By Margaret Steen, for Yahoo! HotJobs
With summer just around the corner, college students are getting serious about finding internships.
"Many young people don't know what they want to do when they come out of college," said Susan Terry, director of the Center for Career Services at the University of Washington in Seattle. "The internship gives them a chance to dabble."
Internships give college students access to workplaces that would otherwise be unlikely to hire them for the summer. Larger companies with well-organized programs may provide mentoring and a chance to work on a project that will benefit a college student's resume.
Experience That Pays Off
Interns "learn how to apply what they're learning in class in the real world," said Nadene Francis, assistant director for public relations at the University of Florida Career Resource Center. "It makes them more marketable to potential full-time employers or to graduate programs."
Indeed, many companies use internship programs as a way to evaluate students for potential full-time jobs. A survey of employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that the employers offered jobs to more than 70 percent of their interns.
And internships can help sell candidates to other companies as well: The same survey found that more than 60 percent of the new college grads hired by the companies that responded had some sort of internship experience, though not necessarily at the company that hired them.
Expand Your Horizons
Students looking for internships should think broadly. For example, someone who is planning to go to medical school doesn't need to work in an obstetrician's office for the summer. An internship with a pharmaceutical company, a medical nonprofit or even an insurance company could provide valuable experience, Francis said.
It's also important to remember that although some internships pay very well, others offer low pay -- or none at all. Some count for college credit; others do not.
"Don't let the fact that it's unpaid deter you," Francis said. "Plan ahead. Work other parts of the year, or do a better job of budgeting."
Tools for the Search
So what's the best way to find an internship? In many ways, an internship search is similar to a job search: Online postings, career fairs and networking are all good sources of leads. College students have an additional resource in their career centers. And psychology majors, for example, should check with the psychology department for internships in their field.
Some deadlines for summer internships have already passed, so students who haven't started looking may need to look beyond the biggest companies.
"There are plenty of internships available year-round for students," Terry said. "It's certainly not too late."
Plan for Interviews
Francis suggests students take a regional approach: First, they figure out where they'll be for the summer. Then they consider what skills they would like to develop, and research companies or organizations in that area where they might get that experience.
Jamila Blake, who is interviewing candidates for an internship coordinating volunteers at Willow Tree Hospice in West Grove, Pennsylvania, said candidates can make a good impression by being on time and dressing appropriately for their interview. She is looking for evidence that a candidate is interested in marketing, as well as experience as a volunteer.
"It's important to ask questions" during the interview, Blake said. "You're interviewing the agency as well."