An internship is substantive, professionally supervised field experience relevant to a student’s major and career goals. Because there are many different career paths a student may explore, intern responsibilities will vary considerably. For example, an intern may be assigned to assist an individual in his/her daily routine; an intern may be assigned to work on a one-time project; or, an intern may perform duties similar to those of regular employees. Duties vary according to a student’s interests, skills, and the sponsoring organization.
An internship can be a part-time or full-time experience.
Students often assume that an internship must be full time, but it doesn’t need to be. Future employers and/or graduate schools want to know what kind of experience you have and when you did it. Most students must integrate field experience, coursework and jobs into their weekly routines, and employers are aware of student responsibilities that limit internship experience to a part-time commitment.
The number of hours per week you devote to an internship depends upon your personal circumstances and the expectations of the internship sponsor. If you choose to earn credit for field experience, then the hours per week you work also will depend upon the number of credits you want to earn.
An internship can be unpaid or paid.
Some students place a high degree of importance on finding a paid internship. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, paid internships are difficult to find. If you can’t find a paid internship, you can obtain unpaid, part-time experience. Individuals who review your credentials want to see what you have done; they will not care if you were paid for your internship experience. Therefore, do not shortchange yourself by ignoring unpaid experience which could greatly enhance your resume or graduate application.
An internship can be for credit or no credit.
Some majors require that students earn credit for field experience to be applied to their degree programs. However, internship credit is optional for most students. If you want to earn credit for an internship and it is not a requirement of your major, check with your academic advisor about the number of credits you should consider taking and where in your program those credits might apply.
An internship can take place almost anywhere.
The possibilities are almost limitless. You may complete an internship in your hometown, in a different state, or even in another country.
An internship can be completed any semester of your college career.
It’s important to gain professional experience during your college career; you don’t have to wait until your junior or senior year to seek opportunities to put your coursework and interests to work.
To test and explore career choices early and realistically.
If you are unsure about your major or what you want to do for a career, an internship is a great way to explore the field. It is better to find out early, if what you chose is right for you.
To test classroom theory.
Does theory learned in the classroom make sense in the “real world?” An internship is one way to find out.
To establish professional contacts.
Networking is extremely important in today’s work place. People in your network can be a rich source of leads and information about other internships and job opportunities. The more people you include in your network, the better. An internship will provide opportunities to meet individuals with shared interests.
To build self confidence.
Putting theory into practice and gaining experience in a professional environment will strengthen your confidence in your abilities.
To gain a competitive edge for the job market and/or graduate school.
Competition is keen, and you cannot rely solely on a good GPA to get you the job or admission to the graduate or professional program of your choice. Out-of-classroom experience--such as an internship--is becoming necessary to enhance your academic credentials.
To gain specialized training or certification.
For example, psychology majors might want to receive training in crisis intervention or advocacy.
To gain or develop new abilities.
- Computer/data management/technological skills
- Writing and speaking skills
- Interpersonal and public relations skills
- Research/analytical/problem-solving skills
- Leadership/teamwork skills
- Management/organizational skills
- Time management skills
- Empathic and advocacy skills
- Language skills Interviewing skills
- Sensitivity to issues of diversity
- Cultural awareness
Students are expected to identify internship sites and opportunities. The College’s Internship Program does not place students in sites. Finding internship opportunities takes research, planning, and time. Most internships are part of established programs, but you may also be able to negotiate a new internship with the right sponsor agency.
Some ways to find internship opportunities include:
- Your personal network (talking with people you know)
- Through the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement
- Advising offices (bulletin boards and newsletters)
- Career fairs
- My Spartan Career and other internet sources
- Student clubs or societies
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.
We encourage students to search traditional avenues for internships. For example, students can explore listings with the Center for Service-Learning and Civic Engagement and through My Spartan Career. However, do not limit your search for experience to listings. You can develop an internship on your own.
You are free to approach anyone to negotiate the terms of an internship. For example, many students have developed internships by contacting human resource directors, lawyers, corporate executives, psychologists, and a host of other professionals. As long as your goal is obtaining relevant and meaningful experience, it doesn’t matter how you find the experience. If you are willing to put extra effort into your internship search, it could prove to be very rewarding.
The steps below should help you in developing an internship on your own.
Step 1. Create a personal target list of agencies
To build your list:
- Ask people in your network (e.g., family, friends and professors) if they have any contacts. Someone you know may be working for a business in which you are interested. It doesn’t matter if the person you know is working directly in the department of interest to you. Consider that individual to be a lead. Additionally, faculty teaching in your area of interest may have contacts in the field. Do not hesitate to ask them for assistance.
- Consider approaching a current employer. Many students work regular jobs while attending the university. Oftentimes, students talk to their employers about developing their jobs into internships by taking the experience to a new level or by developing a separate experience using the skills obtained on the job.
