The Complete Novice’s Guide to Getting Experience


It’s a familiar Catch-22 for recent grads—you need experience to get a job and a job to get experience. So what is the inexperienced college senior to do? Why, get an internship, of course!

Now, we have an idea that you might be saying either or both of these things to yourself:

1) I’m a creative writing/medieval history/(insert obscure topic here) major, so there are no internships in my field.

2) I’m a college senior. If you think I have time to do an internship on top of my coursework, extracurriculars, and social life, you are cray-cray.

And here’s what we say to you in return.

1) Sure, you might not be able to find an internship that is directly applicable to your major. If you’re getting tripped up on that, try taking a step back. Think about what skills you already have or would like to develop or what industry you’d like to learn more about. Kellen McKillop, a creative writing major at the University of Redlands, couldn’t find anyone who was willing to pay her to write a novel, but she DID find someone who paid her to write creative blog posts and witty tweets. Read her story here.

2) Yes, we understand that you have a lot on your plate and you might not be able to spare the time to get off campus, dedicate your energy to several hours of interning, and get back with enough time to do your homework, study for a mid-term, and hit a party before bedtime. Luckily, in today’s digital world, virtual internships are becoming more and more common. Deirdre Quirk, a Theatre major at Reed College, was actually looking for an on-site internship, but instead she found several opportunities online. Find out more about how she did it here. There might also be internship opportunities on your campus, but they’re just not well publicized. You’ll never know if you don’t seek them out!

The time frame for applying varies from company to company. While a lot of big corporations have well-established internship programs and hire waaay in advance, don’t let that get you down. Look for smaller companies or non-profits whose missions appeal to you. Even if they don’t have any open positions advertised, it’s always worth checking in with them to see if you might be able to work with them on a short-term project.

Ready to get started? Here are a few other thoughts to guide you through the internship process.

1. Use Your Network

If you’re having trouble finding positions or companies, don’t be afraid to reach out to your personal network (that means your parents, friends, professors, and anyone else you happen to know) and ask for introductions. This can feel really awkward if you’re not used to it, but a personal introduction can take you a LOT further than just a random email. We promise you that it is not cheating! That’s just how things work in the real world sometimes.

2. It Might Kinda Suck

In an ideal world, you’ll score an internship at an awesome company whose mission you admire where all your coworkers are amazing, your boss is friendly, knowledgeable, supportive, and where you love every second of every day and every task you do is fascinating and inspiring.

Unfortunately, that will probably not be the case.

There will most likely be some aspect of your internship that you do not enjoy. It could be the size of the company, the office culture, or the tasks that you’re asked to complete.

Don’t let this get you down. Part of the whole point of an internship is that it’s a short-term commitment, and it’s perfectly valid for you to discover things that you don’t want to do as much as (and sometimes even more than) things you do. The important thing is to take the time to observe this. Reflect on what worked for you and what didn’t and then use that knowledge to help guide your job search in the future.

3. Even If It Doesn’t Suck, You Still Might Not Get a Job Afterward

According to the 2013 NACE Student Survey, 63.1% of students with a paid internship had received at least one job offer, compared to 37% of students with unpaid internships and 35.2% of students who had no internship at all. It’s important to accept that an internship is not a guaranteed offer of employment. Megan Molinaro had an awesome publishing internship in New York City, but unfortunately it didn’t lead to any jobs. Here’s how she dealt with the heartbreak and disappointment.

4. But You Should Still Get as Much as You Can Out of the Experience

While you’re an intern, take the time to get to know people in other departments, not just the one where you’re placed. If there’s an opportunity to volunteer for some sort of project, get involved.

Go to lunch or coffee with other people. If you take the time to develop personal relationships with your coworkers, they will be much more likely to remember you and think of you when opportunities arise in the future. Also be sure to check with your supervisor (and potentially people who worked on the same level as you) to see if he/she would be willing to serve as a reference for you. Make sure you get his/her contact information so you don’t have to scramble for it when it comes time to apply for jobs. For more ideas on things you can do to make the most of your experience, check out this Glassdoor blog post, “How To Tout Your Internship Experience & Land a Job.”

Homework time! Do whatever you need to do to go out there and get an internship! Tap into your network, visit career services, and reach out to companies or organizations. If you already have an internship, think about how you can apply what you’ve learned there to your job search.

P.S. We’ve got tons of interviews and posts written by past and current interns. Check out all our intern-related content here.


6 Responses to “The Complete Novice’s Guide to Getting Experience”

  1. Joe

    I love these articles. GET AN INTERNSHIP! Isn’t that just the easiest thing for people to say that get mommy and daddy to pay the bills for them. So I am a less qualified candidate because I actually had to work for real while I was going to school? Since someone else wasn’t paying my bills I was not able to just work for free somewhere.

    For those of you with parents that paid for you college degree, you are some of the luckiest human beings on Earth. This author needs to get a grip on reality, the people that have parents that can pay for 4+ years of schooling are the same people that have no trouble getting jobs because they already know someone.

    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi Joe, a few thoughts about your comment. First of all, we’re not advocating that everyone get unpaid internships. There are paid internship opportunities out there, and the statistics show that people who complete paid internships have a much better chance of getting hired afterwards, whereas people who complete unpaid internships don’t really have any advantage over those who had no internship experience at all when it comes to getting hired. So no, we’re not trying to say that college students should work for free in order to get ahead.

      Also, if you were working throughout college and getting paid for it, that should also work to your advantage when applying for jobs after graduation. Even if the jobs you held during college are unrelated to the field you’d like to enter, you should be able to leverage the fact that you kept to a schedule, had responsibilities and deadlines, and whatever other skills you developed on the job.


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