Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking and job search 17 – getting past intern

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on November 9, 2009

At the end of posting number 16 in this series I listed three more topics I would post on and this is not one of them. I decided, however, to add this in now as it connects directly with some emails I have received from frustrated job seekers. And to set the stage for this posting, I will make note of a couple of commonly known facts so I can cite them as context for further discussion.

• The economy is still down, and way down for employment with the official US national unemployment rate at just over 10.2%, and the actual number, counting significantly underemployed and people who have exhausted unemployment benefits at over 17.5%
• A common route into employment when the job market is tight is to in effect pay it forward by doing an internship. This type of position pays very little if anything monetarily, but it does add what may be crucially important recent experience to a resume, it helps build networking and possible referral source relationships, and sometimes interns are taken on as full time, paid employees where they intern as they prove their value. But these positions do not pay in salary while you are interning.

Internships can also help when making a significant change in professions too, so they can be a way to get your foot in the door. But too much time interning does not necessarily look good on a resume and as noted above, they do not pay even as the bills keep coming in. So the pressure is on to move out of internships, even as they can offer very significant stop-gap and shorter term, transitional value. And making that step is what this posting is about.

The key point I want to make here is that this is not as much as job search question alone as a career management question, and that means what you do and focus on as to activities and priorities while working, and not just while searching. You want to select possible internships to apply for with networking and referral development potential as well as skills and experience potential, firmly in mind. You want to plan out how long to stay there the same way, going into this as a transitional step, and for career changers even as paying your dues into a new field.

That said, I have to stress that there is nothing wrong or demeaning about doing an internship and at any age or level of prior professional experience. I write that here as I have heard people tell me that they could not do an internship because it would be such a step down. And I have heard this from people who I am sure would benefit the most from this type of step, in breaking into that new field where they would find paid opportunities if they could demonstrate some prior experience there.

The trick is to remember that an internship isn’t a career. It is a step towards actively engaging in paid opportunities in a career path.

So what type of internship should/world you pursue if any?

• Should you focus in breaking into some specific industry or should you focus on a functional specialty that could be applied in a range of contexts? Look to what you want to do post-internship and find out of industry or functional experience is more effective for securing positions there.
• Are you looking for opportunities in the for-profit or nonprofit arenas? TV, print media and other employers in the for-profit information development and sharing fields often offer internships and they can be very competitive. Find out what positions go as internships, how long these internships generally last and about the career opportunities for those with good internships on their resumes here.
• Elected officials are often looking for interns, though these positions can be quite competitive too. Their need for staff, paid, volunteer and intern can be particularly pressing when elections are coming up. Internships and other volunteer positions would then be largely focused on political campaign activities. And post-election you can expect newly elected officials to be looking for staff, and people who have proven themselves in the campaign have a better chance than those who simply walk in off the street as unknowns.
• Nonprofits are always looking for interns and other volunteers and this can be a route into paid employment as you prove yourself
• It is very important to keep your eyes open to the possibilities in this and to the limitations too.
• It is just as important to remember that this can be a valuable approach for you, for a key transitional period. I add this point acknowledging how we all tend to view ourselves in terms of what we do professionally and that in terms of our title and compensation levels.

So consider if this is a good, strategic move for you and especially if you have been going through a very long job search. Do your homework and see if this is a good strategic step for you as you develop your career and work to get back to work in it.

Next in this series, I am going to pick up on the three issues I cited at the end of part 16, with video resumes coming next.

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