EXPERIENCE: PUTTING INTERNSHIPS TO WORK
This article is to help those for whom the search for an internship is a new process (or an experience from a remote past) to navigate that process. While pieces of it are specific to internships, much of it can be applied to a job search as well.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
The first step is to ask yourself, “what are my specific career interests and goals?” “What type of organization interests me?” “What role interests me?” And importantly, “why do I want an internship?” “What do I hope to gain from it?” What follows is to help with these questions.
Think about whether the organizational culture fits your personality and interests in . . .
The size of the organization
- small. (Organizations with under 20 employees are sometimes the best place to look for a flexible position or to create your own internship.)
- within country
The type of organization
- government agency (e.g.State Department/Foreign Ministry)
- bilateral agency (e.g. USAID, DFID)
- multilateral agency (e.g. UN, World Bank)
- non-governmental organization (NGO)
- community-based organization (CBO)
- think tank or research center
- corporate philanthropy or the private sector
- foundation or other donor organization
- volunteer organization (e.g. Peace Corps)
Your position or function (what will I be doing?)
- direct service
- research and evaluation
- mission/vision of agency
- leadership of the organization
Internships should fit your career goals. Think about what you hope to achieve . . .
- acquire new or increased skills, or use current skills in a new setting
- try out an organization or role to see if it “fits”
- grow your network connections
- gain entry into the organization with the goal of a full-time position
- add experience in a new sector (e.g., if you previously worked at an NGO, do you want to try working for government?)
- expand your resume
Finally, consider whether you will accept an unpaid internship.
Next, look for a position . . .
TIPS TO EMPLOY DURING YOUR INTERNSHIP SEARCH
To start your search for an internship, we first recommend reading BYU Marriott School’s 17 tips for Successful Internship Hunt.
We also offer a few more tips of our own:
Keep an eye on deadlines. Give yourself several months to look for an internship.
Do a skills assessment. (For help with a skills assessment, see for example, Marriot School’s exercise.) Write down what your strengths and skills are as well as areas in which you would like to improve.
Search widely, using a variety of strategies to search for an internship.
- Network (with professors, classmates, friends; at events, seminars, and career fairs, etc.)
- Search for posted positions
- Attend internship/career fairs
- Target organizations and make contact directly
. . . or instead of searching for a ready-made internship, you can develop one of your own.
Some organizations have structured/formalized internship programs; many do not. Others with structured internships may still be open to your ideas. Be creative. Take an idea to an organization. Create your own experience.1
© 2010 Global Public Health Action Network
- Assess yourself and your skills: What do you want to do? What skills can you offer? What experience do you hope to gain?
- Research the field: Search the internet, browse books, read newspapers, network, talk with people, etc.
- Target and make contact: Identify organizations that interest you. Do research on them, their culture and their project areas. Whether they have established internship programs or not, prepare a proposal with what you can offer them – the work you would like to do as an intern – and make a proposal. Be as specific as possible about what niche or gap can you fill for them – what you will bring to them that they do not have currently.
Additional resources to for use when searching for a position are found in “Finding a job” on our Professional Resources page.
Finally, prepare for your conversation. What follows are sample questions to ask prospective preceptors during an interview for a position:2
- Have you used interns in the past? If so, how were they utilized? What tasks did they do?
- What type of supervision will I receive? Will I have a mentor, or will it be more self-directed? Would I have regular meetings with my preceptor?
- Should I expect training or an orientation before beginning my internship?
- Can you give me an example of the responsibilities and tasks to expect as part of this internship?
- What expectations do you have of an intern? What skills or qualifications do you prefer?
- How will I be able to interact with employees of other departments?
- What is the duration of this internship? What hours will I work?
- Will travel be a necessary part of this internship?
- Will there be any compensation? Would I receive a wage, stipend, or reimbursement for my expenses?
- Will you be willing to complete the necessary evaluation forms that will allow me to be eligible for academic credit for my work?
- Are their any special requirements or clearances that I need to obtain?
- Is there a dress code I would be expected to follow?
- I will need to take time off during my exam periods. Is this acceptable?
. . . and sample questions prospective preceptors may ask you during an interview:3
- Why do you want an internship with this organization?
- Why should we hire you for our internship program?
- Do your grades reflect your true ability? Why or why not?
- How many hours each week would you be able to devote to this internship?
- Would you be able to work beyond one semester?
- How would you handle conflicts between your school schedule and a surprise, rush job here?
- What type of supervisor do you prefer to work under?
- How will this internship help you meet your career goals?
- Who is your least favorite professor? Why?
- What are your greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses?
- Give me an example from your past that shows the following: how you dealt with difficult people; how you overcame an obstacle or solved a problem.
- Which courses, jobs, or school activities prepared you for this internship?
Additional resources to for use when applying for a position are found in “Landing the job” on our Professional Resources page.