It's Not Too Late to Find a Summer Job or Internship

Advice for college students looking for experience or cash while school’s out.

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It's crunch time for college students who don't yet have a summer job or internship. And while it may seem like all of your friends already have a gig lined up, there's still time to land an internship that will help you gain experience or a job to put cash in your pocket.

"Big-name employers are probably done recruiting for summer, but a lot of employers are still looking," says Heather Krasna, director of career services for the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs. Since many of the most coveted internship positions—particularly those with large financial firms—were filled months ago, she suggests focusing on small- and medium-sized companies, as well as nonprofit organizations.

Such organizations include the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in northern New Jersey's Essex County, which is looking for two more summer interns (in addition to two they've already selected) to help care for the largest public collection of irises in the world. It's putting out the call for interns late in the season after realizing college students could help bridge a gap in employees caused by a budget shortfall during the recession. Applicants should have an interest in horticulture or landscape architecture and will receive a $500 "thank-you stipend" at the end of the summer (but otherwise go unpaid).

"They will get to come spend the summer in our gardens and learn all about what it takes to maintain a museum-quality iris collection," says Lynn Berger, vice president of the gardens' Citizens Committee, its volunteer arm.

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

For both jobs and internships, competition is stiff this summer. The market for young workers, while better than last year, hasn't returned to pre-recession levels. And while most students who opt for an internship would prefer a paid one, it's likely too late for that now, says Adam Anthony, director of the College of William & Mary's Washington office, who counsels students on how to find jobs. "At this point, if I were a student, I would not be holding out for a paid internship," he says.

Anthony recommends striving for a non-paid internship in the field you want to work rather than a paying job in an unrelated field. Earning college credit often pays off in the long run, he says, because internships can turn into post-college jobs, putting those graduates ahead of the pack. "A lot of employers are trying before they buy," he says, using an unpaid position to determine whether to hire an intern later as a full-time employee.

Of 41,000 internships listed on Internships.com, a website that connects students with employers, about a third are paid, says Kat Garcia, a spokeswoman for the site. But four times as many candidates apply for paid internships than unpaid positions.

If earning cash is a must for you this summer, seasonal jobs are still available, too. Shawn Boyer, CEO of SnagAJob.com, a job board for hourly positions, says 43 percent of hiring managers who took a SnagAJob.com survey planned to hire before April for summer positions—which leaves more than half of employers who likely still have openings. He has noticed large numbers of openings at staffing firms and for healthcare work that doesn't require credentials, such as home-health aids.

Procrastinators aren't the only ones who find themselves scrambling now that summer's around the corner. Sometimes plans change, like they did for Kristen Hamel, a junior at the College of William & Mary. She had a study-abroad program in the works for the summer but realized an internship would be more beneficial for her career. Now the finance and economics (double) major is looking for a finance internship in Washington, D.C., or Charlotte, N.C. The St. Louis native has had two offers already, but she's holding out for a paid position, which she says is essential so she can afford housing.

Despite being late to the game, Hamel says she's not yet worried. "I feel kind of confident [that] if I find a good fit, that I would be able to get it," says Hamel, 20. She's waiting to hear back from at least one potential employer.