- Geographically, define where you would like to do your internship and think of agencies related to your interests which may be located in that area. Most likely, you have driven by many businesses or organizations, but never thought of them as potential internship placements.
- Look in the yellow pages for possible businesses related to your interests. For example, if you are interested in working for a non-profit organization, look under “social services” in the yellow pages. Likewise, if you are interested in working with environmental groups, check out the yellow pages. Usually, organizations are grouped according to content and you will most likely find several agencies you did not initially think about.
- If you are interested in a human resource placement, contact individuals working for hospitals, manufacturers, hotels, utility companies, government agencies, insurance companies, universities, department stores, and other businesses for human resource experience. All of the above have employees; the larger the business, the more employees and human resource departments.
Finally, if you are not successful with the first batch of agencies on your target list, keep adding names. Some types of placements take more time and energy to find. Be persistent!
Step 2. Assemble Credential Materials to Submit to Potential Internship Sponsors
- Now is the time to have a working resume. If you have not yet completed this task, check the MSU Career Services Network site for resume and cover letter help.
- Depending upon the kind of internship you are seeking, it may be appropriate to submit additional materials with your resume. For example, students seeking legal or research-oriented internships may need to submit writing samples demonstrating their writing ability. Additionally, you may need letters of reference or, at minimum, the names of references. Thus, it would be a good idea to have two or three people in mind, should you need references. Be sure to ask these individuals permission to use their names before you give them out. If you have supporting materials or documents, you can put them in a portfolio.
Step 3. Defining Internship Parameters
Before you contact potential internship sponsors, you need to think about critical elements of the internship you would like to obtain.
For example, one of the first things you may be asked by a potential sponsor is when you would like to do the internship, how many hours per week you'd like to work, when you can start, the date you would like to be finished, etc.
Similarly, a prospective sponsor may ask what you would like to do. Your response should show a relationship to your career goals and serious reflection.
Step 4. Contact Your Target Agencies
Once you have a list of agencies to contact, you should have credential materials to submit to them, and you should have defined the parameters of the internship you are seeking. Then you are ready for the final step: contacting the agencies on your target list.
How you choose to contact agencies really depends upon your personal circumstances and preferences, for example, the number of agencies you wish to contact, their location, etc. Obviously, if you have a great many places, or they are far away, it would not be feasible to visit all of them in person. If you can visit the agency in person or call, those options would probably be preferable, since direct contact is generally most effective. However, some students approach potential field sponsors by email only and do so with success.
Ways to contact agencies:
- In Person
- If you decide to take this approach, dress appropriately and plan to go to the agency to set up an appointment to talk with someone about participating in an internship. Be aware of busy schedules and that you may not be able to meet with someone at that time. However, you might get lucky and find someone who is willing to talk with you right then and there. In any case, take with you your resume and other credentials.
- By Phone
- When you call an agency, you can ask to speak with the Internship Coordinator (or Volunteer Coordinator). If there is not an internship/volunteer coordinator, you can simply ask to speak with someone about an internship. Work out a script to remind you of questions to ask. If the person to whom you are speaking thinks you are looking for a job as opposed to an internship, you will need to clarify your situation. Sometimes an individual will simply tell you to send your resume and they will contact you if there are any openings. That is a sure sign that the individual thinks you are job hunting only.
- By Email
- If you choose email, you should couple this method with one of the other methods of contacting individuals. As you are aware, most of us are bombarded with junk email in addition to legitimate email each day. Therefore, if you rely on email only, your contact may not see the message or may delete it inadvertently. If you decide to email a contact: Be sure to put a clear message in the subject line. DO NOT leave the subject line blank. Be sure to use your MSU account. If you use a different account, use one with a professional sounding address. This is not the time to use something like “rockstar@” or “materialgirl@.” Be sure to use a letter format with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Include a salutation (e.g., “Dear Sir/Madam,” or “To Whom It May Concern.” DO NOT say “Hi.” DO NOT use text messaging shorthand. DO NOT write your message using all upper case letters or all lower case letters.
- By U.S. Mail
- Most likely this would be your last resort. If you mail materials to prospective sponsors, be sure to include a cover letter explaining why you are sending the materials. Remember, you can include a prospectus as well, which will give your details in an organized fashion. Again, there are many on-campus sources which can give you pointers on what to include in a cover letter, including the MSU Career Services Network site. Whatever format you choose, be sure to keep it short and to the point.
NOTE: Whichever method you use, be sure to keep a log of your activities, for example, keep track of when you call or mail materials, etc. Always prepare to follow-up. Don’t worry about nagging; often, persistent students are the ones who get internships. Finally, if you do negotiate an internship, remember to send a thank you note to anyone who helped you secure the internship.