The Pursuit of Internships: My Biggest Takeaways from the Past Year

After networking and applying for a number of internships over the past year and a half, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on what I’ve learned through the process. In a broad sense, I’ve concluded that nearly every opportunity we pursue or person we meet somehow provides us with insight to shape our future and enhance our vision of the person we strive to be. Now that’s a very big statement, but I’ve narrowed down a few more practical lessons learned since diving into the world of professional networking and internships.

Apply for internships you are not “qualified” for.

But take this advice within reason. For example, I’d deem it highly unproductive for an accounting major to apply for an engineering co-op, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to apply for an internship that appears to be a bit outside of your scope of skills and qualifications. Often, I think we underestimate the transferability of the skills we have learned and experience we have gained. Though it can prove a challenging task to examine the ways in which we can build upon our past, it’s so necessary. Exploring the fullest extent of our transferable skills and experience requires a big-picture reflection about what we have learned, and a temporary disregard of the knowledge we have yet to acquire.

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work at a St. Louis-based architecture and engineering firm as their marketing intern. During the application process, it came to my attention that the firm expected their intern to have previous expertise in operating Adobe InDesign, a desktop publication software they use on a daily basis. Honestly, I had never heard of InDesign prior to the application. After a quick Google search and asking around to find friends who had worked with the program, I went into the interview with some background knowledge and simply expressed that I was willing to learn what I needed for the job and provided examples of when I had taught myself new skills. I’d like to think my expressed willingness to learn resonated strongly with the firm despite my lack of qualifications.

Biggest takeaway: Always emphasize your constant pursuit of knowledge to potential employers. Turn to your network and some simple research to learn about areas in which you lack expertise.

Apply for internships that may not be exactly what you are looking for.

Yes of course, please apply for your dream internship at your dream company. But don’t be afraid to explore options outside of what is expected of you or your major. There are many relevant opportunities that exist outside the norm of any major, you just have to actively seek them out. By being closed-minded in exploring opportunities, we limit our potential to become the best version of ourselves. I’m not sure you can be perfectly complacent in knowing you’re doing the work you’re meant to do without constantly looking outward to examine the new opportunities being created around you. We owe it to ourselves to always seek out what is best for us.

Over the past year and a half, I have pursued internship opportunities in a variety of places: a non-profit committed to assisting under-served families, a commercial real estate broker, a wealth management group, and a government agency, to name a few. At times it has been challenging to explore options outside those of a “typical” marketing and Spanish major, but it has also been rewarding. I’ve spoken to a variety of people about their work and passions, which has in turn helped me further define my goals. Beyond that, I have practiced tailoring my personal brand to a variety of work environments.

Biggest takeaway: Be hungry for self-improvement. Constantly explore the opportunities around you to grow your network and refine your professional skills.

Use outside passions to fuel your search for an internship.

I’m a firm believer in extracurricular involvement; I often say that my outside activities are the biggest reasons I remain engaged in the classroom. Sure, I am motivated to learn from my professors and earn good grades, but I think it’s difficult to develop a vision of your future if you have little to no concept of what exists beyond the pages of a textbook. Extracurricular activities, such as jobs, organizations, and volunteer opportunities, are among the best ways to gain real world experience. Reflect on how the things you really enjoy being involved in can be translated into an internship and ultimately your life’s work.

A few conversations I have had with working professionals recently have emerged as a result of the skills I am refining through my organizations, such as leadership, event planning, organization, and collaboration. Individuals I have networked with over time have helped me recognize how the skills I have gained through my previous work experience and on-campus involvement would fit well at a certain company or with a specific internship or career. This sort of personalized insight is invaluable.

Biggest takeaway: Discover and develop passions outside of the classroom. Listen intently to members of your network – they may help you recognize an opportunity you didn’t think of before.

Though I’ve applied the previously stated points to searching for an internship, I believe these same principles can apply to a job search or other aspects of life. After all, the process of networking and applying for internships is really the act of bettering yourself for what you are meant to do. That’s an opportunity I don’t want to miss.