How Can I Compete for a Summer Internship as a Freshman Student?

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Celine from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) asks:

So, I’m in my freshman year studying graphic design.  However, I’m more into character design when it comes to digital arts, so I think that I should switch to animation or illustration.

My parents are telling that I should get a summer internship in order to get an idea of what career I might want to do in the future, but I’m feeling conflicted. I agree on the part of getting experience from the internship, but I don’t think a freshman like me who still has yet to discover what her official major will ever be get a summer internship. Plus, most of the faculty and older students I’ve talked to at my college have told me that internships are mostly for more skilled students like sophomore or juniors. Not to mention that I worry that if I don’t get an internship this summer, I’ll be disappointing my parents.  What should I do?

Thanks for your question, Celine.  I am impressed that you have already have a strong idea of what you’d like to do in your career.  Most college students don’t have a clue about a career choice.  In fact, up to 70 percent will change majors at least once.  I’m excited to learn that you are looking to gain valuable experience in your field through an internship.  Great news!

I understand your concern about landing an internship as a freshman inside a very competitive market.  However, there is opportunity related to your career interests.  Treat your search for a summer internship like a job search by dedicating as much time as you can to moving towards your goal.  I can assure you that if you invest significant time and energy in your campaign, you’ll likely land the opportunity.  Even if you don’t, I’m certain your parents will be proud of your efforts, especially if you include suggestions from this post.

Detailed below are some specific suggestions you can implement in your plan to land an internship in your field.

Confirm Your Eligibility

It isn’t clear whether you want to do your internship for credit or simply for experience.  If you are considering a for-credit internship, you should investigate your eligibility.  I work at an institution where students can do internships for credit after their freshman year (or 30 credit hours).  MICA will have specific student eligibility requirements for internships for various programs so investigate this as a good first step.

Contact Your Academic Advisor

Regardless of your eligibility, contact your academic advisor to discuss your career plan and interest in pursuing one or more internships during your student journey.  Your advisor will be able to help you plan how to include an internship in your academic program.  Additionally, they will share with you the required action steps and paperwork that you’ll need to complete to get credit for any internship.  It is a good idea to develop a strong rapport with your advisor as they can offer ongoing advice and support during your college experience.

Discuss Your Feelings with Your Parents

It is important to tell your parents how you feel about your academic and life choices.  Ultimately, it is your career, not your parents’, but you likely will need their support during the journey.  Be open and honest to share your true interests, especially if these interests have changed or might alter your degree program.  If you are into character design and that is what gets you excited, then go for it.  However, show your parents your passion, while building your case for your employability upon graduation.  Your parents want the best for you so know their advice is focused on what they think is best for you.  Through your career center or individual research, you can likely show that your chosen field is growing with a strong employment outlook upon graduation.  Your parents will like that you’ve researched the viability of your targeted occupation.

Volunteer or Work Part-Time or Full-Time

If your institution doesn’t allow freshman to do internships, then complete a non-traditional “internship” by volunteering or working part or full-time with a company in your field.  You would still invest the same commitment and job search strategy to land a volunteer or paid part or full-time position.  An internship can allow a student to receive credit, but also valuable experience.  This can help you build important connections, enhance your resume, learn new professional skills, and position you for employment upon graduation.  So, a non-traditional “internship” can offer you the same benefits as a real internship except for course credit.  Additionally, your on-the-job experience will help solidify your career choice and get you more excited about the rest of your college journey.

Engage Your Network

People hire people, not computers.  We need the help of others to succeed both on the job and in life.  Networking (or engaging with people) is, was, and will always produce the best results in your job search.  Embrace saying hello to others, while reconnecting with people you already know.  One of the first things you should do is let all of your friends, family members, and connections know exactly what you are looking for and that you’d be grateful for any assistance that they can offer to you.  While many may not be able to help with a specific job lead, these individuals may be able to offer tips, leads, introductions, referrals, and more that can be a stepping stone to landing the internship or job.

Target Market to Potential Employers

Jobs will not always be found through online job boards.  As a result, I suggest that you target employers, rather than waiting for an internship or job to be posted.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have internships in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you will address your letter and resume.  Next, be proactive and send off your marketing letter and resume to the decision maker.  This is a great way to get your value proposition into the hands of the person with the power to start a dialogue and ultimately hire you.  Recognize that companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Introduce yourself to the employer before everyone else.

Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for internships to be posted.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.  Remember, you only need one summer internship.

Target marketing as described above can be very powerful.  Consider adding other job/internship search methods including:

  • Use Double-Hit Method for Job Leads Via Job Boards – After applying online, most go into hope and pray mode as they hope and pray an employer calls them in for an interview. Be proactive with employers by following up on all your applications.  Additionally, target market your value proposition to the hiring manager as well.  Research to determine who the decision maker is and craft a strong message to this individual highlighting how you can help them.  This is a great way to get your resume into the hands of the person who is making the hiring decision.  The first step is to apply through HR, then target the decision maker / hiring manager – the double-hit.  Utilizing this strategy allows you to be proactive, rather than passively waiting for a response.  It can make all the difference in the world to landing an interview.

Visit Your Career Center

Every student should leverage their career center as it is a free student resource, while starting the process during their freshman year.  College career centers are staffed with knowledgeable, skilled, and credentialed professionals who can provide assistance in a variety of areas including resume review, interview skills training, job search strategy, and more.  In addition, this group can likely provide some specialized resources to help you target suitable internships regardless of your class level.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students and recent alums featuring internships and jobs posted with the institution.  Set up an appointment at your earliest convenience.

Putting It All Together

Even if your institution won’t allow you to complete an internship for credit as a freshman, you can land a position in your field that will help you gain new experience and skill, grow your network, and more.  Internships (for credit or non-traditional) are valuable and can help solidify your career choice, while strengthening your resume.  Be aggressive to find potential employers with opportunity.  Make sure to include your parents, academic advisor, career center, and other support systems with your employment goals and plans.  You can do this, Celine.  Good luck and best wishes!

Here’s to your success,

Bob Nealon


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About the Author

Robert Nealon

For almost 10 years, Bob Nealon has been a South Florida-based career coach, focused on training and coaching college students and professional-level clients to achieve success in their employment search campaign and careers. He has trained over 5,000 clients with strategies on how to best compete in today’s ultra-competitive market to land the job and advance their career. Currently, he is a career coach at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management from Indiana University, a master’s degree in Sports Administration from Indiana State University and is a multi-credentialed career coach holding industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Employment Interview Professional, Certified Empowerment and Motivational Coach, Global Career Development Facilitator, and Florida Certified Workforce Professional. He is an active member of Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, Center for Credentialing and Education, Florida Association of Colleges and Employers, National Association of Colleges and Employers, and National Career Development Association. Connect with Bob via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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