It’s often not a glamorous job, but being an intern is still one of the best ways to get the experience that might lead to your first job. Securing a good internship, however, can be as hard as finding the golden ticket for a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Making it even harder, some companies require students to have a minimum GPA, an employee recommendation, or academic credit. “Students frequently apply for unpaid internships and then have to pay for college credits in order to accept [it],” Shuman adds.
If you didn’t get a spot, don’t worry. Career experts say there are plenty of ways to add experience to your resume and set yourself up for success in the future.
Here Are 5 Things You Can Do to Boost Your Career Anyway
1. Find Part-Time, Full-Time, or Freelance Work at a Company
There are plenty of organizations that don’t have official internship programs but likely could use some extra assistance. Focus first on these questions: What’s your desired industry? What role do you hope to get? If you don’t know exactly, what position would you like to try, even just to determine whether it’s a good fit? If you like coding and think you might like working for a small tech startup, for example, isolate companies that fit that description and see whether they work with freelancers, temps, and/or part-time employees—if so, they might be interested in working with you, too.
Once you’ve narrowed your interests and done some research, make a list of companies you’re reaching out to, and start connecting directly. Sometimes there’s an HR contact on the website or you might find someone who’s in a managerial role on LinkedIn. Try to find a specific person’s email, and politely reach out.
2. Complete a Microinternship (or Several!)
As remote work and gig work have increased in the workforce, microinternships have increased in popularity. Microinternships are small, project-based internships that encompass about five to 40 hours of work but can often offer payment. “This gives students something project-based to get actual experience, develop skills, and have something to show for it at the end,” Slusher says. In practice, you might be writing a 1,200-1,400 word article for a company’s marketing blog, identifying 25 qualified candidates for a role a company’s hoping to fill, or studying competitors’ social media accounts and writing reports identifying what they’re doing successfully.
These microinternships can usually be done remotely and if you don’t like the work, it doesn’t usually last long. You can do several of them over the summer—which can help you explore roles, companies, and industries you’re considering—and it’s great for building your professional network with hiring managers.
3. Get a Local Summer Job
Seasonal industries and other local businesses might need short-term workers. Never underestimate the value of working at an ice cream shop, a nearby museum that draws tourists, a venue that needs caterers for events, a local clothing shop looking for retail associates, or even a babysitting gig for a neighbor’s kids.
This might not sound as exciting as a prestigious internship but it will add to your skill set and show that you’ve developed a work ethic. In case you’re skeptical that this kind of summer job will be resume-worthy even if it’s not connected to your major. To land a local job, you can either try to find a contact form if there’s a website, walk in with a resume, or call the person who would hire you if you’re able to find their phone number. And once you’re in the door, you could potentially ask to do something more specific to what you’d actually like to learn, from updating a website to developing a sales plan.
Nonprofits don’t necessarily have the funds to pay an entry-level worker or summer intern, but they often need volunteers. You could work for organizations such as your local pet shelter, a food bank, a tutoring service for kids who need it, an organization that supports civics in the classroom, or a group that dresses women who need business-appropriate clothing. The work itself can range from talking to potential donors and encouraging them to give money to working on marketing campaigns to spreading awareness about a particular initiative. You could work directly with the animals or people who need your help or volunteer virtually to help an organization outside of your immediate area. When there’s a cause you care about, this can be quite fulfilling work.
If you have a nearby nonprofit in mind, check their website, give them a call, or stop by to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Your university’s community service office can also help since, much like your career center, it may be open during the summer and willing to talk to you about available opportunities.
5. Pursue A Personal Creative Work
If you’ve been eager to explore your creative side and haven’t had the chance to do it during the semester—or if you’re in a creative field and you’d like to have a portfolio of work to show potential employers—there are a ton of ways to scratch that itch. You could start a blog or a vlog, create a podcast either alone or with a friend, do some creative writing for yourself or to submit to a writing competition, make a series of paintings or multimedia collages on a theme, or do some other form of creative work. The sky’s the limit, but treat it in the same way you would an independent project: Set up a specific goal, give yourself time limits, hold yourself accountable, and aim to have an end product.
Know that by taking on a creative project, you’re also working on your grit and resilience—especially if it turns out to be tougher than you expected.