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How To Use Spring Break To Get an Internship

If you’re like me, you’ve probably sent your resume in to dozens of businesses or companies in search of the perfect summer internship. Every time you see an unrecognized number on your call log, you pray that it’s one of these golden internship coordinators calling to offer you the perfect summer gig. What better gift to get you through these last blasts of winter cold as you head into spring break mode?

But my Her Campus ladies, don’t be so hasty to write off those seven days free of class. Packing up and heading to Miami or MTV Spring Break are great options, but getting a crash course in a company’s daily ins and outs can also give you a (less tan) leg up.  Many businesses, companies and schools offer spring break internship opportunities that you can take advantage of, and they’re often less competitive to land than summer internships. For those of you with less glamorous spring break plans (catching up on Dexter episodes—fun, but not exactly productive), here’s what you can do over spring break to help you career-build and get you more experience.

What’s the point of a spring break internship or externship?

Caitlin Crotty, an advisor for Medill Career Services at Northwestern University, believes that networking is the key benefit of a shorter internship.

“It’s hard to work on something meaningful in that short time span, but internships and externships are a wonderful way to meet some professionals in a target organization or industry,” she said.

“Networking is so important when you’re looking for an internship or full-time job, because many positions aren’t ever posted online; it sounds cliché, but who you know is almost as important as what you know. An internship or job shadowing program is a low-pressure way to learn about a career path and to get advice from people who are doing what you’d like to do.”

Are we talking about business or what?

For all you business savvy girls, companies like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs often offer spring break internships for a week during the month of March. The cool thing about these programs? The top spring break interns usually have a chance to receive an offer for a summer internship position!

Can I shadow you for a day?

Some universities set up externship programs with alumni in which current students can follow these workers for a day at their jobs. Northwestern University’s NEXT externship program is a great example. Students register through the alumni association website and have the chance to follow someone in the field of their choice. Some popular choices for students include business, communications and law. For instance, in the field of journalism, students have the chance to shadow a worker at The New York Times or NBC to learn more about these media powerhouses. The program also features participants in all parts of the United States. Not sure if your school has something similar? Call your university’s career services office and check to see if they have an organized program like this. If not, ask if they have a way that you can contact alumni in your area.

Externship programs may also be your best bet for shadowing a magazine. In the past, TIME magazine had an externship program set up through many universities’ career service centers.  Magazines often do not post these opportunities, but a great place to check daily is Ed2010.com. The website often features a variety of internship opportunities and tips. Scouring through the posts as spring break approaches may be a great resource. Furthermore, if you want to check out externship opportunities with magazines, the time to act is now. E-mail the person in charge of internships for the magazine and ask if you could view the inner workings of their process for a day or two. Waiting until the last minute most likely won’t gain you any responses!

Starting small may also be your best bet. If you’re interested in seeing the inside of a newsroom, e-mail local news directors or reporters from your favorite local stations, newspapers or magazines. They are more likely to respond to you than a Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer. Show an interest in their craft and make sure that you do not come off as only wanting to build your resume. They may grant you an office tour, and you may be able to build connections by getting a few business cards.

Lovin’ the alumni

Most universities have an alumni network that can be accessed easily, and contrary to myth, alumni are usually willing to help out current students, and they could be a very useful spring break resource.

Do your research, though. Simply e-mailing someone may come off as too aggressive. If you research their company and their background, you may make a better impression than if you just begged for an internship. Who knows, you might have more in common than just your mutual love of your school’s fight song!  

Even if you aren’t able to hold an internship with the alumni of your choosing, just a simple meeting is a great networking tool.

“If you’re going home, do some research on local alumni or on organizations that interest you, and see if you can meet someone for lunch or coffee,” Crotty said. “You don’t have to job shadow or intern to gain information—just give yourself two or three weeks to set up these meetings.”

For all you helping hands…

University organizations often offer alternative spring break opportunities in which students can get hands-on volunteer experience. If you are particularly interested in flexing your volunteer muscle, look into your school’s volunteer options. Trips to Honduras or rebuilding efforts in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina are many of the options that my school, Northwestern University, in particular, offers to students. Because these are student trips, universities often offer discounted prices or a type of package where room and board is included. A great national website with an alternative spring break is United Way. Habitat for Humanity also offers a Spring Break collegiate challenge, and you can find out more here.

Volunteering through different companies may help you make connections that could ultimately land you a summer gig with the company.

Spring break is over…now what?

No matter what type of spring break internship or externship you held, make sure to follow up with the person who helped you land your mini-opportunity. Sending an email ASAP is a great method, but make sure to leave out any typos or errors!

If you want a more personalized touch, snail mail is best—sending a personalized thank you note shows that you took the time and really appreciated this person’s help. For help with writing thank-you notes, HC has you covered.

Crotty also said keeping in contact with the people that you meet during this internship or externship is key. 

“Try to check in every few months,” she said. “If there’s an article you read or something you learn in class that reminds you of something you heard from a spring break contact, get back in touch with that person and share the information. Ask them for their opinion, or see how the news is affecting their organization.”

“The more the relationship is mutually beneficial, the greater the chances that the contact will go out of his/her way to help you—like when you’re looking for the next job or internship,” she said.

While your friends may come back from their various beach getaways with sunburned shoulders or wild party stories, you were able to gain that extra step up in the job/internship world. As we all know, any extra chance is an added advantage in the crazy job market of today!

Caitlin Crotty; Advisor, Medill Career Services, Northwestern University

Ngozi Ekeledo has four major loves in life: reading, writing, laughing and sports. She is a junior in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, yet despite being in the Midwest, she’s still a Southern girl at heart. She’s majoring in Broadcast Journalism, minoring in Sociology and pursuing an Integrated Marketing Communications Certificate. She is currently the Marketing Director for the Northwestern News Network and serves as a reporter for Sports Night, her campus’s sports TV show. She is also a writer for North By Northwestern (her campus’s online publication) and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and Alpha Kappa Psi. When she isn’t busy bouncing around in a bubble of journalism, she can be found dishing out sarcastic quips, longing for her mom’s homemade mac n’ cheese or playing impromptu Friday night basketball games with her crazy, yet entertaining friends. After college, she hopes to pursue a career in sports journalism and one day work her dream job at ESPN. Hopefully Erin Andrews , Linda Cohn and Rachel Nichols will be on board for her round table, The View-esque sports TV show idea.
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