Profiting from an Unpaid Internship… Through Networking

The sign-posts are out all over the internet, “Beware unpaid internships!”

This is the time of year when summer unpaid internships are being touted by employers – and are on the mind of many students. The critical issue with unpaid internships is determining what exactly you will be getting out of the experience – and how will you benefit from a summer of hard and unpaid work?

The answer is in the networking!

Now let me make myself clear… I am not saying you should network.  I am showing you how to network.

We are told by our professors and academic advisers we “should” network. We are told by the Career and Development Office that we “should” network. Our parents, mentioning the current state of the economy, stress that we “should” network with others to find internships and full-time positions.

We need to replace “should” – and have others tell us “how”.

It’s not that the concept of networking is difficult, because it truly is not. The complication comes with building ourselves and our brand to the point where we know who to network with and where to find them.

Furthermore, we need to identify point A (where are you today) and point B (where would you like to be tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or in 10 years). This is when we kick-start networking into high gear! Now that you can identify these qualifiers, we can understand who we should be connecting with and start making these critical networking ties.

Specifically, the main mistake we often make the first day of internship orientation is to focus on our boss(s) and superiors; we begin making strong connections with them in order to obtain a referral, a recommendation, and so forth. This is certainly a valid effort, but not the main priority.

While sitting in orientation, look around, and begin networking with fellow interns and entry-level team members. These individuals will be your colleagues after graduation, possibly in a field you’re interested in working for – or a business or organization you may wish to collaborate with as you start your career.

Your fellow interns and entry-level colleagues are your critical networking connections!

We tend to be short-sighted with networking, looking for the short-term gain; focus on long-term networks through connecting within the internship program. Furthermore, many interns live in intern housing or are able to meet friends of fellow interns. Take full advantage of these opportunities!

Additionally, don’t think networking is a “9 to 5” activity. Most networking occurs outside the office; through coffee and lunch meetings, and most surprisingly for many, summer sports and activities. See if there is a summer league to become involved in and start building relationships…on the field.

The most importantly part of effective networking: relax!

In the absence of a bi-weekly paycheck, networking is a far more important component of your internship. And making connections is in your blood, it’s an innate skill that all humans possess. When in doubt of your abilities, and when your confidence wanes a bit, keep in mind the words of Robert Kerrigan:

“The way of the world is meeting people through other people”.



About the Author: Bennett Resnik is a consultant on social capital and networks. He is an expert in networking strategy and social capital retention. Bennett advises his clients on how to locate and access social capital within their present networks and create a framework for future network strategy. Bennett interprets exchanges in conversation, content, resources, and business transactions. Visit him at Follow Bennett on Twitter!

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