Best Foot Forward: A College Student’s Guide to Starting Right: Step 4: Intentional Assertiveness

We all know that the early bird gets the worm.  However, I propose that in the world of internship hunting, this is not entirely true.  The bird should not only be early, but it should be a bird of prey, a bird with intention, assertiveness and focus; a bird that has his eye on the prize and a plan to attain it. This bird gets the worm (internship). But seriously, aside from the bird analogy, in this market there are thousands of highly qualified, competent candidates, so if you want an internship, you have to go the extra mile and be intentional about securing it.  You have realized, researched, spun and now its time to be assertive. In terms of being assertive, I am not referring to hunting and pouncing on your prey or prospective employer literally. I am referring to a figurative intentional pursuing of sorts.

So what does this intention look like? Let me explain. Once you have researched your company, which includes thoroughly familiarizing yourself with their website and work, you have inquired by email or phone (or both) about the internship, what it entails, what a successful candidate looks like, you have tailored your resume and constructed your cover letter and sent it–now its time to be intentional. At this point many college students think that this is when they simply sit back and wait.  This is not true and most likely costs many what could have been quite an enriching opportunity.

Rule of thumb says you wait about two weeks after initially sending in your information, then it is appropriate to call the company directly.  Some are afraid to do this because they are worried they will seem to forward or rude. Or they simply do not know what to say.

Example: “Hello, my name is Amanda Martin.  I am calling to inquire about the internship I recently applied for. I sent in my resume and cover letter and just wanted to double check that you received it?” They did. “Great, when can I expect to hear an answer?” They tell you. “Thank you so much, I look forward to hearing from you…”

You can also ask how many applicants they received to get an idea of what you are up against, how many interns are they taking, when are they making the final decisions and scheduling interviews.  Asking questions makes you look assertive and if they are good questions, they make you look intelligent and capable.  Make sure you tell them again your name, and thank them for their time. Now they have mentally recognized and categorized you as the potential internee who has actually inquired about the position more than once, aka really wants this position.  Also make sure you know who you are sending it to directly if you can. Then when you call and inquire, try to bypass the receptionist and request to speak to that person who will actually be hiring or not hiring you.  This shows that you are serious about this position and that you will do the extra digging to maneuver yourself into the best possible position.  Self starters and determined people are very appealing to potential employers.  Yet if you show the interest and take the initiative to call and follow up, many employers will not only be impressed, they will remember your name.  This is your first step to making a good impression.  With so many job- hungry, over qualified college students and graduates, you need to be remembered. So go ahead, be the early bird of prey and be assertive and intentional about your future career.

Blogger: Amanda Martin

Media Relations and Advertising Intern

Best Foot Forward: A College Students Guide to Starting Right: Step Three: Spin!

So you have realized the need for an internship, and taken the time to research it. Now, can you spin it? That is, do you know how to take what skills you have and present them in a convincing and totally irresistible fashion? Most students actually have things that they could tack on their resumes they are not even aware of.

Once you have researched your internship and decided on an industry and some prospective companies, it’s time to tailor yourself to what they want. The most common mistake that potential interns make is to undercut their chances by not showcasing any and all of their skills or pertinent experiences. Something else to consider: You do not have to do an internship that directly correlates to your major! For instance, my major is political science, and I am doing and internship in media relations and advertising. I decided this would be my time to branch out and get experience in another field I was curious about. This would be a time when I would try to narrow down some of my interests and see what I liked and what I was and was not good at. If you cannot find an internship that directly correlates to your major, do not despair! Most colleges offer courses in which you can get credit for many different types of internships or field experience, even ones unrelated to your major. Furthermore doing an internship is the perfect opportunity to explore all the various interests you might have. Something else to think about, how many individuals do you know in certain professions they love with a major that has nothing to do with it…think about it, how did they get there? They probably did an internship! If you present yourself correctly, and can make any aspect of your skill set, experience or coursework relate, you are in good shape.

You were part of a softball league, a sorority, or organized a benefit for your school.  Can you pull away any skills or responsibilities that you held that could be showcased in a resume? Recognize that at the intern level, most companies desire to teach you new skills. While this is not always the case, if you can in your cover letter or interview, emphasize the basic skills you possess, how they could pertain to the tasks you would be required to perform, and how ultimately your goal is to gain knowledge. So if you had basic skills like writing, but were unfamiliar with certain programs, like InDesign which is used in print advertising, do your research on it and express your desire to be taught. Also the internet is an endless resource. Find a free online tutorial and watch it!

