What Can I Do To Get Internship-Like Experience Before Re-Matriculating in My Degree Program?

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Markl from Cuesta College asks:

“I graduated with my Associate of Arts degree, but was forced to leave school due to illness before I could complete my Bachelors in Biology. After 2 years, I want to reapply for University, but I am unsure of the exact field I want to study.  I have looked into internships, however I am unsure of how, or if I can partake given that I am not enrolled in college.  Is there anything out there for someone in my position? How would you suggest I start?  Can I do an internship without being enrolled in school?”

Thanks for your question, Markl.  If you aren’t currently enrolled in a college-level degree program, then you won’t be able to do an internship for credit unless your institution allows retroactive internship experiences.  Once you restart your journey at Cuesta, you will want to contact your academic advisor to learn the internship approval process.  It is possible that your institution’s career center is also involved as a part any for-credit internship.

However, it sounds like your concern also relates to discovering what you’d like to do with your career.  I suggest that you give some considerable thought and research to discovering what career path makes the most sense for you.

Consider that you’ll likely spend over 80,000 hours working during your career.  It makes sense that your career path should be focused to what interests you along with the viability of the chosen field.  Developing an understanding of labor market information aligned with your career path is valuable and can help you make important career decisions.  Let’s face it:  you are attending college to earn a degree related to your career interests that you can leverage to get a start in your field (i.e. find employment opportunity).

Developing your career plan and path takes some work, but it is worth it.  Through your efforts, you’ll learn more about your core interests, personality, skills, and more.  And, you’ll better understand today’s labor market, which will serve you well today and into the future.

Below are some specific suggestions of things you can do to build your career plan and land internship-like experience.

Determine Your Career Objective/Career Path Starting Point

Based on your question, it seems that you aren’t sure about what you’d like to do with your career.  Obviously, you have some ideas, but haven’t solidified your choice.  Before you pursue an internship, take some time to develop your career plan.  Building your career plan does take valuable time, however, it will likely lead to a better starting point and more solid path to career success.

There are six key steps you can take to construct your personal career plan for success including:

  1. Conduct Self-Assessment: Give considerable thought to what you’d like to do.  What are you naturally good at doing?  Talk with others who know you well and ask them too.  Take various career assessments (Focus 2, Keirsey Temperament, Career Coach, MBTI, and others) offered at your institution – start by contacting your career center.
  2. Explore Careers And Conduct Career Research: Once you’ve got a few career ideas, start researching each career path to learn more about types of jobs that are available.  Learn about key responsibilities, necessary skills, entry-level wages, employment trends, and more.
  3. Target Primary Career Goal: After you’ve conducted your self-assessment and career research while narrowing down the list, it is time to make your decision and initiate your action plan.
  4. Get Prepared for Your Career: Contact your institution and re-enroll.  Match your degree and major to your career objectives.  Start to gain experience in your field through part-time, volunteer, internships, and non-traditional internships.
  5. Market Yourself for Opportunity: Learn how to market yourself for employment opportunity.  Build excellent self-marketing skills (resume, interviewing skills, LinkedIn, job search strategy, personal branding, and more).
  6. Manage Your Career: Build an excellent reputation in your field, while growing your network and circle of influence.  Every job is temporary so always be preparing for the next opportunity.

Pursue a Non-Traditional “Internship”

If your institution doesn’t allow you to use retroactive field experience for internship credit, then complete a non-traditional “internship” (internship-like experience) 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 initiatives to land a volunteer or paid part or full-time position.  An internship can allow a student to receive credit, but also valuable experience.  Even without receiving credit, these experiences can help you build important connections, enhance your resume, learn new professional skills, and position you for employment upon graduation.  Obviously, 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.

Contact Your Career Center for Assistance

Most colleges and universities offer career preparation services to current students at no additional cost.  Simply put, students should leverage their career center as it is a valuable student resource.  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.  Furthermore, they likely have a job site exclusively for current students featuring jobs and internships posted with the institution. Set up an appointment soon.

Be Creative in “Internship” Search

Following the same path as everyone else with your internship search can be counterproductive.  Utilize non-traditional ways to capture the attention of an employer and its hiring manager.  Consider adding informational interviewing to your job/internship search plan. Through this initiative, you can identify individuals who are already doing the type of work you aspire to do and contact them to line up an informational interview.  Individuals, especially those working in your desired field, are the greatest resource to help you advance your career.  Connecting with established professionals in your field through an informational interview can allow you to get some great advice to help you build your career plan.  During the informational interview, you are looking for information and advice, not a job.  However, who better to be talking to than someone doing what you’d like to do?

Target Employers, Don’t Wait for Jobs to Be Posted

Most job seekers mistakenly assume employers post all jobs online.  Employers are competing for talent similar to the way you are competing for jobs with other candidates.  Current data show that many employers find employee referrals as a great way to fill job/internship openings.  Recruitment by referrals are utilized for over 25 percent of openings according to recent research.

Jobs/internships won’t always be posted online.  So, reverse this thinking by proactively targeting employers.  Don’t wait for employers to post available jobs/internships.  Develop a list of 25-50 prospective employers in your area that may have opportunity in line with your skills, experience, education, and interests.  Do some additional research and determine a decision maker to whom you’ll address your letter and resume.  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.  Companies are always hiring.  The downside is that they may not always be hiring on your timeline.  Get to the employer before everyone else.

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

Follow Up on Applications and Use Double-Hit Strategy

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.  If you are not being referred to an employer, the employer MUST receive, read, and value your application/resume before they will call you in for an interview.  If something fails along the way, then you won’t get the interview you desire.  Following up on your application can help you confirm that the company received your resume and find out any next steps or other valuable information.

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.  Remember, you only need one job/internship.

Putting It All Together

Start by investing some time discovering what you really want to do in your career.  Build your personal career plan for success, then get back to class at Cuesta.  You’ll know what you want to do and can start to gain valuable industry experience through a variety of work experiences including internships, internship-like experiences, volunteer initiatives, and others.  Throughout your career plan, build strong self-marketing skills (i.e. job search skills) that will help you more quickly find employment opportunity.  Once you are in the field, work hard to build your skills and experience toolbox, while building a strong network and solid reputation.  I know you can do it, Markl.  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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