Consider This Before Applying for an Internship

Here's why interning with a small business might be your best bet.

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If you’re careful about selecting an internship where you’ll learn crucial skills and add new accomplishments to your resume and online portfolio, it can be just the ticket to help you stand out and get your next job in this difficult market.

The key thing to consider? What are the specific learning outcomes and skills you want to gain on the job? It’s especially important to identify these goals if you’re considering a volunteer internship; if you aren’t earning money, you certainly want a specific return on your time investment. While you may be able to secure an internship at a brand-name organization to impress your friends and family, if you’ll be doing nothing but making copies and greeting visitors, it won’t help you succeed in the long run.

[See 10 Tips to Get the Most Our of Your Internship.]

Before applying for internships, identify the skills needed to qualify for your target (long-term) jobs. The best way to determine necessary skills is to research job descriptions using keyword searches on tools such as Simply Hired, LinkUp, and your favorite search engines. For example, search Google using terms such as {marketing manager, jobs} or {editor, jobs}.

Copy and paste the job descriptions you find into a file and highlight them to indicate what you know you can do. Then, make a list of the types of skills you cannot highlight, but seem to appear frequently in job descriptions. Those are the skills you need to practice at an internship; getting experience in those areas should be your goal.

With your target skills in mind, evaluate opportunities and decide if they’re well suited to your needs. If you’re a college student applying for a big internship program, it shouldn’t be difficult to find details (either on your campus or online) detailing other peoples’ experiences working for that organization. Use social media tools to research and decide whether the internship will help you add necessary accomplishments to your resume.

[See 6 Tips for GenY on the Job Hunt.]

Considering you likely have an array of goals you’d like to accomplish while working as an intern, Cari Sommer, Co-Founder of Urban Interns, an organization connecting growing companies with people seeking part-time jobs, internships, and freelance positions, says a small company or business may be your best bet.

Here’s why:

• The promise of hands-on experience. Business owners hire interns (both paid and unpaid) because they need help. The projects tend to be more substantial and provide a greater chance to dive into a subject matter than at larger companies that have more staff to handle the bulk of the work.

• An opportunity to work directly with owners/senior managers of a business. Smaller companies typically employ smaller teams, which allow interns opportunities to interact and work with those who run the organization. This should provide useful experiences to enhance your resume.

• A job down the line. Smaller organizations need top talent just as much as bigger companies, and with less money to spend on recruiting and training, they often try to stick with those who already learned the ropes. If a full-time job at the company is not an option, employers will often be willing to open doors and rolodexes to refer you to their colleagues.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

No matter what type of organization you target, Sommer suggests finding out information such as:

• How many interns are there? Are you just one or part of a team of dozens? The number of interns may affect the level of interaction you can expect.

• Who will supervise you? Is there a strict hierarchy of authority? While you can learn something from everyone, if your goal is to get experience working with executives and owners, an organization with looser boundaries may be a better bet.

• What type of work will you do? Explore what types of assignments interns may expect.

Know exactly what you want to accomplish and ask the right questions to be sure you gain valuable experience. That will make your internship a great step on your path to the next opportunity.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.

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