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How to Get a Summer Internship at the Last Minute

Flashback to my spring break 2009. I was hanging out at a diner with my high school friends, when someone asked what we were all planning to do for the summer after our sophomore year. “I’m doing astrophysics research at the Museum of Natural History,” said one. “I’m mentoring children in China,” said another. “I’m interning at The Colbert Report,” said a third. As everyone answered except me, I started to freak out. What was I planning for the summer? I had no idea yet; it appeared that many of my cover letters and resumes had been sent into a vapid abyss (that is, the ones that hadn’t been rejected outright). But if you’re in that situation, relax. A few weeks later, I managed to secure an awesome editorial internship at TWIST magazine. And with HC, in consultation with Salwa Muhammad, the assistant director of internships and service learning at Wellesley College, here to help, you can still do the same.

Strategy 1: Follow-up with Previous Applications

If you feel like you’ve been sending your applications into an abyss, it’s possible it’s because that’s exactly where they’ve been going. “I interned at Seventeen magazine last summer and didn’t get the gig until Mothers’ Day weekend,” says Jessica Goldstein, a student at the University of Pennsylvania. I applied in probably Feb. or March, and never heard back. I sent them a follow-up in April and it turns out they never got my original application!” Feel free to follow-up over the phone with an employer you haven’t heard from after two weeks, says Muhammad. “Make sure it doesn’t say no phone calls,” she warns. “Then they may automatically disqualify you if you call.” If it says no calls, shoot them a follow-up email instead.

Strategy 2: Check Out Internship Search Engines

So the deadlines at your dream companies have long since passed. But there are plenty of other places still hiring! So stop self-pitying your lack of summer plans and search for them. Check out a list of search engines here Want one more? Try out www.idealist.org. It’s only for non-profits, but that can be a plus this time of year, since non-profits oftentimes hire later in the year than for-profit companies. Plus, Muhammad says that year-round they’ve usually got more postings than anywhere else.

Strategy 3: Network

Sometimes it’s not what you know but whom you know. Networking is often considered the most effective way to get a job or internship, and it can be especially useful when “official” internship programs are already full.
How do you effectively network? “Get any type of alum list,” from your school’s career or alumni center, suggests Muhammad, and find alums in your career field. “Set up informational interviews, learn more about their field, and how to get where they are. Learn more about their organization, and find out the most effective way to get into the field.” Don’t ask anyone you’ve just met directly for an internship; they might find it rude. If you mention you’re searching for one they’ll take the hint and will offer opportunities if they want to.

Strategy 4: Create Your Own Internship

This is a strategy that works particularly well with non-profits, but could work with smaller businesses as well. Not every place has a specific internship program set up, but some are willing to take on interns if they volunteer. “If you know a particular non-profit [or company] you’re interested in, inquire and offer your services. They might create a position for you,” says Muhammad. Don’t have a favorite non-profit or company off-hand? Muhammad suggests looking through lists of organizations at career fields, or seeing if your school has any lists of where students have previously interned. If you’re passionate about working at a particular company, send them an email telling them why you’re so passionate about what they do and explaining why your skill set will be a real asset to them this summer, and ask if they think they can put together an internship for you. Companies are usually eager to get additional capable help, especially if you’re willing to work unpaid!

Strategy 5: Get Creative

The truth is, you don’t necessarily actually NEED an internship for the summer. You just need to do something. “An internship might not be in your best interest,” says Muhammad. “There are other ways to build up your resume, such as on or off campus jobs, or leadership positions. An internship is just about filling in that gap for the summer.” So, how do you fill that gap without an internship? “Volunteer to help organize an event in your city or town,” suggests Muhammad. “Maybe put up an event yourself.” Also look into causes or campaigns you support; many will always accept volunteers. And if you want to make some cash and get a job or get ahead on credits and sign up for summer classes, those are both options that will be completely understandable to employers on your resume. “But if you’re just relaxing, it would be hard to justify that,” says Muhammad. “Make the best use of the time and energy that you have.”

Sources: Jessica Goldstein, Seventeen summer intern 2009 Salwa Muhammad, Assistant Director of Internships and Service Learning, Center for Work and Service, Wellesley College

Elana Altman adores alliteration, and thus is majoring in economics and minoring in English at Wellesley College, where she is a senior. At Wellesley, she’s co-editor-in-chief of Legenda, the yearbook, and has occasionally contributed to the monthly magazine Counterpoint and the weekly newspaper The Wellesley News. She’s originally from Glen Rock, NJ, which is 30 minutes from NYC and 15 minutes from 5 different malls. Currently, Elana's in Harrisburg, PA, where she’s a features intern for the Patriot-News. She’s previously interned at The Record and TWIST magazine. After college, she is considering moving to Los Angeles to fulfill her lifelong dream of getting a tan, though she wouldn't mind a job either. Elana enjoys anything with coffee in it, cooking, a few good TV shows, and a few too many terrible ones.
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