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Managing Monday: Summer Internship Advice

April 1, 2013

Spring has sprung, which means that for collegians, summer vacation is just around the corner!  Summer vacation likely brings many fun things, like spending time with hometown friends and family vacations.  However, it should also bring a summer internship.  This week on Managing Monday, I’ll provide you with five tips to help you make the most out of your summer internship experience.

1.  Finding an internship

I’m a big proponent of starting from the beginning.  Thus, I’d be remiss to not begin this column with talking about finding an internship.  Many of you have probably already lined up a summer internship.  However, many of you are probably struggling to find one.  What do you do if you find yourself in this boat?  The answer centers around creativity.

If you do not have a summer internship lined up at this point, you do not necessarily need to fret or convince yourself that you will not get one.  However, what you need to do, is execute a more creative job search than you have up until this point.

What is it that you want to do in a career?  What areas of practice interest you?  Where will you be residing this summer?  Make a list of all of those factors.  Then, make a list of all of the companies, organizations or people who could offer you the experiences you are looking to fulfill.

Let’s say that you’re a law student who wants to practice sports law.  Luckily for you, sports law is a broad field with many different avenues to travel down.  Where could you begin sending resumes to in an attempt to find an internship?

By this point in the year, teams and leagues have likely locked up their interns.  However, it would be worth your time to visit to see if any have postings.

Therefore, you should think broader about your internship search.  Think about local sports agencies and sports marketing companies.  How local sports foundations or event planning agencies?  What about pairing up with a sports law professor and assisting him or her with their research?  Have you reached out to your local university’s athletics compliance department to see if you could assist them this summer?  Athletics directors are some of the most over-worked people I know; I’m sure a few would love to host an intern for the summer.

The point here, is that you need to be broad with your internship search.  The goal is to get an internship so that you can build your resume.  In approaching these various opportunities, you need to sell them on what you can offer their organization.  Some places you contact may not have an internship program, so you need to convince them that it’s worth their time to bring you on for the summer.  This may seem counter intuitive, since you’ll likely be working for free.  However, keep in mind that it is the organization who offers the possibility of an internship opportunity that you covet.  As such, act accordingly.

2.  If you don’t find an internship

Sometimes, you may exhaust every creative avenue and mail out hundreds of resumes and still not land an internship.  The good news is, life is not over.  I assure you that you will find employment after graduation.  However, not finding a summer internship does not equate to a free summer pass, where you can lay around all day catching up on Teen Mom 2 episodes.  The fact of the matter is, even if you don’t have a summer internship to work, you still need to do something to further your career path this summer.

If you find yourself in this boat, the biggest piece of advice I’ll offer you is to spend the summer educating yourself about your passion and then finding an outlet to share that education with the world.

The best advice I can give you if you don’t have a summer internship, is to spend the time you would otherwise spend in the internship (i.e., 15-40 hours per week) researching areas related to your chosen career field.  Then, take what you learn from that research and turn it into something tangible.  Perhaps you do this by starting a blog or writing a law review or business journal article.  Maybe you accomplish this by building a business plan or reaching out to leaders in your industry with your findings.

Sometimes you need to create your own resume fillers.  When you refuse to sit idly by when others fail to give you a chance in the profession you want to practice, you put the fate of your career in your own hands. Trust me, that is one of the greatest feelings you can ever experience.

3.  Arriving at the internship

I remember always being unable to sleep the night before I started an internship.  Feelings of excitement over what I was about to experience always fluttered through me.  I always fretted over whether my outfit was ironed well enough and if I packed a good enough lunch.

One of the most important pieces of advice I can give you to succeed on your first day on the job, is to walk in reasonably prepared.

Being reasonably prepared has nothing to do with the outfit you select for your first day or what kind of sandwich finds its way into your lunch bag.  Rather, being reasonably prepared means having some sense of the situation you’re about to walk into.  What I mean by this, is to spend the weeks leading up to the start of your internship researching things like the organizational structure of the company you’ll be working for.  It is also beneficial to research the people you will be working alongside.  The first task can be accomplished by spending some time on the organization’s website and reading it in detail.  The second task can be accomplished by using LinkedIn.  Researching these two areas will allow you to have a better sense of what causes you are about to promote in your internship, who you can expect to report to, and how to build a rapport with co-workers.

I’ve put this practice to beneficial use in my career.  Knowing the organizational structure of a company has allowed me to recognize who the best people are to ask for assignments.  Knowing my co-workers’ professional and personal backgrounds allowed me to build camaraderie with them early on.  This camaraderie in turn allowed me to obtain more assignments than some of my peers.  Because my co-workers knew my interests, they would present opportunities, like participating in arbitrations, researching sports-related topics and so on, that that wouldn’t have otherwise had they not known my interests.

4.  Throughout the internship

The best thing you can adopt throughout an internship is a “can-do” attitude.  You are at the internship to work, not relax.  You are at the internship to gain experience that others are missing out on and to make you a more valuable job candidate after graduation.  You are at the internship to decipher what interests you about your career path and which areas you are not so passionate about.

There is no task too small for an intern.  Yes, fetching coffee and making copies are not the tasks you or your parents have spent tens of thousands of dollars on an education to prepare you for.  However, we have all been there before.  What can you learn from those experiences? How might performing those experiences well allow you to work your way into bigger tasks with greater responsibilities?

Early in your internship, you should ask to sit down with the internship coordinator to discuss some things you hope to learn during your experience.  While it may not be feasible to tackle your entire wish list, hopefully by sharing these desires, the coordinator will assign you some relevant projects.

The more you are willing to take on during an internship, the more opportunities will come your way.  I experienced this firsthand at the Screen Actors Guild and Warner/Chappell Music.  At both, I worked to develop professional relationships with all of my co-workers and to express to them my willingness to help out with any projects they were working on.  As such, my desk was often more full than fellow interns’, and more often than not, with more interesting projects.  I’ll never forget when the head general counsel at Warner/Chappell assigned me a project that its own attorneys had been struggling with for months, because he had seen my work and believed I could find the solution to it. As a 22-year-old law student, that was a very rewarding feeling.

So, get out there and get your feet wet.  Make the most out of the opportunity presented to you.  Don’t expect your boss to be a mind-reader and know what you want to get out of your internship experience.  Seek out opportunities to build the experience you need to get the job you want after graduation.

5.  After the internship

The experience doesn’t end on your last day on the job.  Rather, it is just beginning.

You’ve just spent the summer with professionals in an industry you want to work in.  The most important thing you can do perhaps during the entire experience, is to work to maintain those relationships.  Keep in contact with the people who supported you throughout your internship.  Make it a point to touch base with them once a semester and update them on what you’re doing.  Let them know how school is going and any activities you are engaging in.  If possible, set up a lunch or coffee visit once per semester.

Building a solid network begins by holding onto relationships that you have already established.  Some of my biggest supporters on this sports media journey of mine have been my former employers.  It is likely that if you bring a “can do” attitude to your internship, that yours will be, too.

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