Welcome to the Intern Series!
Internships and co-ops are extremely important for gathering real-world experience. There is a disconnect between what you learn in college and how it applies in a job setting. Obtaining experience while in college does more than help you achieve full-time employment after you have your degree. Think of it as the ultimate test run, not only are you getting experience but you are also trying out your future career. Seeing what your life could potentially be like, which may reinforce your interest in your major or help you make up your mind in you are on the fence. Internships also help you network, meeting and working with real professionals is crucial to popping the college bubble! Many times companies use their internship programs to find new talent, if you are getting an internship in the area you intend to live post-grad this can help you secure employment as early as your junior year. Think about it, if a company is hiring they would rather hire someone who is already familiar with them, plus you have a feel for how things work so they are more confident in you sticking around for a while.
As an employee participant in career fairs and having attended many as a student, I know what makes an applicant stand out. Good grades are important, but there are many other aspects that go into finding a student a company wants to invest their time in. While interns are great, they still take a lot of time to bring up to speed. You need to convey that you are teachable, interested in the work and that you follow instruction. I know this sounds basic but keep reading, you just might learn something.
Be diverse in searching for your internships! At every career fair, I see long lines of students at the big name, corporate companies. Usually, they wait for 30 minutes, just to be told to apply online. I do want to say if that is your dream go for it! The competition is fierce, and they have the ability to only take the best of the best. And this leaves a lot of students discouraged. There are many other local options, and they provide you with the same experience, or better!
We give our interns REAL projects, heck they take on part of my job responsibilities as soon as we show them the emergency exits and bathrooms! Make sure you are seeking out an internship at a company that LIKES interns, where they are valued and their hiring manager wants them to succeed. A great way to find companies like this is to talk to your fellow classmates if they had an internship with a local company pick their brain. They are going to be able to tell you much more than the 2-10 minutes you spend talking to someone at a job fair.
The last job fair I attended 5 or 6 students came up and said to use “hey I am friends with “Intern 1” they told me a lot about their experience and I am interested. For me this is the highest form of flattery, they told their friends and their friends want a similar experience. It also tells me that they can probably handle it, because not only did they hear the good things but also the challenges and difficulties they faced while they were with us.
This has more to do with how you present yourself, and less to do with what you are wearing. Introduce yourself, and offer to shake hands. Tell them what year you are in and your major. Let them know if are looking for an internship/co-op. Ask them what kind of experience their company provides. Be knowledgeable enough about the company to ask a few questions, but don’t go overboard. It is hard not to be nervous but remember that the people at the fair WANT to be there, and we are way less scary than you might imagine.
Career fairs do provide the opportunity to dress up in business wear, but if you don’t have formal wear don’t sweat it! Depending on your field getting the right interview clothing is something you should be working towards, but it should not hold you back from going to a career fair! I work in a machine shop environment and it is normal to interview students in jeans and a button-down. If you are unsure leaning towards the formal side is better.
Communication aka People Skills
Do you have any clubs or groups on your resume? Any previous work experience or group projects? Many employers seek out interns that already have some experience with talking and communicating with others. If you are a freshman or sophomore that had/has a job not related to your field, make sure to note it! Waiting tables or working as a cashier shows that you have communication skills. If you are doing it during school it also shows time management.
Show an interest. Just like you, companies participating in the career fair have been talking to people all day. It is easy to tell when someone is genuinely interested in developing in their field. Like with anything in life it is enjoyable to talk to people who are happy to be conversing about a subject, it also makes you memorable.
Have some examples ready for working with people, one of the questions I sometimes ask is “Can you tell me how you handle conflict resolution?” This kind of thing puts the student on the spot a little but gives me a good idea of their personality.
Is your resume ready? Most students are pretty good at this, but occasionally I see a resume that is filled to the max and white space is to a minimum. Resumes formatted in this way are hard to skim to see if the student has the skills and experience needed for the job. Triple check for spelling errors, and that your name and phone number are correct. Have a friend, or better yet the campus career center look it over.
After introductions are made offer up your resume, I like taking notes on them while I am talking to a student. Even if the company takes your resume, you may still be asked to apply online, don’t be discouraged by this. If you are really interested in a company ask for the employee’s contact info. Sending an email detailing your interest is another way to stand out.
Side Note: I never notice if a resume is on regular printer paper or heavier weight paper. I thought this was really important as a student, but your appearence is just one small aspect of what a company looks for in a candidate.
If you lack communication skills (I did for a while) get a part-time job where you are working with the public. It will introduce you to a wide variety of people and experiences. I am a firm believer that working as a cashier, waitress, gas station attendant, etc… also tends to make you a better person. For example, I tip much better at restaurants than I did before working a minimum wage job.
Side Note: I had a job as a pizza cook when I was 16. I almost got fired my first week because I was terrified of answering the phone. Luckily I had some nice co-workers that wrote out a script for me. Right after my first phone call I was relieved by how easy it was. Growing is uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it is something to shy away from. Anytime you are in a situation where you don’t know what to do or how to react, remind yourself that there is something to learn.
Another option is to look for a club to participate in on campus. It doesn’t even need to be directly related to your major, just something you have an interest in or are passionate about. As an active member of a club, you are showing a multitude of skills employers are looking for. Being active and involved shows interest, you want to be around like-minded people, you can manage school and extracurricular activities, and you can work with other people. If you can work your way onto the management portion of the club even better! Don’t forget to add it to your resume.
Some colleges also offer research assistant opportunities for their students. I personally did not do any of these in college but I had friends that did. They look excellent on a resume and are also usually paid! Do you excel in your classes? If so you may be able to sign up in your library/learning resource center as a tutor. Being able to teach someone who is struggling is not always an easy task. Other than showing you really understand your coursework, tutoring also demonstrates the will to help people and give back to those around you!
Career fairs are one of the many ways to find internships or co-ops. At my company, we almost exclusively use career fairs. While students are asked to apply online meeting someone in person who was energetic and really wants experience will give you a better chance than just solely applying online. If you are on the fence about attending your college career fair here is your sign… GO. Especially if the reasons holding you back are lack of formal wear or resume paper. It is a good experience just getting out and talking to people and meeting local companies you didn’t previously know of.
Side Note: In college, I didn’t find either of my internships at career fairs, but I went every time they were offered. It helps prepare you for interviews and talking to professionals in your field and if nothing else I learned that comfortable shoes are a must.
Almost done with college? Read this > finding your first full-time job!
Thanks for stopping by!