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DIY work experience: How to create your own internship

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In a tough economy, it’s an employers’ job market, which means that anyone hiring can afford to pick and choose from the glut of applicants — and make wild demands (see, for example, the companies that ask for your Facebook password at the interview). It also means that even entry-level jobs require years of experience, a baffling catch 22 that leaves job-seekers wondering “How do I get experience if no one will hire me without experience?”

The answer, very simply, is internships.

Suggested Reading: Create Your Own Future: How to Master the 12 Critical Factors of Unlimited Success

Why you want an internship

Internships are great for a variety of reasons, but they’re terrible for one big one: You rarely get paid. That said, it isn’t always a bad thing. First, it really drives home the point that your labor at an internship is an investment. Just like when you were preparing for college and asking what degree is right for me?” make sure you seek out internships in a field you enjoy and that has the potential to propel your budding career to new heights.

Creating your own internship

Not all internships are advertised, and the ones that are tend to be highly competitive. Most every company needs someone to take care of a little extra work, and in this economy, not many can afford to hire that extra person — particularly smaller companies. This is where you come in.

  1. Reach out to the right companies. In your emails, in your cover letter and in interviews, you’re going to have to answer the question “Why you?” It’s a tough question, and the answer always starts with “Why them?” Learn about the company, and know why you want to be there. If you’re having trouble figuring out where you want to go with your career and how your studies might influence that, put together a list of questions to ask an academic advisor.
  2. Be their biggest fan. Flattery won’t get you everywhere, but companies love believers. If you believe in the work they’re doing, everything will be easier, from applying to committing to a schedule. Not only that, but you can renew their enthusiasm for their work, which is huge. If they need someone to pick up a few jobs, that means the people there are probably overworked and on the way to burning out. You can help fix both.
  3. Be persistent. Don’t look desperate; that’s not attractive in any situation, career or otherwise. Look and be eager to get started — and make that known to the right people. Again, these people are busy, which means you aren’t their highest priority and you might slip their minds. When you reach out to ask about an internship, make it easy for them to respond, be professional and try different avenues (i.e., if your email feel flat, go into the office and put a face to your name). If the company uses Facebook or Twitter or any other social media outlet, engage them there, and keep it positive. Don’t be in contact much more than once a week, but don’t stop until they give you a firm answer.
  4. Fill needs; don’t step on toes. You want to be sure that you’re offering to fill needs the company has, not offering to replace someone — particularly not your contact. Ask if there’s anything they need, and offer your skills — tactfully. Don’t ever start with criticisms. That won’t get your resume anywhere but the trash bin.

You’re an intern, not a slave

Yes, it’s a tough market, but that doesn’t mean you should be treated poorly at work, intern or no. Don’t put up with humiliating or invasive hiring tactics, and don’t do more than you’re willing to. Be sure to always weigh the benefits of your internship against your duties, and put your foot down when things start to get bad. If you’re being overworked, it could be time to bring up a full-time position at the company, and if they won’t consider it, it could be time to take the experience you’ve gained and move on. Your internship is a great opportunity for both you and the company you’re working for; treat it that way.

career Tip of the Day: 7 Insights to Master the Job Interview

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Good luck in your search,
Joey

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