For students who are still in college, internships are the most popular form of experience on a resume. There’s a good reason for that: just about every business out there loves interns. Adores them. We love interns because you’re cheap! Hell, a lot of the time, in the case of unpaid internships, you’re not just cheap, you’re absolutely free. And it’s not the type of free labor you get from prison chain gangs or DWI convicts doing community service work. You actually want to be there, you’re smart, you’ve got some preexisting knowledge about the business, you’re busting your hump to prove you’re worthy, and oh, by the way, you work for less than the guy who cleans the bathrooms. Or for free.

Because of this, internships abound, and probably always will. Which brings me to my next point: don’t rely on your department office, or your career counselors, or even the Web, to give you a listing of all internships out there, because they can’t. They’ll give you the high-profile and long-established ones, but that’s it. It’s very, very easy to not just find little-known internships, but to create them yourself. Your ability to do this depends on your willingness to take a pauper’s wages for your work, but that’s pretty much status quo for most internships you’ll find. Here’s how you do it:

Decide where you want to do an internship. Look around the company’s website for the highest-ranking person in the department you want to work for. (If the company’s small and doesn’t have a website, call and ask for the owner or general manager. When he/she gets on the phone, ask their name. Then hang up. Now you know!)

Next, go to the company’s office — physically, take yourself down to the office (and bring your resume). Ask for the person whose name you’ve just discovered in the previous paragraph. When they emerge, tell them briefly who you are, and that you’d like to give them your resume. Then say this:

”I’m Jane Doe, and I’m a student at Wherever State University. I’d love to do an internship here, and I’m willing to work for minimum wage helping you out in any way you need me to help out.”

You’ve got a 50-50 shot repeating the above. Your chances increase greatly by modifying the approach to:

”I’m Jane Doe, and I’m a student at Wherever State University. I’d love to do an internship here, and I’m willing to work for free, just to gain the experience and a resume entry, helping you out in any way you need me to help out.”

No matter how presumptuous it may be to simply barge into someone’s office and hand them your resume, the prospect of free labor is an aphrodisiac that very few businesspeople can resist. Add to it the fact that you’re obviously a bold and enthusiastic volunteer, and your chances of getting work go through the roof.

Of course, I understand that some people have bills to pay and can’t devote a great deal of time to volunteering. But remember – an internship that takes 5-10 hours a week fills up space on a resume just the same as one that takes 35-40 hours a week. If you can trim back your activities just a bit here and there, maybe you can make it work.

Including internships. Some students say, “Yeah, I did an internship, but it was unpaid.” And then, for that reason, they don’t put it on their resume. Are you nuts? Of course you put it on your resume! Did you learn any less because you weren’t paid? Did you do any less?

It’s not just paying jobs that make experience. It’s not even just volunteer jobs. If you have experience doing something, put it down. Put education first only if you have absolutely no relevant work experience.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take internships if you can. They’re certainly the easiest and most common way to get some real-world job experience while still cocooned away in the college environment, and by all means, if you’ve still got the time and opportunity, do one (or more).

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