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Career Coach: Internships: An Introduction to a Career

This month the Career Coach, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson, talks about how to test-drive a job or get your foot in the door via an internship.

When I was in college, I didnt participate in an internship. I dont think I even knew about them. Today, I realize how valuable an internship can be.

Why is an internship valuable?

Internships are a way to test-drive a job to explore a possible career and discover whether you truly have passion for that work. The direct exposure to the work is often an eye opener to interns. You might find that the job you thought would be glamorous and fun is not what you imagined, or discover an exciting career you knew nothing about.

Internships are a way to learn by doing, gain work experience and develop job skills, all of which will give you an advantage when you enter the job market.

Internships provide an opportunity to begin career networking. Who you know and who knows you can make a big difference in your job search. Someone who has seen you in action, and has seen what a contribution you make can, give a strong recommendation to an employer.

Internships can give you career building opportunities and significantly increase your chances of landing a good full time position. They can even provide a foot in the door.

Why do companies offer internships?

Just as you are trying out a career and a company, the company is trying you out. The company wants to find potential new hires and internship programs provide a way to check out potential recruits before a company commits to hiring a full time employee.

To find the right internship:

Consider your goals, personal values and available choices. Learn about the range of possibilities available to you.

High profile workplaces (those everyones heard of) are more competitive. There are lots of people applying for few positions. It may be easier to get an internship at a lesser-known company.

Larger workplaces often have formal mentoring or training programs. You may have a greater chance of getting hired after your internship at a larger company because there are more openings due to a greater number of employees. But a larger company may be more bureaucratic and you may not have as much hands-on experience as at a smaller firm. A smaller company may suit you better if it offers you more opportunity for varied, relevant experience in the field.

Pick a company you would like to work for and contact the human resources department to find out it has an internship program. Check its Website. Dont be deterred if the company isnt advertising for interns. If it doesnt already employ interns, try proposing an internship for yourself and see what happens. Employers are often impressed by people who are assertive and resourceful. As my mother advises, No you have, yes you might get. It doesnt hurt to ask for what you want.

Internships are often advertised in the Career Connections section on AWN.com. You can also find out about internships through college career centers, professors and college staff, other Websites, and internship guidebooks and directories.

A few well-known companies that have offered internships in the past are Disney, Pixar, Digital Domain and Black Entertainment Television. Smaller companies who have offered internships include Creative Logik, Blizzard, View Studio and the Institute for Creative Technology.

Paid or unpaid?

You wont get rich on an internship, whether it is paid or not. Remember what you earn is not as important as what you learn.

There are other factors besides pay to consider, such as the mission of the company, whether you can have a flexible schedule or if they offer educational tuition support. Other factors include what the company expects from its interns, what you may learn and who you might meet (other co-workers, vendors, clients, etc.).

To apply:

Seeking an internship is much like seeking a job. Do your research and learn whatever you can about the company you are applying to or the person you want to work for. Submit your materials early and make sure you follow all the instructions verbatim. Be organized and establish a system for meeting the deadlines as well as tracking the applications and your status with each company.

The application for an internship is similar to any job. Youll need a clear, brief résumé and cover letter. Remember, these are marketing tools. Emphasize your personal achievements and qualifications. Avoid the passive voice.

Address the cover letter to a particular person. Introduce yourself and why you are interested in the company. Highlight your relevant skills and experience. In the cover letter explain why you are interested in the internship at that company. Be as specific as you can. Give the recipient a reason to be interested in you as an applicant. Lay the groundwork for further contact.

Prepare for the interview. Think about what you bring to the internship and what you hope to gain from the experience. During your interview, explain what you did on any other jobs (including volunteer work) and the skills you have. Be clear to your prospective employers about what you seek. It may be the only opportunity to do this before you actually start work.

After the interview, follow up with a thank-you note within a day or two. Make sure this communication is as polished as your cover letter and résumé.

Getting a great job or internship takes preparation and luck. Be prepared when opportunity knocks.

Resources:

Internships 2003 by Petersons (look in your library under 331.2592); www.internsuccess.com; www.Collegerecruiter.com; www.Internjobs.com; www.getthatgig.com.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a career coach, recruiter and hiring strategist and recommends internships to anyone starting out in a new field. She speaks regularly at conferences and universities. She is recruiting for a photo-realistic feature being done in Los Angeles. She is looking for experienced lighters, animators, FX animators, texture artists and compositors who have experience with photo-realism. If you are interested, send a résumé in MS Word 97 or Adobe Acrobat to her at PamRecruit@aol.com.

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