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Managing Monday: How to Land an Internship

November 12, 2012

Weekly, I receive emails from law students around the country seeking an opportunity to intern for  Recognizing the number of law students (and students in general, for that matter) that seek internships on a near continuous basis, I wanted to provide some information on how to ask for an internship.

Stick your neck out

We are living in a digital era.  This is good news, as the internet allows us to communicate with one another in ways that many imagined to never be possible.  The downside of this digital era, though, is that it causes some to become lazy when it comes to their job search.  I have many friends who limit their job searches entirely to the internet.  Subsequently, many of these people find themselves unemployed.  The problem with an online-only job search method, is that you are competing with everyone else that has a computer and access to the internet.

Thus, even though the internet is a solid tool to use in your job search, in order to land an internship that you really want, you must stick your neck out.  How do you go about doing this?  While the following is not an exhaustive list of methods by which one can stick their next out and land an internship, it is a solid guide to getting started.

1.  Never stop networking

Networking, networking, networking.   You’ve heard it before, and I am here to tell you again:  The easiest way to find a job is to network.

I come from an incredibly middle class family.  Neither one of my parents graduated from college.  Although my dad has numerous friends who played in the NFL, when it comes to connections in the sports world who could get me a job, they were not going to come from my family.  As such, it became clear to me early on that I was going to have to blaze my own path if I wanted to work in sports.

Because of my background, I was led to believe that the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” had negative connotations.  Yes, it is unfortunate when unqualified people get their jobs solely because of who they know.  However, the truth of the matter, is that more often than not, when you want to climb the ladder in the competitive world of sports business, it helps to know somebody.

So then, how do you get to know people?  The simplest way is to start putting yourself out there and networking with others in the industry.  You can do this one of several ways.  For starters, you can attend industry events and conferences.  At events and conferences, make a goal to connect with at least three people.  At industry events and conferences, attendees expect to interact with others.  As such, professionals at these events will not be miffed when you approach them, stick out your hand and introduce yourself.  Ask them where they’re from, what they do and what they are interested in learning at the event.  Share with them what you are excited to take away from the event.  Always ask for a card at the end of your exchange and follow up within the week sharing the pleasure you had in meeting them.  In that follow-up exchange, ask if you can set up a time for lunch or coffee to further pick their brain upon some of the topics that were discussed at the conference or other items which they expressed interested them.

Does this process seem unnatural?  Yes, it probably does.  But the truth of the matter, is that this is the way the business world works.  Just like it probably felt awkward the first time you followed social norms in asking out a date, with time, professional networking will become easier.  However, it only becomes easier if you stick your neck out and practice.

Truth be told, it is easier to ask someone you have developed a professional relationship with for an internship than it is to ask a complete stranger for an internship.  By taking time to engage with professionals and showing an active interest in what they do, you begin to lay the foundation that is important for a professional relationship to flourish.  As the professional relationship grows, you will become able to reach out to this person for advice in your job search.  And, if things work out the right way, the person may even have an intership to offer and think of you for the position!

2.  Inquiry letters and emails

There are only so many conferences to attend.  On top of that, many of these conferences are in far away places with price tags that exceed a student’s budget.  However, these factors should not prevent you from networking and meeting industry professionals.

As I laid out at the outset, the internet is an expansive and impressive tool when it comes to job searching.  However, it must be used efficiently and intelligently to reap its full benefits.  One way to do this, is by sending inquiry letters to people with careers that mirror the one you are interested in.

One of my interns, Kaitlyn, mastered this practice.  Kaitlyn and I have never met face-to-face.  In fact, Kaitlyn lives nearly 2,000 miles away from me in Pennsylvania.  However, because of an inquiry email Kaitlyn sent me several months ago, Kaitlyn not only has an internship with, but is also someone that I am constantly looking out for when it comes to finding other job opportunities.

So, what set Kaitlyn apart from the numerous other law students I receive emails from seeking internships?  It was Kaitlyn’s expressed interest in what I was doing with, clear definition of her goals and follow-up that set her apart from the pack.

Emailing or sending letters to professionals in the career field you’re interested in is definitely one way to strike up a professional relationship.  However, you must be smart in your communication.  When sending your first email or letter, be cognizant of the old saying that you only get one chance at a first impression.  As such, you must be calculating in your approach.

So, what should you say in an inquiry letter?  First, you need to explain why you are contacting the person.  You need to expect that this person is receiving countless emails weekly that are largely crouched in the same proposition:  Give me a job or help me.  What makes your contact or request different?  Likely, what makes yours different is that you are more passionate than every other person who is filling up my inbox.  However, you need to tell me this.  What makes you more passionate about this career path?  Is it an experience you had?  A class you took?  A goal you had?  Spell it out early in the correspondence so that the recipient becomes hooked.

Next, you need to explain how my responding to your email can benefit you on your career path.  Does something in my career mirror something you are looking to achieve in yours?  Is there guidance I can lend you?  Do I work in an industry that you someday hope to?  Again, you must answer the following question:  Why am I contacting this person?

The important thing to take away, is that more likely than not, the person you are reaching out to is incredibly busy.  You need to make it worth their time to read your correspondence.  You do this by showing interest, finding a shared connection, and laying out a reason for further correspondence.  Remember, the person that you are reaching out to does not owe you anything–let alone a response.  As such, you need to give it your all when drafting your correspondence to them.

If you receive a response from the person you reached out to, you must then make it your goal to stay in touch with that person.  Reach out to them every couple of months and update them on your job search or progression through school.  Ask if they read an article or heard about a story that relates to their industry.  Again, by building this relationship, chances are that somewhere along the line, a door will open.

3.  Think outside of the box

I maneuvered through my first year of law school under the belief that the only internships that were available to me were housed in law firms.  To this day, I still kick myself for this type of closed-minded thinking.  The truth of the matter, is that the types of jobs that exist in the world are only limited by your imagination.

What is it that you really want to accomplish with your career?  Spend an afternoon and write down everything that interests you about your chosen profession.  Then, make a list of jobs or companies that mirror some of those interests.  You will likely find that there are a wide variety of job and internship opportunities that exist which will fulfill your various passions.

What, though, if a job doesn’t exist?  This might be the most perfect scenario of internship searching.  Say that you think of a job function, do research on companies offering an internship in this area and find that none do.  Do you just give up then and accept that you cannot find work in this area?  No–absolutely not!  Rather, you begin reaching out to companies and proposing an internship built around your idea.  Some may tell you no and others might not respond.  However, the real innovators will at least give you a shot to hear out your idea.  And if you can convince them it’s worth their time to allow you to come into their company and do something that nobody else does, you likely just secured post-internship employment for yourself.

The Take-Away

Searching for internships is time consuming and sometimes frustrating.  The key to success, though, is what I noted above:  stick your neck out.  Remain patient, but persistent.  If you give your internship hunt all that you have, you will eventually find something that allows you an opportunity to further build upon your skills.

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