Career Learning: It’s Not Too Late to Find a Summer Internship

Good news for all of you procrastinators who have not yet begun your internship searches: It’s not too late! Here’s a look at the logistics and psychology involved with finding a “last-minute” summer spot.


The early birds

It’s true that some companies that are really on top of their recruiting schedules start seeking interns 10 months or more in advance. This applies to the most competitive fields, such as investment banking on Wall Street, jobs with the federal government, international assignments, advertising on Madison Avenue, theater on Broadway … you get the idea.

These types of summer internships, which constitute about 10 percent or less of the total pool, usually have only one opening and thousands of applicants. So if you would like to throw your hat in the ring for a popular and competitive internship for summer ’11 or ’12, spring ’09 is a great time to start. (See, it’s not too late!)

It is also true that about 20 percent of companies have all of their summer interns hired before New Year’s Day. Such internships typically fall in the category of highly competitive: spots at Microsoft, Google, Disney and the like. These prestigious companies hire lots of interns from every field, so they start recruiting, interviewing and hiring early.

Spring it on

And, yes, it is true that about 40 percent of companies hire interns before April. These competitive internships with popular corporations, nonprofits and government agencies offer great experiences or good pay or both, and are usually on most students’ radar. Unlike the first two categories, they are often local or regional, which means you may be competing with more students at your university. The solution here is to network at your campus job fairs and make good use of on-campus interviews.

Do the math

By now, you might be wondering how you can find a decent summer internship. The above scenarios all require preparation well in advance, but you need an internship now!

Well, these most competitive, highly competitive and competitive positions add up to only 70 percent; let’s take a look at the other 30 percent.

Did you know that as many as half of advertised internships (paid and unpaid) are left unfilled each summer? One reason for this is that companies sometimes have last-minute openings in April or May, when many students already have internships or don’t bother searching because they think the “good” ones are taken.

Also, most students frown upon unpaid internships because they are … unpaid. The truth is, these are some of the best internships – the diamonds in the rough. Take a closer look: Does this opportunity fit your career plans? Is it with a reputable organization? Will you develop skills that will make you marketable when you search for a full-time job? Might it lead to permanent employment or other internships? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you should seriously consider an unpaid opportunity. Your return on this investment of your time will be deferred, but, believe me, it will pay dividends when it leads to future paid internships or a permanent position.

The unadvertised internships

We did the math and covered 100 percent of internship scenarios, but we left out a huge category that contains hundreds of additional internships. (Even if you aren’t a math major, you probably are wondering how we can exceed 100 percent.)

There are four internship opportunities (paid and unpaid) for every student who wants one. The qualifying term here is “for every student who wants one.” This means that you, the intern hunter, are not dealing with a zero-sum situation. You have four internships (good ones) waiting for you; all you have to do is hunt for them. The bad news is, two of those four internships haven’t been advertised yet. So, you can either wait for them to be posted (not ideal), or you can use your career center’s contacts and e-mail recruiters and inquire about any openings they might anticipate for this summer (ideal).

It’s not too late to do this. Many good internships open late because they are unplanned, or some money has surfaced in a manager’s budget, or the hired intern backs out. Some of the best internships aren’t posted because they are saved for the CEO’s son or daughter or nephew, but nepotism often doesn’t work out – “Junior” may opt out of working for Dear Old Dad and decide that a carefree summer in Europe is the way to go. This is your chance to fill that void in the company’s hiring plans!

Get going

To jump-start your summer internship search, visit the Hegi Family Career Development Center ASAP. We have dozens of posted internships and hundreds of company contacts. We also have internship advisers who can help guide you through your search every step of the way.

troy-behrens-sm.jpgTroy Behrens, Ed.D., is executive director of SMU’s Hegi Family Career Development Center. He writes “Career Learning” for SMU Parents online.

• Send your career questions to tbehrens@smu.edu.

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