Not having a summer internship as the semester wanes can be scary. Fortunately there are many paths to finding a summer job.
Spring is here and the end of the semester is in sight. For many college students it means an exciting summer internship. For others it means time to panic because they don’t yet have an internship. If you or someone you know is in that position, here is some advice. While this is being written as the economy is starting to slow in the spring of 2023, this advice will apply any year, in any economy (it just may be a little harder in weaker economies).
My fraternity had a great tradition in which as we got rejection letters, we’d post them on the wall outside our room. As a freshman I saw a senior with a less than stellar GPA get dozens of rejection letters, which helped set my expectations. Not knowing what field I wanted to go into (tech, finance, consulting) I applied to quite a few jobs–and got rejected from pretty much every one of them. I covered the wall with my rejection letters. It’s trite, but true, that even the best batters in baseball strike out most of the time. I had more at bats, so I had more strikeouts. At the end of the day don’t take it personally since many factors go into hiring decisions (including luck). More rejections (or more crickets if you don’t get a response), just means you’re putting in more effort than others. Lots of rejections is a badge of honor. (That former senior now has a great career in finance.)
You have a college career center. They don’t just organize career fairs; they are experts on job seeking and can provide counseling. They can certainly help with your resume and cover letter but can also advise you on places to look. Sometimes they get last minute calls from companies looking for students so let them know you’re actively looking.
Professors often have connections to companies. Department administrators and other on-faculty staff get to know the companies who hire their students because the companies often set up events through the department. Their connections as well can open doors to companies; likewise, they may hear about opportunities that aren’t visible to you. Faculty may even have gotten a new grant recently and suddenly have room for an undergraduate who takes initiative.
Many schools have alumni databases. Some will let you register for them even as a student, while for others you need to go to the alumni office to get help. Your school probably has lots of alumni in your field. You can reach out to them asking about openings in their company. Everyone remembers what it’s like to be a student and struggle finding a job. In the worst case they don’t see your email, but many will try to help if they can. (I just had dinner the other night with a friend I met twenty years ago when he was a student. After hearing me on an alumni panel, he asked to speak with me for more advice. We’ve been friends ever since.)
Many college students think they don’t have a network, or that it’s not valuable. You do and it is. While your friends at college may not be in a position to get you a job, remember that you know your family (including older relatives), your parent’s friends, and other adults. Your network isn’t just people you know, it’s people they know. Ask your parents to ask their friends; ask your aunts and uncles to ask their friend’s. (Tip: make it easy by sending a one paragraph email about what you’re looking for and your resume, so they can easily forward it.) Even your peers may know of opportunities. Sure, they can’t hire you, but they may have heard that someone at their summer company just backed out, or maybe they turned down a job recently and that company is still looking.
Use web searches and social media to look for companies that just raised a seed or A round. These companies briefly have more money than people; they’re also going to be looking to spend money carefully and a low-cost intern can be an appealing option.
While the career office events are usually the most relevant you can also try job boards. There are some specifically for summer internships, others are general. Either way it doesn’t hurt to apply.
In The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You I wrote about how I often created jobs that didn’t exist. One of my best hires was an intern who did the same. We were hiring for a director of HR. She was taking a semester off from college and wrote, “I know you’re looking for a director, but I have some experience in this field; would you consider an intern while you look.” The funding was approved for the role already, so spending $20/hr in the meantime until we hired the director wouldn’t hurt our budget. It turned out the intern was amazing, and we kept her on even after we hired the director.
If all else fails, and you don’t have an internship, it’s not the end of the world. Plenty of people have worked classic summer jobs (e.g., hospitality) and gone on to a good future. Even if you don’t have a job, make the most of your summer. I spent one summer rebuilding the downstairs bar in my fraternity house. It wasn’t glamorous but it was fun, and I had something to talk about during job interviews (in fact, something unique to talk about). The key is showing that you didn’t spend the whole summer only playing video games. (I did play some video games, too, I simply didn’t only play video games.) If you can demonstrate that you learned or grew in some way—personal projects, learning a language, volunteer work—then you’re still in a good position; it shows that you take initiative, even when not being paid to do something.
No matter how dark it may seem looking at a pile of rejection letters, don’t get yourself down. Every summer millions of college students get internships, but before that happens hundreds of millions of rejection letters get sent out to those very same students. I and many others struggled with summer jobs, and we wound up ok; you will, too.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.