The benefits of higher education are evident. But sometimes the life experience that supplements your degree — starting with internships — can really catalyze your career. In fact, Colorado College internship coordinator Andrea Culp believes those things are just as important.
"You cannot substitute [your degree] with anything," she says, "but you need to enhance it with the experience that's actually out in the workforce so that you can have the benefit of bringing both of them together once you enter the full-time job market."
Of course, applying for internships can be an experience in itself. To snag the opportunity that's right for you, consider the following.
Research, research, research — and do it early. Start online. Whether or not you attend a specific school, you can often still use its online career resources. Colorado College's site features a list of internship databases (tinyurl.com/internshiphelp), and Regis University's Nonprofit Job Bank (tinyurl.com/regisjobbank) includes intern opportunities. Of course, you should also look to your school's career center, where a counselor can help you sort through the mass of information.
Culp adds that the time to begin researching is now, because though generally the application period is October to March, there are always exceptions.
Be proactive with your résumé. In a tough job market, Culp believes a targeted résumé and cover letter can help you stand out. Targeting includes thinking about the ordering of your experience, the jobs you'll include, what you'll write in your bullets, and the order of your sections. Two versions of one person's résumé can end up looking very different, depending on who will receive it. "It's the same experience that you've had," Culp says, "but it's how you talk about it, so that me, as the employer, I can hear what I need to hear relevant to what I'm looking for."
Many colleges offer workshops in résumé building, but another resource to consider is the Pikes Peak Workforce Center (ppwfc.org). Its staff can help you not only in assembling the perfect résumé(s), but also in designing portfolios and crafting cover letters.
As Culp says, if a cover letter is listed as optional, write one: "It's your chance to tell them why you are perfect for the job."
Network. A lot. Consider professors and other professional connections, even family and friends, as contacts. The more people you have watching out for opportunities, the more likely you are to find the right opportunity.
Also, even if a company doesn't post an internship, you can still express interest in working for that company. "I would absolutely encourage students to call and see if they can do an informational meeting," Culp suggests.
This allows you to see if you'd fit into the workplace, and to showcase your enthusiasm and abilities. Even if a meeting doesn't end in an offer, you've made a new networking contact and you can ask if the contact knows of anyone offering a similar opportunity.
Don't worry. No matter what experience you end up with, Culp feels you're sure to benefit somehow. "I don't really think there's ever a bad internship experience," she says, "because you're always getting something out of it."
The bottom line is, you want to know that when you start your first job, you're likely to be happy there.
"The important thing about internships is that students really need to take the opportunity to try out a field, and explore things that they're considering," Culp says. "If they don't have that exposure and that experience, it's really hard to know what that's going to be like."