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The internship: Test-drive your dream job
Fresh out of college with an organizational business communications degree, the ingénue packed up her belongings in Clearwater, Florida, and headed to Tinsel Town on a quest to land her dream job in the entertainment industry. “I had a little bit of savings, and I knew I had little over a month to find a job,” Berger says. She escaped a long stint of waiting tables by quickly landing a high-glam job with Creative Artists Agency, a large talent agency with a full roster of movie stars.
Her secret? As a self-proclaimed “intern queen,” she had built a vast professional network during her 15 internships as an undergraduate at University of Central Florida. She called a contact she met at her FOX internship, and he put in a call for her at Creative Artists Agency that landed her a job interview. She aced the interview, got the job and a decade later, she’s an evangelist for the “hire power” of college internships as CEO of InternQueen.com and author of All Work, No Pay: Finding an Internship, Building Your Resume, Making Connections and Gaining Job Experience.
Whether you’re starting your first job or taking on a new career, whether you’re 20 or twice that, internships can be an ideal way to get your foot in the door of your chosen field. Here are tips on how you, too, can use internships to land your dream job.
Internships wield clout in today’s competitive job marketplace because companies look for more than a high GPA in their new hires. A recent survey by the National Association of College and Employers reveals seven out of 10 organizations prefer to hire candidates with relevant work experience. “Getting an internship is critical because it is often the deciding factor on who gets the job or who gets the interview, says Mark Lyden, a recruiter for Boeing, a Fortune 50 company, and author of College Students Do This! Get Hired!
“Internships are the easiest ways for companies to try before they buy,” he adds. “It’s a great strategic business decision because the company can try you out and test your performance and see if you fit in their environment and corporate culture. The cool thing is it gives students the same advantage. It’s a win-win,” he says.
Beyond the opportunity to test-drive a brand-new job, internships can provide you hands-on experience, face-to-face connections with professionals to grow your network and important bullet points on your resume that illustrate you have real-world experience, understand corporate culture and can work with groups of people of diverse ages and backgrounds.
Along with good internships, positions transparently advertised, focused on education and training and serving as steppingstones to full-time jobs, are exploitive and even illegal ones. “You really have to do your due diligence,” Lyden warns.
To find out if an internship is legit, first do a deep dive into the company’s website. Granted, a website may be nothing more than a façade. That’s why it’s important to take your cyber sleuthing one step further with searches on Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Glass Door, where people post their experiences and salaries at various companies across the country. Next, get it straight from the source’s mouth—talk to people who’ve actually worked at the company. “Use your network to ask questions,” Lyden says. “You’ve got a powerful network through the University of Phoenix.”
When you apply for internships, make sure you incorporate key phrases listed in the job description into your resume to show you’re a great match for the job, Lyden advises. After you land the interview, the next important fact-gathering phase begins.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be a bit more aggressive and assertive,” says Yair Riemer, vice president of marketing for CareerArc Group, whose website, Internships.com, lists 75,000 to 80,000 active internship offers.
The Phoenix Career Services™ job portal also lists a number of internship opportunities at phoenix.edu/alumni/career.
To find out what an internship can offer you, ask: Is there potential for full-time employment at the end of this internship or after graduation? What is the corporate culture like? Can you describe a typical day as an intern at your company? “If they don’t have a specific answer for you, it’s really a red flag,” Berger warns. “Companies with structured internship programs will have a lot more information to share than companies that aren’t putting a lot of thought behind their programs.”
The movie The Internship starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn pokes fun at the notion of interning in your forties, but embarking on an internship as an experienced professional actually offers real-life career benefits if you’re changing professions. “An internship is worth it any time you have the opportunity to gain experience in a brand-new field,” Lyden says. “It’s human nature for the hiring manager to always go with the person with the most relevant experience.”
After all, it’s never too late to follow in the footsteps of highly successful people such as media mogul Oprah Winfrey, legendary director Steven Spielberg, award-winning journalist Brian Williams and fashion designer Betsey Johnson, who all got their first career breaks as interns. “The one common thread I hear when I talk to successful people is one sentence: ‘It all started with an internship,’” Berger says.