College students look forward to the summer break as an escape from the classroom and often as an opportunity to earn money. Finding a paid summer internship can be very competitive but don’t panic if you don’t land an internship. There are other opportunities to add value to your resume and prepare for your future.
- Gain Work Experience – Even if it isn’t paid. Gaining experience is the most important goal, whether you are being paid or not. This also shows future employers that you are motivated and focused. While it is ideal to gain some exposure to your field of choice, for this year, it is critical to be employed. Doing most anything is better than doing nothing. Retail or fast food experience at least exposes you to customer service skills and time management. Before settling for those options reach out to non- profits organizations and offer your services. They often need assistance but have no budget. Ask your contacts if you can shadow them for a day or work on a project as a volunteer. Be creative and find ways to build your work experience even if you are not receiving a pay check.
- Networking – It is time to start seriously thinking about what you might want to do for your career. You may have selected a major already or you may still be considering your options. Either way, this is a critical time to begin networking. Talk to people who work in fields that interest you or companies that interest you. Start with the “low hanging fruit” – parents of your friends, people your parents know. As you get comfortable with information interviews, reach out to alumni of your school. Many people will make time to talk to a student and they often have some flexibility in their schedule in the summer. Learn what skills are necessary for success in the field you are interested in. Send a thank you note to each contact you meet. Invite them to link with you on Linked In and ask if you can keep them posted throughout your next three years.
- Informational Interviews- As you identify possible career options reach out to people in your field of interest and request an informational interview. This extends your networking efforts but helps you gain valuable insights into your chose field. What skills are critical>? What does an employer expect from an entry level hire? What is necessary to succeed longer term in this field?
- Professional Associations – Identify a relevant professional association for your chose field and join as a student member. Attend meetings and start building your professional network. During your informational interviews you can ask for recommendations of the best associations in your field.
- Prepare Your Tools – Be ready. Sometimes companies have last minute summer needs due to students who changed their plans or unforeseen business needs. Be sure you have your tools prepared so you can jump on those opportunities. Update and edit your resume and ask several people to review it for you to ensure that it is flawless. Practice writing cover letters to jobs in your field and ask for feedback to improve them. Practice interviewing with a friend, colleague, family member or your career center. Ask for feedback. Anticipate frequently asked questions and consider your answers in advance. Practice researching companies of interest to identify questions you can ask in your interview. The more preparation you do now the easier the process will be.
- Develop a Plan – Build a list of target companies you are most interested in working for. Use your summer to research and identify alumni and other connections at those companies. Prepare to maintain your networking even while you are back in school but get a good start during the summer. Start reviewing job postings at your target companies to get a feel for the types of positions they post for entry level. It is too early to apply but it gives you a better sense of what to watch for in the months ahead. Commit to attending on campus career fairs, company recruiting events, etc. when you are back in school. Manage your time wisely so you don’t miss these valuable opportunities.
Having your eye on the end goal throughout your four years in school increases the likelihood of employment at graduation but it also helps you focus on the best opportunities for you.