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A Guide to Internships

Russian Fashion Designer Max Chernitsov

Image by MAX CHERNITSOV via Flickr

Internships are excellent for college students and even a wise investment for professional adults who are considering a change in careers. With Design of the Times' new feature on Internships and Apprenticeships, we thought it would be a good idea to describe what you can expect from an internship within the world of design.

How to Secure an Internship

There is rarely an easy way to do this but there are some definite steps and options. First, figure out what you want to intern in and what you hope to gain from an internship. If you have a love of designing clothes and want to make it your livelihood, you may not wish to take the internship at the cattle ranch in Montana. There are a great many internships posted on the Internet and a search will reveal many possibilities, but also be aware that you may have to consider a move to a different city or even a different country to get what you want. If this is not feasible, you can always look into what is offered locally. This may mean walking into a firm or business and requesting information about an internship.

Being bold is a great attribute for an intern and your interest in the position may even be what creates it; just because an internship does not exist doesn't mean it never will. Ask whom to talk with, leave a résumé and a cover letter stating why you would be an excellent choice for the position and that you are willing to invest time and energy for the opportunity. Another great idea is to ask your school career counselor for assistance or the parents of friends who may know someone to talk to.

College students have the resources for an internship search at their school's Career Services center or Internship Program center as well as online. Many colleges have carved out internships with local businesses that are geared specifically towards a study course or students from your college. Graduates can also apply for internship and should approach this as one might a job, but indicate the position desired is not permanent but as an intern. 

What to Expect

Internships can be exciting and fast-paced or they can involve getting the office coffee and doing the menial tasks no one else has time for, also called 'paying your dues'. Some firms will let you get down and dirty with the big boys and girls right away; others will hold you at arm's length until you get a feel for the job's dynamics. There is almost always an in-depth description of what the position entails before you decide to apply to it. This description will also include whether it is paid or not or offers a stipend and how long they expect you to dedicate yourself to the job. Some of the best internships are not paid; so don't make that a necessary criteria if you truly wish to see the inner workings of your field of interest.

Expect professionalism towards you and expect to act professionally during every minute while you are on your internship. While some internships are on banana farms in Ecuador where jeans are appropriate attire, you should still always keep a professional attitude and treat others the same way. Make use of the connections you form in your time as an intern and network, keeping relationships alive and well. Do not burn bridges just because the position is over; you never know when you will need a helping hand, a letter of recommendation or a friendly word put in for you. Find a mentor such as a manager or supervisor in the organization and learn from her, asking questions and studying new methodologies or developing new skills. Gain as much exposure around the firm as you can, both so you can be seen and so you can pick up new ideas. Your time as an intern should be well spent, ending with measurable accomplishments and a deeper understanding of the field.

What You Will Need

Every possible internship will have its own rules and requirements for submission but almost all will request a polished résumé and cover letter. Tailor your résumé to best suit the position for which you are applying. Include all pertinent information and prior experience that might enable you to do the best job amongst every one else applying. Be extremely careful not to include spelling or grammatical errors; you want shine over all others.

Limit the cover letter to one page keeping it organized and precise. Use a standard three paragraph arrangement where the first paragraph includes your introduction and a brief statement of your purpose. Reveal the position for which you are applying and why it interests you. The second paragraph exposes your work history, background and education. This is where you sell yourself and explain how you can make a noticeable contribution to the job. Finally, paragraph three will explore your methods for following up either with a recruiter or through another contact if one is available. If it is a proposition for creating an internship at your request, then sum up by explaining that you will follow up yourself. Always go over the final product with a fine-toothed comb to ensure discovering and fixing all errors. Reading your cover letter out loud and even to a family member or teacher is also a great idea. Sometime others can catch errors that we can’t see in our own writing. Close with a warm and sincere thanks for their consideration and time.

After receiving an interview, whether you are accepted or not, make it a habit to send a personal thank you card or note to the company who considered you.

Last Considerations

If you cannot find a local internship that suits you or you need something very specific, consider buying an internship. These will not pay out but will be tailored made for you down to the last detail. These businesses are usually very reputable and support this with their positive feedback from happy clients. Always double-check such a company's validity and reputation.

A last consideration that has merit, especially for some college students, is to clean up your Internet profile as you don't want a potential sponsor looking you up online and seeing how hard you partied on Spring Break. Remove anything that might jeopardize their acceptance including photos, no matter how amusing or awesome at the time. Facebook accounts can even be temporarily be suspended without loss of content. Consider this action until you have your internship well under way.

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