I just had this conversation with some PRSSA members last week, and I don’t think anyone argued the value of an internship. However, the fact remains that some students cannot afford to take time away from paying jobs to take an unpaid internship. Hopefully, we will continue to see an increase in the number of employers offering paid internships, but until then, there are ways for students to gain internship experience and still pay their rent!
1. No course credit. If you do not need course credit from the internship, you give yourself much more flexibility with the number of hours you have to commit to as an intern. Be willing to discuss these options with a prospective internship employer; many employers are willing to work around an intern’s school and work schedules.
2. Volunteer vs. intern. If you cannot commit to a full semester internship, consider serving as a volunteer for your favorite nonprofit organization. Walk in the door of any nonprofit organization offering your services, and you will most likely be greeted with open arms! Most nonprofits work with limited paid staff and rely heavily on volunteers. This gives college students ample opportunities. It might mean giving one hour a week of your time or maybe just helping out on a specific project or event. Either way, you can work with the organization to find a schedule that works for both of you. You gain experience and build your professional network, and the organization gets some much-needed help.
3. Job Shadow. Another way to gain insight into your career field is to job shadow for a day…or even a half day. Most professionals are willing to share their time and expertise with college students who are driven and eager to learn. Job shadowing can give you the chance to see inside different organizations and learn how public relations works in a variety of industry sectors.
The point is with a little determination, you can gain the benefits of an internship even if you cannot make a full-time commitment. So don’t despair; even if your resume doesn’t reflect internship experience in the traditional way, reaching out to gain similar experiences through other avenues shows a prospective employer that you take the initiative to find ways to overcome obstacles.
Paying your way through college is no easy task, and you should take pride in that accomplishment too. Don’t sell yourself short. You can gain the experience you need to be competitive in the job market while still paying your rent, it just takes a little more creativity…kind of like these creative ramen recipes. Who doesn’t love this 25-cent pantry staple!
If you’ve gained professional experience in nontraditional ways, please share in the comments. Your experiences can serve as encouragement for current students. In the meantime, pull up a chair and let’s talk.