Lisa Chau is the assistant director of Public Relations at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Erica Finkelstein is a rising senior at American University.
Although internships have not yet become de rigueur across industries, they are becoming increasingly important for the many students seeking a competitive advantage in the job market. Internships are valuable because they expand possibilities. As I advised in my previous article: Always be ready for unexpected opportunities, and put yourself in situations where opportunities are likely to arise.
During the second semester of my last year at Hunter High School, I interned at the Jack Tilton Gallery. An exhibiting artist dropped by for a visit one afternoon. My supervisor told me that he was a bestselling author working on a virtual reality project. After a quick inquiry; a casual recommendation, and a brief interview, I was handed the keys to Brian D'Amato's studio on Mercer Street. In fact, I ended up interning solely for Brian until I graduated. A few years after college, we reconnected and I continued to work with him on his Mayan trilogy while he mentored me through my graduate level creative writing thesis at Dartmouth College. Through this union, I also worked for Brian's award-winning, novelist mother, Barbara D'Amato, as well as his GQ Man of the Month colleague, Craig Bueker.
Don't limit yourself by using your internship merely as a stepping stone to the next destination. Tunnel vision is a disservice to embracing the big picture. Build meaningful, lasting relationships and use the time to mentally absorb everything. Maybe the experience will make you realize you want to go in a totally different direction than you had planned. Or, if you become even more impassioned about the work you are doing, make yourself indispensable so the company will consider hiring you full 0time.
Last year, U.S. News and World Report conducted a survey that recognized American University, Colorado School of Mines, and Dartmouth College as the schools with the highest percentages of 2010 graduates choosing to incorporate internships as part of their undergraduate studies—over 70 percent at each institution.
In 2001, employers extended offers to 57 percent of their interns, compared to almost 70 percent in 2008, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Internships do make a difference.
As a Tuck student, Alejandro Crawford interned for a Tuck graduate in Burlington, Vt. Alejandro recalls a great experience during which he learned how a growing business in a creative industry works. The experience "lit a fire under" him that drove the creation of Alejandro's first business, Nolej, and motivates him in his current venture, the Acceleration Group, Inc.
After the internship, Alejandro applied the branding skills he learned to build his own company. He gained a great deal of first-hand knowledge about getting a business off the ground, as well as which parts he enjoyed (strategy) and which parts he preferred to avoid (creative digital). He is now applying those lessons to lead other businesses to success at the Acceleration Group. He explains, "What I'm doing right now I could never have done had I not had those experiences working with all those owners, seeing the best practices, and developing a mission strategy."
Other Tuck students opt to leave the country for a global experience. Brooke Whitaker's first job after college was working as an analyst in Kenya for a small business consulting firm, KMAP. He received about $100 per month. Within six years, he worked his way up to regional manager in Africa at Arthur Andersen, within the Global Corporate Finance/Emerging Markets service line. Although he later worked in Middle East and North Africa, known as MENA, and Asia, Africa has remained central to his career. "That wouldn't have been the case had I not made a decision to get experience in the region and continuously leverage on the experiences I gained," Brooke notes. "It's been invaluable to work within cultures other than what I knew growing up. By the time I arrived at Tuck, I had already spent 13 years overseas and lived in five countries. Today, I can communicate in Swahili, Thai, Arabic, and French."
So, how does one land an internship at a good company?
Alejandro has hired a number of interns at the college and master's levels. Among this pool, two have been hired as full-time employees at his company. A third currently works for Google and recently spoke at the New School in New York, where Alejandro teaches. These are just a few examples of the success stories Alejandro has helped create.
"First and foremost: Be a self-starter. It's death when people ask what to do," Alejandro states. If you're given a problem, figure out how to solve the problem. Don't create more work for the company. "Generally speaking, interns who have programming, design, quant, and communications skills, or are highly entrepreneurial have done phenomenally. Depending on your role, the skills needed to succeed will be different."
Erica Finkelstein, a rising senior at American University, returned to work with me this year, for the third summer in a row. She is an asset to my team because she is intelligent and brings a proactive attitude to the projects assigned to her. She contributes rather than detracts from the work flow. I have had her help me coordinate huge, international conferences with peer business schools and top tier media. The experience has been great for both of us.
"Interning with Lisa has been beneficial and rewarding because it puts me in a different mindset than doing homework for school," Erica explains. Projects for the office cannot be late and every detail counts. It's not just theoretical. It's critical for interns to multitask efficiently and constantly alternate priorities. Erica adds, "You learn a lot in class, but you learn different things at an internship. Real world experience is great because you don't get a grade for it; and I've learned how to meet people and build relationships so you're not just business friends, you're actually friends."