Getting a job

Internship Is Just A Word

Psst – have you heard? Word on the street is that if you haven’t had multiple internships, you’ll never get a good job!

As the Internship Coordinator at a small Californian Liberal Arts college, it is my job to get this message out to students.

But here’s where the rebel in me has a bit of a problem: Good experience doesn’t only come from an internship! And not all internships provide good experience. I tell my students, “Internship is only a word” and it’s the experience that counts. Why? Because, depending on a student’s major and ultimate career goal, an internship might not be attainable. Does that mean the student should forget about that career? Of course not! But how about gaining experience by taking a relevant part-time or seasonal job that doesn’t call itself an internship?

Undergrads wishing to attend law school or medical school have a really hard time finding internships in their field since most of them are ear-marked for grad students. The same applies to many other pre-professional degrees (Kinesiology, Health Science, Psychology etc. etc.) How can you get around this problem?

What I advise my students to do is look for part-time jobs (doing virtually anything!) in a company or practice that does what they want to do.

If you want to be a lawyer, try to get a job in a law firm; if you want a medical career, look for an opening in a doctor’s office. Even if you are only doing filing, scheduling appointments, or greeting clients, you are gaining relevant experience and learning a bit about how a law firm/medical practice is run. Maybe you’ll even get to accompany a lawyer to court, or watch while a doctor performs a procedure, or learn how to sterilize instruments, or check a patient’s vitals. And there’s no doubt about it, the experience will look good on your resume. (And in case nobody’s told you, a resume should show relevant experience, not everything you’ve ever done).

Another medical-related option is to volunteer at a hospital; some hospitals will even let you choose which department you will be assigned to.

Here are some other suggestions for students interested in careers that are not related to law or medicine …

Want to be a teacher? How about working at a summer camp, or tutoring?

Want to be a librarian? Work part-time at your school’s library, or volunteer at your local public library.

Want a career in retail management? Get a part-time or seasonal job in any store.

Want to be a writer or editor? Sign up with your college newspaper.

Want a career in athletics? Coach a school team, get a job with your college’s athletic department, or with a local professional sports team.

I could cite many more examples, but you’re smart so I’m sure you get the idea.

Where should you look for these opportunities? Start with networking—do you have a family member, friend, or friend of a friend’s friend who works in your chosen field? If so, ask for their assistance—can they give you the name of someone in the hiring department? If your school has a job-board, get into the habit of checking it often. If you know of an organization you’d like to work for, look on its web site for available openings and if there aren’t any, call the H.R. department and ask if there’s anything you could do there. And before you start any of this, make sure your resume is up-to-date!

Just remember that what’s important is that you gain RELEVANT EXPERIENCE before you graduate, so don’t get hung up on the internship thing… After all, “Internship” is just a word!

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Paula Conrad

Paula Conrad is a transplanted Londoner who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last 20 years. She is the Internship & Career Fair Coordinator at Saint Mary’s College of California. Paula serves on the Board of Directors of the California Internship and Work Experience Association (CIWEA) and her particular area of responsibility is CIWEA’s annual Bernard L. Hyink Scholarship essay contest.