When Should I Seek an Internship?

“When should I seek an internship?”

This is a question I get a lot.

The answer is “Yes.”

That is–there’s no right or wrong time to look for internships. There’s not even an optimal time to get an internship. This freedom is one of the perks of being an English or Creative Writing major.
An internship that helps you explore a career that interests you is a good thing to do at ANY stage of your college career. You don’t have wait until your junior year, nor do you need to panic if you’re a sophomore who hasn’t lined anything up yet.

Majors in business or engineering or other pre-professional fields are often seeking jobs in a handful of large corporations that like to test-drive future hires in junior year internships. Success in one of these fields is therefore closely tied to getting the “right” internship after sophomore or junior year, one that may lead to a job offer sometime during one’s senior year. Students who aren’t on that schedule have a more challenging job search than students who are.

English and CW majors, on the other hand, have a lot of options.

English/CW majors CAN seek out summer internships (often in HR, marketing, project management, sales, client services, or claims) with companies that hire full-time employees out of their internship programs. If that’s a path that interests you, it’s good to start attending career fairs as early in your college career as possible and start getting to know the companies you’d like to work for after graduation. The fall Business Career Fair often offers a lot of internships for the following summer, and the more research you can do in advance of the fair, the better your experience will be–and I’m happy to help you identify some promising openings, plot your strategy, and make your resume and “pitch” career-fair ready. With effort, focus, and determination, you CAN land an internship after your sophomore or junior year that could lead to a full-time job–just like any STEM or pre-professional major.

But…a lot of people major in English or Creative Writing because they don’t want those kinds of jobs with those kinds of companies. They may not know enough about what they want to do after graduation to be willing to put the effort in to build a relationship with a specific company that will lock them into a job they don’t know that they want.

Many students will find employment with nonprofit organizations, small companies, employers in the entertainment industry, tech, or software industries. Many of these kinds of organizations don’t adhere to a strict internship/hiring cycle, and many don’t come to career fairs. They may or may not offer internships at all. They may look favorably on full-time job applicants who have held meaningful leadership roles in volunteer organizations, who have been involved in student newspapers or journals, who have held relevant part-time jobs, or who have produced independent creative work.

So a better question to start with is not “When should I apply?” but “What do I want?” If you have your eye on a particular company or a particular industry, there are a lot of things you can do to start figuring out what’s available and how you could get started:

  • Keep track of internship openings on I-Link (you can use the “Advanced Search” option to limit yourself to internships in specific industries that interest you. (Any given search may not yield a lot of results–it helps to set up a regular time each week to see if any new openings have appeared)
  • Start researching particular companies in the field that you’d like to work with. Most company websites have a “careers” tab where they list internship opportunities (if they offer any).
  • Join our alumni mentoring network to start talking to professionals in that field. If there’s no one in our network who works in the particular area you want to explore, use LinkedIn to locate other alumni who might be willing to talk to you.
  • Look for paid internships or part-time jobs on campus that will help you build relevant skills. Campus opportunities in, say, movie production are pretty limited, but a part-time job or internship that gives you skills in video-editing, storyboarding, project management, social media, or marketing could give you skills that are transferable to that industry.
  • RSOs are a good way to get involved, make friends, and have fun–and they can also be a valuable resource for job skills. Look for organizations where you can not only be an involved member but also play a role in making things happen. Managing a budget, event-planning, fundraising, membership recruitment, publicity, social media, and outreach are all skills that you can cultivate through your involvement.

Keep in mind, too, that “internship” does not necessarily equal “meaningful post-graduation job.” It can help you understand better what you want from a career, build skills you you want, recognize skills you didn’t know you had, or send you in a different direction of career exploration.

Bottom line? If an internship sounds interesting to you, go ahead and apply.

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