So Your Internship Isn't In Your Chosen Field...

You’re studying in a major you are passionate about and it’s going great. The assignments push you to be your best self and the projects make you feel alive. Your professors are usually pretty cool and your fellow classmates actually know what you’re saying when you bring up your specialization’s theories.

You decide to search for an internship and quickly learn that there are only two internships in your field open right now, neither of them pay, and they both have six-hundred applicants each. You want workplace experience and transferable-skills, yet you also want to afford rent and groceries, and lets be honest, the thought of being an (indentured servant) unpaid intern is just not something you can swing right now.

Dismayed and downtrodden, you turn to the next option: a paid internship that isn’t in your field, but doesn't seem too repulsive. You decide to check it out, despite being worried that you won’t do well because your heart just isn’t in it.

Don’t feel too down, tons of students end up with jobs or internships they didn’t picture themselves doing. Here are some tips to keep in mind when your first choice doesn’t work out.

Keep an Open Mind

You have your passions and your heart is set on your ideal career path, but not everyone is lucky enough to go on that path without a hitch. Think of your personal strengths and see what positions they can be applied to. You might end up with a diamond in the rough!

In a city like Denver there are hundreds of unique opportunities. Keep applying and scheduling interviews even if you aren’t sure about the position. Once you read the job description or get to chat with the interviewer, you might learn that a team needs someone like you with an outside perspective to push the boundaries.

‘Transferable Skills’ is Your New Favorite Buzzword

You get an internship that you think will be irrelevant to your resume. Don’t think of that as a roadblock, instead think of that as an opportunity for creativity. It’s a puzzle, a challenge. Ask yourself: how can I spin this in my favor? If I managed to make myself more employable playing Dungeons & Dragons, you can find a way to spin that call-center job into a boost to your future career in museum curation or sports psychology.

Soft Skills

While hard skills are things you can take a concrete course in, like Excel or Discrete Mathematics, soft skills are things you learn and develop over time. For example, communication, organization, and empathy are all soft skills. Hard skills are industry-specific and are typically what you learn during your college classes. Soft skills can take you anywhere, to do any job. Here’s a guide for handy soft skills that’ll definitely catch your employer’s eye.

Look for areas in your new job or internship where you’re exercising your communication skills, your creativity, and your stellar work ethic. Did you have a highly time-sensitive project that required strong time management skills? What about a job where you were an effective leader? Just because the specific tasks you performed don’t appear to lead you in the direction you currently hope to go doesn’t mean you didn’t learn anything.

Tailor that Resume to Where You Want to Be

Once you’ve identified those stellar soft skills, format your resume and cover letter to show off that flair. I have a basic resume and cover letter drafted up, but depending on where I’m applying, I edit new copies of those existing documents to capitalize on the skills I think that new position is looking for. Having something premade that you tailor to your goal-destination is an easy and efficient way to show interviewers what you want them to see.

For instance, I have interned in finance for the past few years, but my dream someday is to be in academia as a professor and researcher. So, if I were to apply at a university, I would want to talk about the presentations I gave during my financial internship to highlight my public speaking skills, which could translate to a classroom scenario.

You Never Know Who You’ll Run Into

One good thing that internships are for, no matter what industry they’re in, is creating connections. Chart those connections on LinkedIn so you have those contacts even after your time at the company is over.

Odds are a lot of the other employees are in a similar position as you: they studied one thing but started a career in another. Over half the time you’ll find that they were pleasantly surprised and really loved the switch. If your heart is still set on moving on to greener pastures, you might find interesting connections through these employees.

At my financial internship, I met someone else who had majored in International Studies and worked with the Peace Corps for a while. Through that, I was able to learn more about the Peace Corps as well as get contact information from this employee’s former colleagues.

Find Ways to Work on Your Passions on the Side

Find out if there are clubs or volunteering opportunities outside of your job where you can continue to pursue your passions. Hobbies are extremely important, and be aware that you can always assign yourself projects for your spare time. A friend of mine is in computer science. Their dream is to program video games one day. They didn’t get a job in the gaming industry, but they got a job in tech, which keeps their skills sharp. Then, outside of the office, they work bit by bit on different ideas for video games.

Of course, be sure to pace yourself so you do not burn yourself out. Although, working even just a little on what you really love can be rejuvenating. Who knows? You might even slowly develop something that gets you into your ideal industry faster.

You Might Surprise Yourself

Like I said before, a lot of people start a career in an area that doesn't align with their passion, but are pleasantly surprised to find they fall in love with their new path. The financial internship I mentioned? If you’d asked me five years ago, I would say there was no way I was working in finance. Now, I’m hoping to be hired full time after graduation because I fell in love with the company’s culture. My coworkers are a joy to work alongside, I feel like I’m doing meaningful things, and I can’t say I’m opposed to being able to pay bills consistently. I originally got the internship as something to keep me from boredom during the summer after freshman year. I soon learned about an entire area of interest I had never considered.

I want to eventually get my Masters, my Ph.D., and get a job where I can teach and research, so I would say that I am keeping my dreams in sight. I would also love to publish a book (or two) of essays someday. Maybe even get my poetry published into a few literary magazines.

There are a plethora of opportunities out there if you’re willing to be flexible. Don’t limit yourself, and don’t forget: you’re in your twenties. You may not get a job as a Tony-winning actor right out of school, but that doesn’t mean your future is over.