As you all remember, internships were my bread and butter for several months of my life last year (and the years before that too, really). I learned a lot from doing internships and more than anything, I gained experience that made me seem invaluable to employers. With graduation just behind us, there are a new league of unemployed and terrified graduates who have no idea what they are doing and no idea where to start.
I'm certainly not an internship expert, but I do know a few things. These tips are for current students, new graduates, and anyone who is wanting to start a new career.
1. Yes, you do need to do an internship or two.
Or seven, in my case. In college, I did two substantial internships, but I was a rarity. A majority of the people I knew did one internship, or independent study, as they were considered the same thing. This, unfortunately, means there is a substantial portion of college students graduating with one three-month period of professional experience. That's... not great, guys. Do an internship; if you can, do two. If you really can, do more than two. Do as many as you can.
I realize this is hard for people who are paying for school, and housing, and everything else, entirely by themselves. You might feel you have to decide between part-time (or full-time) work or an internship. Which leads me to...
2. Do know that you'll have to make sacrifices.
Something like 99% of internships are unpaid. And paid internships are basically like fighting a gladiator; the very, very lucky receive paid internships. That's not to say "don't apply for paid internships"; it's more of a "don't put all your eggs in one basket" life tip.
If you need to work part-time, but you want to do internships to make sure you get a job after college (which, really, I hope that's why you're in college), know that you'll need to make sacrifices. This applies if you're a new graduate working a weird part-time job, as well. You'll basically be working over full-time, but only be paid for part of it. You'll be exhausted, but the experience is ultimately worth it.
3. Do know that your retail experience doesn't really impress employers...
unless you're applying for retail or food service. If you went through college working the entire time, congratulations! But no matter how you dress up working at a grocery store or the mall, they aren't necessarily impressive skills for an employer; they don't set you apart. Hundreds of other people have worked at chain grocery stores and in the mall. This is why internships are important.
4. Do know that you can consider blogging an internship or even a job.
I always include my blog on my resume. I always talked about what blogging and social media has taught me and how I could apply those skills to the job I was interviewing for. For this reason, keep your blog up; keep it professional; make it awesome. In short, make your hobby count.
5. Do know you can e-mail any business asking if they need interns.
So, you can't find any local internship opportunities. What's stopping you from emailing local businesses to see what you can offer them? You're not asking for money. Ask if you can job shadow, or intern, for a week or two. Ask if you can at least meet them to talk. Mention why you're interested in interning for the company and what you hope to gain from it, and why only they can offer it. People love to feel special; make HR feel special when they receive that email.
When I first graduated, I spent hours applying to jobs and emailing local businesses -- mostly PR and marketing firms, some publishing companies -- I wanted to work for. I heard back from some; I never heard back from others. But it was a way to introduce myself and set myself apart. If they do have job openings in the future, I can always slyly mention that I emailed them as a new graduate and how I'm still so excited to have the opportunity to work for them. Sneaky, huh?
6. Don't think internships are magic job machines.
They're really not. I did seven internships after college and it still took me eight months to a get a job that didn't include orthopedic shoes. An internship is never going to magically get you a job; you'll still have to work for it, remain interesting, and interview well.
In short, when it comes down to it, internships are an important stepping stone for entering the real world; you can't ignore their importance, but they certainly aren't magic. Work hard, do your best, and no matter what, do things that will set you apart from the crowd, whether it's starting your own business or managing an amazing blog.