to stay covered. Depending upon the company and organization, there may be some other benefits. If you intern with a theatre, you may be offered free tickets to performances, free tuition to classes, and discounts to other theatres in town. Some companies may even offer housing to out-of-town interns.

Living: Before you graduated, you might have imagined that your post-grad life would be spent in a beautiful, huge apartment and going out whenever you wanted. Unfortunately, because intern pay is low, you will need to learn to live frugally. Look for housing with roommates to split the rent, and cut back on restaurants. You will save much more by cooking for yourself. Make a budget and stick to it.

Second Job: The reality for many interns is that a second job is necessary in order to live. While this might mean you are working long hours for minimal pay, you need to remember that you are gaining valuable skills such as multi-tasking, time management, self-motivation, and self-discipline.

Internship Benefits

If you still find yourself questioning whether an internship after graduation is worth it or not, consider these benefits to having an internship.

Long Term: During this entire process, you need to keep your mind focused on the long term. While you may be overworked, under-employed, and frustrated, your internship will eventually pay off, as long as you have taken the time and found the right internship.

Making Contacts: Internships are a great way to build your professional network, that web of contacts in your field that you can connect with and use as resources as you learn. Your professional network is a good way to learn about potential job openings or opportunities in your field. You can also search for a mentor and new friends in this group.

Experience: You are going to have hands-on relevant experience that will eventually lead you to the right job. Many employers want employees who already have relevant experience, and an internship is your way to get that experience.

Learning to Apply Yourself: If the experience is not enough for you, think of this as a chance to actually apply what you have spent time learning in the classroom and see how that knowledge is useful and used in the real working world.


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