How To Create Your Own Internship

Not Listed Means Nothing: How to Invent Your Own Internship
by Katherine Nobles
Photos Tracy and Riva | November 07, 2014

Sometimes you have to think outside the box to land the internship that's the right match for you.

Applying to established internship programs or posted openings is an excellent way to land valuable work experience; however, these aren’t the only effective methods. Consider the follow scenarios:

  • You want the internship, but it’s a competitive program that only accepts a small percentage of applicants
  • You need to save money by living close to home or campus; neither of which are near a large metro area with many internship postings
  • You haven’t had an internship before and are having a hard time getting your foot in the door

If any of these sound familiar, it’s time to think outside the box. Many organizations would love to have an intern, but don’t have a formal program. Others may not have an HR department or the manpower to recruit and interview internship candidates. Sometimes it takes you approaching the organization with a plan or an idea to add value for them to see the possibility.

If this seems daunting, break it down into steps:

1. THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What classes have you really enjoyed or excelled in? What makes you different from your fellow classmates? Knowing these things will help you determine what it is that you can actually offer an organization.

2. RESEARCH ORGANIZATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY OR REGIONAL AREA YOU ARE HOPING TO WORK

Searching for companies on sites like LinkedIn and Idealist.org is a great way to get started. Consider browsing through member lists of organizations like the local United Way or Chamber of Commerce. Don’t forget to ask family and friends who they know that may benefit from having an intern as well.

Once you’ve got a list going, dig a bit deeper. Read up on their services, clients and recent news through their website and social media. Ask yourself, “what are the organization’s biggest problems?” and “how can I help solve them?”

3. CONTACT SOMEONE IN THE ORGANIZATION

You can take one of two approaches here: sending a letter of inquiry or asking for an informational interview. In the letter of inquiry, you write to ask if the organization hires interns or if they would be open to hiring one in the future. Explain why you are interested in the organization and what you can do for them (not what they can do for you)—draw on what you concluded in the previous two steps! Be sure to attach your resume so they can review your qualifications. There’s always a chance that they have hired an intern before and just hadn’t advertised for one recently. Or perhaps they haven’t ever considered hiring an intern until your inquiry put the idea into motion.

Keep in mind that people are busy and emails get overlooked. Don’t take it personally if your letter of inquiry doesn’t get an immediate response. It’s perfectly acceptable to follow up by phone or email within 2 to 3 weeks after that initial contact to check in.

The purpose of an informational interview, on the other hand, is not to directly ask for an internship, but instead to seek information. After forming a relationship with the professional, they may then be willing to pass along your resume or recommend you as an intern. The pros here are that you get great advice from a professional and form an inside connection. The con is that it takes a good deal of time to form solid professional relationships—it doesn’t happen overnight. If after you’ve gotten to know the professional, you feel comfortable pitching your idea for an internship, pose it in a way that you can showcase what you will be able to bring to the table and how you can benefit the organization.

4. GET IT IN WRITING

Develop some form of written plan before you start working. Outline your responsibilities, start and end date, hours per week and pay or course credit. Establishing this information in written form will set clear expectations for both you and the employer.

* * *

While creating your own internship requires initiative on your part, it often allows you to shape the internship so that you have a tailor-made, meaningful experience.