Have you noticed that many employers are looking for people with more than just a degree? They want people with real-world experience, too. But how can you get experience if no one will hire you? Try volunteering.
It’s hard to imagine taking an unpaid position when money is tight. But would you rather stay at home worried that no one will ever hire you, or be out in the field gaining experience that could lead to a great job?
Volunteering is a way to create an internship. You don’t have to be a student to intern. An internship allows you to gain experience in your field.
Most large companies only accept interns who are students because, by law, everyone working there has to either be collecting a paycheck or earning school credit. But smaller companies and most nonprofit organizations aren’t restricted by the same regulations. Check federal and state employment laws to make sure a company doesn’t take advantage of your willingness to “work for free.”
Finding an Internship
Pick 5-10 small companies that you want to intern with and ask their human resources department if they allow for non-student interns. Or call a nonprofit agency and ask if they need volunteers – the answer is almost always yes!
Some things to keep in mind when seeking a volunteer/internship opportunity:
- Make sure the organization knows that you are job searching while interning. Create a schedule that will not interrupt your job interviews. And give the organization notice if you leave for a paying job.
- Pick a time frame that you know you will be able to commit to. Try to make it for at least 6 weeks, but no more than 3 months. You can also sign on to work on a specific project and leave when it’s done.
- Because you are not getting paid for the experience, make sure you pick an opportunity that will give you the experience you are looking for. If the organization doesn’t already have a written job description for you, write one yourself and go over it with your supervisor. Have set hours, job title, duties, project deadlines, length of internship, and know who your supervisor is.
- Treat the internship, and the organization, with the same respect and professionalism you would a paying job. Prove to your supervisors and coworkers – and yourself – that you are a competent, skilled worker.
- Don’t expect to be offered a paid position at the end of your internship. Instead, expect – and ask for – a written letter of recommendation from those who know your work the best, a job title and duties to put on your resume, and leads or advice on where to apply for jobs.
- To get the most out of your internship: ask for feedback on your work from supervisors; observe the company culture and adjust your professional skills accordingly; learn more about the industry and similar job roles.
Remember – when job searching, your professional reputation is everything. An internship is when you start to develop this reputation, so use the opportunity to network! Make yourself known as a dedicated, skilled worker who deserves a great, paying job.
About the Author: Denise Felder is a writer and career adviser encouraging everyday people to make positive choices that impact their lives and communities. She is the editor of a career development publication, and owner of DeniseMpls Consulting Services based in Minneapolis, operating in cyberspace, and living in the hearts of many. Denise helps students and job seekers to clarify their values, talents, and personal brand. Follow Denise on Twitter!