How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school?

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Jahanara from Stonybrook University asked the following question:

I recently completed a Business certification and have have more than 12 years experience in Credit. I want an internship in this field but not being a recent graduate, I am having difficulty finding one. Most unpaid internships require I get college credit, and other paid internships to which I have applied have not responded.

How should I approach  this hurdle so that I can get an internship?

Hi Jahanara –

Thanks for your question.

Just out of curiosity, with 12 years of experience in credit already, why are you looking for an internship in the same field and not a job?  I imagine employers are asking the same question when they see your application:  Why is someone with so much experience looking for pre-entry level work?

Most internships are designed and targeted for pre-level candidates, and most employers define pre-entry level candidates as enrolled college students and/or students who just completed a degree. Internships give them an opportunity to sample new talent without having to make a commitment to hire; and internships give the student interns some hands-on experience sampling a potential career path.  The motivations and pay-offs for employers and students are very clear.

Employers offering unpaid internships are requiring that you receive college credit because that is the only legal way that a for-profit company can have you work/intern for them and not pay you. It has to be part of your formal education.

Why have employers offering paid internships not responded to your applications?

I really don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that employers consider candidates that do a good job (in their resumes, cover letters and other communication) of telling them why they want the internship, why they believe they are a good candidate for the internship, why they want to work in their industry, and why they want to work for their company,  Those are four very important questions you need to be able to answer as a job/internship seeker, because you have to make yourself understandable to employers.

So with that in mind, can you answer the following questions?  If you can, you are in a good position to be successful in your search.

  • What type of internship are you seeking?
  • What qualifications (skills, qualities, education and experience) are needed to do that work?
  • Do you possess these qualifications?
  • Does your resume highlight/emphasize these qualifications?  Does it market you for the kind of internship you are seeking?
  • Do your cover letters present your qualifications in relation to the qualifications being sought by employers?
  • What employers in your area offer the kind of internships you are seeking?  How many are there and how much do you know about them?
  • Who do you know that might be in a position to assist you with advice or referrals, and how well do these people know what you offer employers and what you are looking for in a job/internship?

I am not going to lie to you – trying to get an internship when you are not a current student or recent graduate is hard to do.  You have to convince an employer that you are worth the investment of their time and energy, and that takes more than searching job boards and submitting applications.

Perhaps you should consider looking or a job in the field that interests you to get you foot in the door with a company and they work your way up from there.  This may be a viable alternative.

Check with the career center at your university to see if you have access to any kind of alumni career services.  Even more importantly – spend some time really understanding what you want and what you offer so that you will be prepared to sell what you offer to potential employers.

I hope this advice helps.

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2 responses to “How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school?”

  1. […] Perhaps you saw my recent response to another question about internships – How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school?  […]

  2. […] How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school? […]