by Pia K. Hansen
The world is not fair, and all internships are not created equal.
Ask any group of college students and you're likely to hear a few horror stories: there was the internship that consisted of getting coffee and photocopying endless stacks of office memos; or the one that was mostly about babysitting the owner's kids even though it was supposed to be in business management (not early childhood development) or the one that consisted of cleaning out the backroom -- yes, that room where no one had set foot since 1975.
But there are very good opportunities out there, all you need to do is put a little effort into finding the right one.
"For students, internships provide a wonderful bridge where they can compare their real-life experience with their expectations about the field that they are hoping to work in," says Gini Hinch, internship coordinator at Eastern Washington University. "Some students find their own internships. They are often more comfortable approaching the company asking for an internship than for that dreaded first job."
Some majors and programs require internships, but Hinch says that no matter what your program requires "internships just look awesome on a resume."
And there are lots of internship opportunities in Spokane. Eastern's database alone holds more than 1,000 different opportunities, and Hinch matches around 500 students annually with employers around the Inland Northwest.
"Some of the internships are regional, but there are many right here -- we are fortunate that way," she says.
Here at The Inlander, we've had interns in several different departments for the last few years. It turns out that we have many of the same expectations Hinch does -- here are a few hints:
1 Send a cover letter with your resume and examples of your work. The cover
letter gives the employer a chance to find out a little bit more about you, who you are, what you like and where you are going in life. Some businesses have internship application forms.
"It pays to take the time to put together a strong resume," says Hinch. "List the fast food jobs you've had, they have many great transferable skills, like teamwork. Explain some of your course work, like a big paper or project you've done. It helps to share that." Most internship offices will help you put together a good resume and some even provide help with cover letters.
What about honors and awards? "We say 'if you earned it, flaunt it,' " says Hinch. "But also, if you worked full-time to put yourself through school and you succeeded but didn't get any honors, explain that. Employers understand how demanding it is to put yourself through school."
2 If you provide a phone number, make sure someone is there to answer the
phone when it rings, or that there is a reliable way to leave you a message.
You'll be surprised how many messages roommates can lose, how often cell phone numbers get changed and how many answering machines break down. An employer is only going to try to reach you so many times.
3 If you are asked in for an interview, treat it like a professional interview. Be on time, make sure you know where the company you are interviewing with is located, bring quarters for the meter and phone numbers for your references -- you'll likely be needing both. And know who you are going to be talking to.
"Do as much homework on the company as you can, before you go," says Hinch. "That also gives confidence when you are in the interview situation."
4 Make sure you know what your class schedule is going to be like for the period where you are going to be an intern. If you are volunteering at the women's shelter four nights a week, completing your second major, training for a marathon, editing the school paper, getting married and going to the state finals in volleyball all at the same time, you may want to postpone your internship until next semester. Most companies will work with your schedule, but you have to let them know what it is and stick to it.
5 Actually working in your field of study may not be at all what you expected. If that happens, get in touch with the internship office immediately and see if you can get on a different internship.
"Sometimes students find out that this job is not at all what they thought it would be like. They go to a hospital and volunteer and find out that being a physician is not at all like ER," says Hinch. "But we think that's good. Imagine if you don't find out. You've made a mistake until after you graduate."
6 The money question can be a hard one. Most internships don't pay anything
or they pay just a little in connection with the completion of a project. Make sure that you check with your academic advisor that your internship will count toward completing your major.
"If students receive credit for the internship, that can allow them to work for little or no pay," says Hinch. "And most times, the experience is worth so much the lack of pay doesn't matter all that much."
7 And finally, once you have landed your spot and show up for work, show some initiative -- you know, participate. Volunteer your help and ask questions. And you may get the ultimate reward for hanging in there: The internship may result in your first real job.
"For the employers, internships are a major recruitment tool. It's much like a try-before-you-buy program," says Hinch. "So, yes, definitely, you want to make a good impression."