By Jim Hasse
Internships can be your key to getting you first “real” job after college. Here are some tips for making the most of your first internship while you’re still in school.
It’s All about Education
First, let’s establish a common understanding about internships.
For you, as a student, it provides practical, documented experience. For the employer, it’s a chance to see how you work out in the position and as part of a team. It gives an employer a chance to observe you without having to hire you on a long-term basis.
An internship is not free or cheap labor. It’s not a job. It’s all about education. That’s why internships are rarely paid; in fact it is likely you will have to pay tuition to your school for the period you intern. If you realize that the internship is part of your career preparation and your college experience you will be properly oriented to making it pay off in your future career.
By interning, you not only gain professional skills but also gather insight into a particular industry or organizational culture and establish connections that might lead to a job. You are gaining practical experience in a work environment that supplements your academic training.
Make sure you have investigated all your options. Internships vary widely in the amount of pay or academic credit offered, the type of supervision and mentoring you receive, the length of time you are expected to work, and the amount of learning you will do.
Study the requirements of the internship. Even though you’ll likely be learning new skills during your internship, be sure you have the fundamental skills, usually on the computer or on the telephone, that the internship requires.
Beyond those basics, employers offering internships look for students who are willing to discuss their work, have good listening skills, show politeness, are prompt and are responsible for their work. A sense of humor and a willingness to be flexible also help because both qualities show you know how to work well with others.
Consider drawing up what some placement officials call a “learning contract,” which is a simple agreement outlining your goals for the internship. It provides a platform for agreement between both parties about what work you, the student, will do and what supervision the company or organization offering the internship will provide.
Be Engaged in Your Internship Experience
As an intern, you must approach an internship as an opportunity to work hard and learn. If don’t take that approach, you’ll lose not only practical experience in your chosen field but also the valuable reference you may have most likely received.
So, be eager and enthusiastic and ask for challenging work. Be willing to take direction from your boss. In doing so, you’ll be doing your part to make your internship productive for both you and the employer.
Tell your employer what interests you, what type of work you’d like to do, and what you want to learn. That helps him or her get a sense of your capabilities and adds new dimensions to your internship.
Be personally invested in all the work, not just the fun assignments. Ask a lot of questions to make sure you are headed in the right direction on an assignment.
Dealing With Disability as an Intern
From a disability perspective, your internship has an added value for both you, as a student, and your employer.
You have an opportunity to prove that you are capable of more than just meeting the basic qualifications. Your internship is your chance to prove to yourself and others that you have potential. And, by having a successful internship under your belt, you, as an eventual job seeker, provide uncertain prospective employers with a track record of successful work and assurance from another employer in their field.
But, by helping spearhead a successful internship, you also are helping your employer show success in hiring and managing, even though temporarily, a person with a disability. You’re actually breaking new ground for other interns and other jobseekers with a disability who will follow in your footsteps.
Breaking new ground with an employer who is offering an internship to a student, such as yourself, with a disability is no small matter.
First, the employer may worry that the cost of an otherwise "reasonable accommodation" will be too expensive because of the temporary nature of the work.
A second concern, which is similar to the first but applies to non-disabled
interns as well, is that the employer fears that the intern will take up too much
supervision and training time that cannot be recouped in productivity during such
a short stay.
Despite those two potential concerns on the part of an employer offering an internship, do your best not to let having a disability make you take the first internship offer on the assumption that you may not get another choice. You deserve the same excellent opportunity as any other student.
Let the employer know that, other than your specific disability, you have the same abilities as all others. Your disability will not affect your work or prevent you from being a good team member.
You may have to work harder than other interns to overcome some of these employer concerns, but always be cautious about asking for extras not directly related to your disability and be above reproach.
And, communicate (verbally and non-verbally) with confidence. In short intern relationships, there is no time for hand holding. In terms of accommodations, tell the employer what you will need, and then prepare to find an alternative way of dealing with it, if you can’t get it.
Copyright © 2012. Hasse Communication Counseling. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com). Jim is founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, the comprehensive career coaching guide for parenting youngsters seven to 27 years old who have cerebral palsy.
Jan 30 2012, 09:37 AM