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by Kaitlin McManus | November 02, 2018


Girl In Sun Building

It’s that time of year—leaves are crunching, turkey prices have skyrocketed, and someone in your neighborhood’s putting up their holiday decorations way too early. Summer is probably the furthest thing from your mind, but it shouldn’t be! Right now—yes, now—is when all those big corporate companies have their deadlines for summer internships. I hope your CV is nice and shiny.

Despite how many interns these places can take (and they take a lot—Seattle had to expand its public transportation system last year to accommodate all of Amazon’s interns), competition is stiff. Companies like Google, Bank of America, and Facebook are extremely selective with their summer hires. Still, apply! I’m not telling you not to follow your dreams, apply wherever you’d like. But you should also temper your expectations. Anxiety goes with application season like pumpkin spice goes with lattes (and candles and even Pop-Tarts, this year). I usually found myself catastrophizing to the tune of: But if I don’t get into any of the places I applied to then it’ll be too late to apply to anywhere else by the time I hear back and then I’ll have to get a summer job on a shrimp boat and because it’s my only work experience I’ll be the only shrimp boat captain with a Master’s degree.

Okay, maybe it’s only me that freaks out to that degree of specificity. Still, summer internships can feel very do-or-die in a competitive job market. I’m here to offer a few tips on how to keep your head on straight if your summer plans don’t actually go to plan.

1. Breathe

Come on, do it with me—inhale…exhale. Everything is going to be fine. Internships are important, but I don’t know anyone whose entire life rode on their acceptance to a particular program. An internship at a top company is impressive on a resumé, but on its own probably won’t win you a job after graduation. You can get experience from a lot of places.

2. Check out some of your backups

You can only apply to a finite amount of internship programs (three, six, nine, depending on how anxiety-ridden you happen to be)—what about the ones you didn’t apply to? If the worst happens, some of them might still be taking apps. Pull out your old notes on different internship programs and see if anyone’s application period is still open. If they are competitors of the places that didn’t take you, the odds are a little slim. But if it’s a completely different industry (say, marketing for a consumer products company versus marketing for a tech company), they could be on different schedules. It’s important that you move fast, though. Few things are as frustrating as realizing you’ve missed a deadline by a day or two.

3. Think smaller

I understand the appeal of the big, corporate internship: they have a lot of hiring power, not to mention more resources with which to compensate you. But now that it’s crunch time, it behooves you to look at places you might not have before. I’m talking nonprofits, privately owned companies, startups, things of this nature. They tend to be smaller, and smaller places usually don’t hire for summer as early. Big Four publisher didn’t take you? Inquire at some independent publishers, magazines, and literary agencies. Big tech company turn you down? Try some IT boutiques or startups. Reach out to them directly to ask for internship opportunities if there’s nothing on their website. Experience with smaller companies will read similarly on a resumé, and you may end up with a more comprehensive view of the industry because you’ll likely be trusted with a wider range of tasks. At a large corporation, interns can end up pigeon-holed into two or three job functions. In a smaller company, everyone’s got a lot of fingers in a lot of pies—and this trickles down to the interns. When I was an “editorial intern” at a small literary magazine, I definitely did my share of editorial tasks. But I also did event planning, social media outreach, and grant writing. I even wrote press copy and did customer service—way more than I ever would’ve been tasked with at a Big Four publisher. And I have more/better work experience because of it. So just because you’re not at a big (or even recognizable) company doesn’t mean you won’t get a ton of great experience out of your internship. It’ll just be different.

4. Find a summer job

I know, I’m sorry. Please don’t go looking on a shrimp boat—it hasn’t come to that. But work experience is work experience, and you’d be surprised how many skills are transferable between seemingly unrelated positions. I’m an editor now, and I did several editorial internships to prepare for it. But do you know what I also did? Food service and retail. I worked in a deli and at a video game retailer for years. Is that the ideal, traditional career path of a budding editor? No. They’re about as related to editing as shrimping is. But it showed certain things about me: that I’m good with people, that I have some business acumen and emotional intelligence, and that I knew how to do basic things like show up on time and get along with my coworkers. These are extremely hirable qualities. So find a summer job that shows hirable qualities about yourself: camp counselors are excellent leaders; nannies are well-organized; lifeguards are good under pressure. Doing something productive with your summer, regardless of whether it’s through a formal internship program, shows that you’re not content to sit around and wait for things to happen—you go out and you get what you want. That kind of ambition is going to look good on a resumé regardless of where it comes from.