Fetching coffee and photocopying documents during the summer? No thanks, say the students who elect instead to hobnob with shrunken heads and six-legged cows as interns at Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! in New York City. Others prefer the crumbling walls and eerie echoes at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, whose prison gates open wide to admit interns — as long as you don’t mind sharing your cubical with the ghosts of inmates past.
But if shrunken heads and haunted prisons aren’t your thing and you’re less than excited about shuffling papers all day, there’s another alternative: Create your own internship.
“It’s not an entirely new concept,” says Yair Riemer, vice president of global marketing at TweetMyJobs and Internships.com, “but it’s one that requires the confidence to target specific companies where internships don’t currently exist. You have to have a high level of curiosity, good research skills, and the confidence to pitch your ideas.”
Mark Babbitt, CEO and founder of YouTern, a resource for connecting young talent to mentors and internships, agrees. “It all starts with confidence and the willingness to hustle,” he says. “Employers might not want to bother with posting a job description and going through the motions of hiring — but that doesn’t mean companies aren’t looking for interns. If you can present a convincing argument for why a company needs your specific skill set, you’re likely to be successful.”
Creating your own internship isn’t as easy as calling up the CEO of your favorite company, though — and in many ways, crafting your own summer job is a lot harder than fitting into an existing position. You have to be self-motivated, organized, and have a realistic view of the skills you can offer to a company before presenting yourself as the best intern they never knew they needed. It all starts with a plan, say Babbitt and Riemer, who offered a few helpful guidelines for crafting your own rocking internship for this summer. (Hint: Start thinking about it now!)
Now is a great time to honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to see where you’d be a good fit. “Most of us are very good at what we truly like, so maybe start there,” advises Babbitt. “You want to really know what you can offer a company before you approach them.” Standardized personality tests can help you with the basics, but nothing beats a good healthy interest for a particular industry or brand.
RESEARCH THE COMPANY
Dig in deep to really get a handle on what your dream company actually does and believes. “If you only read the ‘about us’ section, you’re only seeing what the company wants you to know about them,” Babbitt says. “Track social media if you want to get a handle on their branding and to see how they really treat people. Pay attention to the company’s mission, and try to figure out its strengths and weaknesses. If you can figure out how you can help solve a problem they’re having, you’ll have a great advantage.”
If you managed to score a meeting with the HR director with one phone call, great. If not, “reach out to a specific department and ask if you can meet with the head of the department,” advises Riemer. “Also, call after hours. The people who make the decisions are still there after 5:30, but the barriers are down since the staff on hand to answer the phones have usually gone home.”
If you’re not sure what kind of reception you’ll get if you pitch a job description right off the bat, try asking for an informational interview. Once you’re in the door, ask your interviewer questions — don’t assume you’re there because he or she wants to hear all about your life. “A CEO doesn’t need to learn from your experience — they’ve been there, done that,” says Riemer. “Most people love to talk about what they do, particularly if they’re really passionate about their job. Ask them for advice and how they landed in their current position, and most people will be happy to oblige.”
GO IN WITH A PLAN
Now that you’re sitting across from the CEO, how are you going to help solve the company’s biggest problem through your internship?
“Be prepared to answer those types of questions, and even if you can’t solve every problem, think about what skills you could offer to help out the higher-ups so they can address even bigger problems,” Babbitt says. Maybe that means spending 15 hours per week manning the social media channels so that the VP has more time to work on strategy. “Think about it in terms of providing an answer to the CEO’s silent question, which is ‘what’s in it for me?’”
PUT IT DOWN ON PAPER
For the sake of everyone involved, don’t anchor your summer internship on a handshake and a smile. “Write it all down,” advises Babbitt. “Write down what you’ll be doing, for how long, during what hours, and most of all, your expectations and what you both hope to get out of the internship. Do this before you talk about hours or pay so that you can set expectations for your employer and for you. It doesn’t have to be a formal contract, but if you have an outline written down, you’ll have a template to keep everyone happy.”