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Milking Your Internship

By Laura Sweeney

Use an internship to gain insight into the industry of your choice while garnering ever-important work experience.

You may feel like a student, but you are expected to act like a professional.
If you're entering the workforce for the first time, or switching to a new industry, you are likely to encounter the ultimate catch-22 of the working world: to land a job, you must have previous work experience, but work experience comes from previous employment.

This would be frustrating if it weren't for the growing availability of internships in almost every industry. Summer, semester, or part-time internships can give you the work experience that companies want and, at the same time, offer an exclusive preview of your field of choice.

Steer Your Career Decision
An internship is one of the most practical steps you can take in your career search. It offers you the opportunity to weigh what you like and don't like about a company or an industry, supplement your resume, make industry contacts, and develop professional skills. In short, it can help steer your career decision and give you an idea of what life on the job will be like.

Following are some tips to help you get the most from you internship experience:

  • Approach your internship as you would a real job, beginning with the application process: submit a polished resume, prepare for your interview, and dress appropriately. You may feel like a student, but you are expected to act like a professional.
  • Once you're on the job, keep your eyes and ears open. You will learn the most about the company and the industry simply by paying attention and being inquisitive.
  • Don't be surprised if you are asked to do some filing or faxing; after all, you are the ultimate underling. No matter what your duties, work diligently and maintain a positive attitude. Remember that part of the learning experience is absorbing what's going on around you.
  • Assess the skills you will need to land a first job in this field, and make professional contacts that can help you find that job.
  • Many employers use internships to screen potential employees. If there is an available position at your level, and if your supervisor feels a good fit, she is likely to hire you over someone who isn't familiar with the company or vice versa.
  • If the only thing you learn from your internship is that you don't like the field you have chosen, that's valuable information too. Be critical of what you dislike, and apply that knowledge to your job search.
  • Once the internship is over, pump it for all it's worth. Evaluate what you learned from working in a professional environment and add it to your resume. Even if you spent time filing, don't underestimate the skills that are required to be a useful member of any professional team, such as effective verbal communications, business writing, computer knowledge, and learning and interpersonal skills.

Consult your campus career center for more information on finding an internship, and inquire whether your school rewards academic credit for an internship. If you have a company in mind already, call the Human Resources department to get the details of its internship program.

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