This is a guest post from Laura who is a twenty-something woman working to improve her finances and increase her net worth. She writes about personal finance for college students and grads at Green Panda Treehouse.
If you're a college student, you're probably looking for an internship that will not only enhance your resume, but give you an idea of what a career in your field would be like. An internship can be a wonderful way for you to gain hands on experience and to develop your professional network.
The difficulty is finding an internship that can fulfill your needs. If you're a college student and you have a lot of debt or you're a working college student with financial obligations, you have the added burden of finding an internship that can pay the bills. Is it possible? Yes, it is. I attended college and had my monthly bills to keep on top of, but I was able to find a wonderful internship. It takes effort and patience, but you can succeed.
Internships: Do you focus on experience or the money?
Looking at your situation, you have to decide what would work best for you. I will have say that having a practical internship that offers you an opportunity to meet career mentors and present challenges is a huge benefit. Internships can be a great way to get your foot through the door. I recommend not waiting until your senior year to apply for an internship. Start looking while you're a freshman and try out several jobs.
The issue for some college students, including myself, is having the financial circumstances to take the internship. For some, a low paying internship for six months can wreck havoc on your finances. This is another reason I encourage all college students to live simply and avoid high interest debt.
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The problem, though, is internships usually offer neither decent paying money nor practical skill training. There are many internships offered on college job boards that are basically low level jobs. Interns are expected to little paperwork and main run errands for other staff with little practical skill development.
How to Find a Great Internship
Look at your university's career management center. I set up a job agent to email me when an internship in my major became available. Since I was a working while going to college, I looked at internships that met my minimum pay needs. I couldn't afford to take an non-paying or low paying internship.
Network with your professors. Letting your professors know about your job hunt expands your net. Sometimes they may be aware of internships and jobs that could fit your requirements. It can also open up an opportunity for you a reference from your professor.
Ask upperclassmen to get references on internships. Chat with students who have taken internships you're looking into to see which are great and which ones are just hype. I passed on a few internships after finding out there wasn't much interest in letting interns really work on challenges.
Be prepared at the interview. If you want to have a practical and valuable internship, don't come into the interview clueless. Research the company and anticipate what skills they are going to need. Present yourself as more than the typical college student; be a team player.
Some Questions to Ask During The Interview
You've made it to the interview, so now it's your job to shine above the other applicants. Just because you're an intern, don't assume they will expect less. Focus on your strengths and remember to be confident and respectful.
- Is there hands on training with the job or is it a more formal situation? I have had both types and they have both worked. You're just trying to get an idea of how the company runs.
- Is there a small manageable project that I can the lead / assist in? Besides showing initiative, you can also find out if they are excited to have an intern working on meaningful projects. It doesn't have to be a huge project. You can offer to update training manuals for example.
- Can I get written feedback for the project? This is for you to build your portfolio and hopefully have a point of contact to work with.
If you take the internship, be sure to make the most of it. You can network with people in different departments and get an idea of how your prospective career runs.
I wish all college students could find a internship that pays decently in their field of interest that offers a great chance of learning something challenging and possible their career calling.
If you're in college, what have you noticed about internships in your university? If you're out of college, what advice do you have to share?
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.