You can make yourself marketable for any job with in reason. Of course, if you want to be an astronaut, but you are an English major, most likely you are out of luck. With the right “spin,” you can be well on your way to your first internship. The next question: are you aggressive enough to be intentional about securing that position?

Blogger: Amanda Martin

Media Relations and Advertising Intern

Best Foot Forward: A College Student’s Guide to Starting Right: Step Two: Research

As I came upon my senior year in college, I began to wonder when or if I would do an internship.  I bet you are thinking, “a little late,” and believe me, I know.  I am embarrassed to divulge that unlike most students, I actually worked at the LAS Cooperative Education and Internship Program for two years at UIC, and knew the importance of addressing these things early.  I sat through countless interviews with graduating seniors who were dumbfounded as they found out how unprepared they were to tackle the real world job market.  Seemingly simple tasks, such as creating a résumé, writing a cover letter or having the remotest idea of what specifically they wanted to do with their degrees were questions many could not answer. So despite the advantage of being warned early, I had still not had an internship, nor taken much time to research one. Like most college students charging down the home stretch of their college career, I too just wanted to be done.  Similar to a horse with blinders, all I could see was that diploma and the freedom I assumed it bought me. Unfortunately, my naïve dream that my hard- earned diploma would be my meal ticket to a top notch job would soon be shattered.

With foreboding news headlines proclaiming economic failure and the unemployment rate skyrocketing, I began to ponder what exactly I could do to secure one of the few jobs that would be available.  I saw college graduates complain about the lack of jobs everywhere and how they felt like they were not competitive enough to attain the few jobs existing. Certainly unemployment and moving back in with mom and dad was not the type of freedom I sought.  It was then that the importance of an internship dawned on me.

With this realization, I began my research with fervor.  Research is an essential step to acquiring an internship.  From my experience working at the internship program, I learned that the most important thing students can know is what specifically they want to do and research it.  Being uninformed about your career of choice is a recipe for failure. Not to mention how unlikely an employer is to hire someone without a clue about the industry they want to go into.  Use magazines, books, and the Internet.  Ask questions of those you meet who work where you may want to some day.  Check out company websites and their work and see if you like what they do, better yet, do they have intern testimonials? And do not be afraid to call and ask questions about what they look for in a potential internee. The better idea you have, the easier it is to narrow down a company, and tailor a resume and cover letter.  Now, can you spin it?

Blogger: Amanda Martin

Media Relations and Advertising Intern

Best Foot Forward: A College Student’s Guide to Starting Right: Step One: Realization

 

Every college student knows in this economy you have to have an extra edge to get hired. With the unemployment rate rising, and the large number of graduates with their degrees in hand ending up back at home with their parents or working at the local fast food joint, this fact is all too apparent. The question of exactly how to distinguish yourself in a market as dead as our current one sometimes stumps the best of us.

 When shuffling through the list of ways to pump up a resume, we stumble upon the need for leadership roles, volunteer positions, awards, high GPA’s, membership in Greek life, and a whole host of other activities besides our academic work. Yet when looking for a job, the most common question an employer will ask is, “What set of skills do you bring to the table or do you have any other professional job experience?” As a college student myself, I, too, find myself asking, with what time do employers expect students, with all their studies, to find part-time jobs and other extracurricular activities to learn a set of skills and to actually have time or the opportunity to acquire some professional experience? These questions become frustrating, overwhelming, and often get overlooked as students simply push towards their graduation date, thinking a degree in hand will be enough.

Yet as many of us have discovered, possessing a degree is no longer a guarantee to get into the professional world. As a matter of fact, if that is your only selling point, you may only get as far as being a barista at your corner coffee shop. Not to minimize such jobs, but those individuals who are looking to succeed in their field of choice will attest that this extra edge can be gained in only one place and setting. The answer: to be an intern at a company that will let you get hands-on and up close and personal experience in the field you seek a professional career in. Once students come to this realization, they have taken the first step towards acquiring an internship that will offer them the experience they need. In an economy where most graduates are unemployed, this extra edge will give you much better odds at getting that job that so many will be vying for.

Blogger: Amanda Martin

Comtech Media Relations and Advertising Intern