In an ideal world, every undergraduate student would be interning this summer. But in the practical world of your own competing life demands, not to mention the ups and downs of the internship market and overall economy, you may well find yourself internshipless right now.
But fear not: You can still do plenty of things over the summer to build the skills, knowledge and connections you’ll need to succeed in your future career. Check out these examples.
Volunteer Your Time, Energy and Abilities
From a skill-building perspective, unpaid work can be just as valuable as paid work, especially if your volunteer efforts help you develop essential soft skills like communication, teamwork and taking initiative.
“Volunteer work speaks volumes to potential employers, and if it’s related to the degree you’re seeking, it can only help,” says Renee Beaupre White, director of career services at Green Mountain College. “It can also open doors within the organization for future internship and employment opportunities.”
Volunteer positions are almost always available with nonprofit organizations, but don’t limit yourself to that sector, advises Carol Vellucci, assistant to the president for communications at Towson University. For-profit companies, especially small businesses, will sometimes be open to letting you take on tasks such as a market research project or Web site design.
Talk to People Who Work in Fields and Organizations of Interest
When Gina DeLapa was a graduate student, she set up an informational interview with the training director of a book publishing company. Before long, that meeting had morphed into an internship.
“The internship [then] turned into a letter of recommendation and a phone reference,” says DeLapa, now assistant director of career services at Grand Valley State University. “And those two things played a direct role in helping me land my current job, before finishing my degree.”
While summer may not necessarily be a slow time for people working in fields and organizations that interest you, often the pace is more relaxed. So see if you can arrange a few meetings, either in person or by phone or email.
Get Some Experience by Temping
"Signing on with a staffing agency for the summer will give [you] a good taste of a variety of corporate cultures, industries and opportunities that are available,” says Heather Mayfield, vice president of training and operations for Snelling Staffing Services.
And don’t be surprised if temping results in a full-time job offer or two as well. The American Staffing Association reports that 80 percent of companies that hire temporary employees do so in part to find solid candidates for full-time, permanent employment. So consider each temp assignment a tryout for a future job.
Attend Local Meetings of Professional Organizations
Professional organizations exist for one reason: To promote the fields with which they are associated. Part of that promotional strategy involves reaching out to future practitioners -- like college students.
So you’ll likely be welcomed with open arms when you attend chapter meetings of a professional group in your area. These meetings are a great way to network with potential employers, says John Petrik, dean of student and career services for the Addison, Illinois, campus of DeVry University.
Keep a Journal of Your Summer Activities
Practically everything you do over a summer builds some key skills and traits. Write them down daily or weekly in a journal, where you can document “the specific skills, knowledge, experience and praise or other feedback you’re developing over the summer,” stresses Joanna Patterson, assistant director of the Career Education Center at Alverno College.
Work in Retail to Learn the Skill Every Organization Needs: Selling
“The economic engine of our country is fueled by sales,” Vellucci stresses. “If you know what makes or breaks a sale, you can apply that to almost anything -- including selling yourself to your next employer.”