10 Internship Search Mistakes

Posted on July 18, 2013. Filed under: Career, College, Internship, Jobs | Tags: , , , |


One of the books that we recommend to students as they begin to explore internships is What Color is your Parachute? For Teens by Carol Christen and Richard N. Bolles. It’s a wonderful resource that helps young people understand their passion and how to translate that into a career path. Toward the end of the book they list ten mistakes that job hunters make and ways to avoid them. In large part, these same mistakes are often made by students taking on their first internship search. I have updated Christen and Bolles’ list to apply to these students.

Ten Internship Search Mistakes & How to Avoid Making Them

1. Carrying an Attitude of Entitlement
No one owes you an internship opportunity. In fact, a quality internship takes time and effort on the part of the employer. Just because most internships are unpaid, does not mean that the employer is getting “free labor.” The employer is taking time and resources to help train students in their field of interest. Students should approach potential employers with enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Make sure the employer knows that they will be benefitting from the experience, too.

2. Spending Very Little Time on the Search
A successful internship search is related to the amount of time a student devotes to it. I advise students to treat an internship search like another course and devote two to three hours per week for approximately 10 weeks prior to the desired start date. Enter this time on your calendar and stick to the schedule. This time might be spent on resume writing and application preparation, securing letters of recommendation, studying career preparation resources, meeting with professionals or researching potential sites.

3. Sticking with Techniques that are not Working
Many students are comfortable with Google searching for internships, which is indeed a good way to learn what’s out there. However, if you have only been applying to positions that you find via Google AND you have not yet secured an interview, it’s probably time to switch it up. Other social media outlets such as LinkedIn or Twitter might offer better or different leads. Getting in touch with contacts made through networking and school resources is another route. Try some face-to-face interaction with an informational interview to see where it might lead.

4. Ignoring Advice from Experts
Do you know someone who has already found an internship…or two? How did they do it? What is their secret for success? Your school has career advisors and resources. Your family, friends and professors are already part of your network. Use them! Don’t be shy. Most people are happy to talk about their experiences and offer advice.

5. Taking Internships Lightly
Don’t dabble in your search; commit to it. Securing a quality internship has become an important and necessary step in launching your career. Not taking it seriously can result in negative consequences as you move forward. As mentioned under #2, regularly schedule time each week to devote to your internship search. Become absorbed in every aspect of it, including doing mock interviews, researching industry trends, and shopping for appropriate attire.

6. Failing to Plan Financially
Since most internships are unpaid, it is crucial for students to consider how they will manage their monthly expenses while they are devoting time to unpaid work. Is there time for a part time paid job, too? Do you have money in savings to carry you through? Look for scholarships and loans that will support the extra expenses associated with internship work, especially if it is out of town. Establish a budget for the duration of your internship and stick to it.

7. Becoming Discouraged and Giving Up
You need to develop a thick skin and an optimistic attitude as you go through an internship search. You cannot take it personally if you do not hear back from a potential employer or if no offer comes after a good interview. Being persistent and keeping a positive attitude are necessary. Finding the right internship does not happen overnight and it takes hard work. Stay dedicated and you will be rewarded.

8. Limiting your Internship Options
Don’t make your search too narrow or focus on only one target organization or position. Many college graduates do not work in a field related to their major, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unhappy! Keep an open mind and focus on the soft skills that can be gained from any good internship experience. Often employers are looking for a broad set of qualifications (communication skills, critical thinking, team player) and will train entry level employees in the specifics of the field. Internships are a great training ground for the fundamentals of professionalism.

9. Looking Only at Advertised Positions
Just because you haven’t seen your dream internship advertised doesn’t mean it’s not out there. Many positions are filled by word of mouth, not through internet ads. Talk to people and tell them what you are looking for. Follow up on all leads. If you don’t’ see an internship listed on XYZ Corporation’s website, call them to see if they might be interested in an intern. Don’t be satisfied with what you see first – keep looking until you find what you want!

10. Going it Alone
For most students, an internship search is their first real exposure to career exploration. The internship itself is a learning experience, but so is the search. Don’t try to do it on your own. At the very least find a buddy to search with you. As a student you have many resources such as a career center, access to online career assessments and interview software, and career advisors. However, don’t forget to include family and friends in your plans. You never know who Uncle Sid might know!

Christen, C. & Bolles, R.N. (2010). What color is your parachute? For teens. Second Edition. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA.


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