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Internships are the “new interview”—your most likely route to a job, according to surveys of students, graduates, and employers. Here, experts say why.

Question: How much does an internship matter to employers?
Answer: A whole lot. “Practical experience is probably the number one thing that will move a resume toward the top of the pile.” — Jeff Reep, director of career services at Cedarville University, Ohio, and a certified professional career coach.

Question: What exactly can an internship do for me?
Answer: Provide essential experience and contacts. “Internships are oftentimes not only a learning experience but also a networking pathway to your first job. The more people you know in an industry, the better your chances.” —Lainee Beigel, attorney and founder of career coaching company Career Esquire, New York.

Question: I’m not sure what career I’m aiming for, so how can I choose an internship?
Answer: Think skill development. “Internships do not need to match up exactly with the job you apply for after school. Many practical skills are transferable across various industries.” —Lainee Beigel

Question: I can’t afford to take an unpaid internship.Am I doomed?
Answer: No. “Career-focused internships are preferable. However, it’s important to think about what skills and qualities you can emphasize. For example, as a waiter, you had to employ people skills and problem solving skills that can be applied to any job in any industry.” —Lauren Griffin, senior vice president at Adecco, a recruitment company in Boston.

Question: How can I make my summer serving ice-cream sound like a UN position?
Answer: You can’t. “Do not lie or embellish your resume or the jobs you did. You will be busted.” —Dana Manciagli, career coach, and author, based in Washington State.

Seven out of ten companies with 100+ employees offered full-time roles to their interns in 2012. They expected to hire more interns going forward.

Two in three employers say relevant work experience and interview performance are the most important factors in hiring (well ahead of academic performance).

Have a plan
5 steps to an intriguing internship & how they apply to two examples:

Have a plan: Artsy business student

Steps to a dynamic internship

Example: business major aiming for theater internship
  1. Start searching for opportunities 3-6 months in advance. Applying your skills in unexpected contexts can broaden your appeal to employers.Research local theatre companies, upcoming production schedules, and contacts (e.g., theatre directors, set coordinators).
  2. Identify two realistic ways your current skills could benefit the organization.
    • Generate some extra ticket sales
    • Reduce set costs
  3. Email the contacts you identified. Include a cover letter and your résumé. Explain why you are interested in this field and their business specifically.Let them know of your love of theater, how much you admired their recent production, and how you could contribute.
  4. Prepare for a phone conversation. Know what you could contribute to the organization, and ask what they need. Be flexible.You want to reduce the production budget, they need you to work on publicity? Adjust.
  5. Discuss a particular goal for your internship.A goal (e.g., reviewing expenses or identifying inefficiencies) will provide focus and add marketable skills to your résumé.

Have a plan: Green PR student

Steps to a dynamic internship

Example: public relations major aiming for organic farm internship
  1. Start searching for opportunities 3-6 months in advance. Applying your skills in unexpected contexts can broaden your appeal to employers.Check out farms locally and further away (some may provide housing).
  2. Identify two realistic ways your current skills could benefit the organization.
  3. Social media campaign:
    • Raise awareness of benefits of organic food production
    • Attract customers
  4. Email the contacts you identified. Include a cover letter and your résumé. Explain why you are interested in this field and their business specifically.Outline briefly your communication experience, why you care about organic farming, and how you could contribute to their business.
  5. Prepare for a phone conversation. Know what you could contribute to the organization, and ask what they need. Be flexible.While you may be fired up about a Twitter campaign, the farmers may be more interested in website content.
  6. Discuss a particular goal for your internship.Establish realistic metrics in for social media engagement, page views, etc., and ways to measure your impact on farm sales.

The Art of Change


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Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and the managing editor of JHStyle Magazine based in Jackson Hole, Colorado. Her writing credits include the International Journal of Wilderness, Mountain Outlaw, Teton Family Magazine, Big Sky Weekly, and Dishing. Her MS in natural resources is from Humboldt State University in California.