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How To Apply To Internships, According To A Her Campus Editor

In Ask An Editor, Her Campus Editors answer readers’ questions about how to be a human. This month, Her Campus’s Deputy Editor, Iman Hariri-Kia, hosts office hours about summer jobs. Next up, applying to internships

Dear Editor,

What looks better: multiple internships or one long-term internship?

Sincerely, 

Resume Bildungsroman

Dear Resume Bildungsroman,

When I was in college, I was borderline obsessed with filling my resume with perfect internships. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in media when I graduated, which meant I was always etching out a roadmap for the rest of my life, several years down the line. Each summer, I’d apply for an array of editorial internships, which were ultimately so competitive that I’d wind up losing confidence in myself (as well as sleep, but that’s another story). So, before we go any further, allow me to say this a little louder for the people in the back: Who you are is not defined by what you do. Seriously. The foundation upon which you build your sense of self should not be any job or career path. Gigs come and go, but true character remains steadfast. Remember that.

Anyway, rant over. Where were we? Ah, yes — long-term vs. short-term internships. As I was saying, I was consumed with doing as many three-month internships as humanly possible and checkering my resume with references. I wound up working a handful of “editorial internships” that were actually light on the editing, but heavy on the miscellaneous tasks. One summer, I dedicated mornings to disposing of cigarette buds and empty liquor bottles, under the guise of contributing to an up-and-coming literary journal. Another, I learned how to write product blurbs for plumbing, with the promise of scooping up a byline in a design magazine. I’d end my tenure each season with another bullet point on the ol’ portfolio, but feeling kind of empty inside. Was this all that adulthood had to offer? Shouldn’t I be learning something?

Ironically, the one job that didn’t qualify as the ideal “resume-building internship” shaped me the most as a person and continues to impact my work ethic today. I booked a gig as a runner at a recording studio, which essentially meant I was the company’s certified b*tch. And guess what? I loved it. Unlike my past internships, this was no desk job — I was on my feet all day, cleaning the space and running errands. When an artist booked a last-minute studio session, I had to learn to pivot real fast. Best of all, I met my first mentors; on quiet days, sound engineers would teach me how to run cables and producers would show me how an 808 works. When the job came to a close, I felt more fulfilled than ever before. On the surface, not much had changed: I still wanted to pursue a career in writing. But internally, I had much more faith in myself. Anyway, all of this to say…

Focus On Internship Quality, Not Quantity

Multiple internships, long-term internships… tomato, tomahto. The better question to ask yourself is: Am I interested in the work this company is doing, as well as the day-to-day tasks that will be put on my plate? Will this role teach me something that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise? Will I feel challenged in this position and will it motivate me to reevaluate the way in which I move through the world? Here’s the tea: The real value of college internships is that they are temporary in nature, and allow you to try on a lot of different personas while you’re still shaping your identity. Once you enter the workforce, that freedom is tempered, because many people don’t have the financial privilege to work to sample jobs like hairstyles. So, take advantage of this period of self-exploration and don’t take yourself too seriously. Besties, you’ll thank me later.

Internships Are Also About Relationships

The heart of an internship isn’t just learning how to use Microsoft Excel, so you can stop lying about it on your resume (lol). No matter where you end up this summer, no matter what you wind up doing, take every opportunity you have to meet people within the company — virtually, or in person — and ask the questions about their job. If someone piques your interest, follow up and offer to help them with a project. I know this sounds more like high school lunchroom politics than the professional world, but I’m telling you: learning how to collaborate with different personality types is a skill that will translate to whatever you end up doing. For example, when I was running at the studio, there was a general manager who would use her finger to pick up dust from the window ledges, in order to test the last time I wiped them down. Let’s just say, I learned to control my temper faster than some of y’all turned on Charlie D’Amelio. 

Internships Aren’t Everything

Look, I want you to get your bag. And I’m certainly not going to discourage you from pursuing an internship at a company that you love or doing a role that you’re passionate about. All I’m going to say is this: The path to your dream career is not linear. So, if you want to pursue one long-term internship for two years of college or four short-term, I’m 100% here for it. But if you want to work a part-time job in retail, then spend your evenings pitching freelance stories or writing your novel, I’m game for that, too. Want to apply for an internship that has zero to do with your interests but pays well or will teach you a new set of skills, then take classes or paint or attend band practice in your free time? I say have at it. Basically, your labor of love doesn’t have to be loving labor. Does that make sense? 

Of course, I’m a creative, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I’m sure the rules are different for, say, finance bros. But you decided to take a chance and ask an editor (!!!), so I assume y’all already knew what you were getting into. 

Reader, I also want you to know that you’re going to be OK. I know that we’re exiting a global pandemic and remote work is weird and nobody is hiring right now and it feels like the end of the world. But I promise that you, as a whole, are worth more than the sum of your cover letter talking points. And guess what? You know that girl I mentioned, the one who was obsessed with building the perfect resume? She’s the Deputy Editor of Her Campus now, and she hasn’t been asked about her college internships in years. Little does anyone know that her ability to multitask stems from pulling together Usher’s rider list in under an hour.

Love,

Iman 

Iman Hariri-Kia is a New York-based writer, author, and Her Campus Deputy Editor. A 2017 recipient of the Annabelle Bonner Medal and a nationally acclaimed journalist, she covers sex, relationships, identity, adolescence, and more. Her debut novel, A HUNDRED OTHER GIRLS, will be published in spring 2022.
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