Students who know what they want to do once they enter the adult world have a relatively easy time figuring out where to apply for internships – or at least which industries to target. But what about those who haven't figured out what they'd like to do with the rest of their lives? It's a valid conundrum, particularly considering that many people of all different ages have had to re-think their careers, seek retraining and, in some cases, start completely over.
I've always contended that confusion over career path doesn't have to box someone out of pursuing internships. In fact, in a way, seeking experience without the pressure of an ultimate goal can be liberating. It opens up the world of possibilities beyond the fields of, say, accounting or marketing or graphic design.
If you're in a situation like this, and you're left wondering where to even begin looking, the best thing to do is consider what you like. And I mean this in the most basic way. What are your interests? Are you politically inclined? What web sites do you look at?
If you are someone who finds yourself lamenting the fate of animals caught in the BP oil spill, for example, you might want to look into environmental-related opportunities, such as those with the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund or the Nature Conservancy .
If your tastes run less toward social issues and more toward, say, humor, research your favorite show, publication or online site to see what if internships are available. If you're online and you scroll to the bottom of a site and look for a "jobs'' or "careers'' tab, you will usually find internship information. So if you're a fan of The Onion, you'll want to look through their opportunities. The internships I found listed there range from promotions internships in several cities, including Austin, Texas and Madison, Wisc., to editorial internships in New York City.
Are you the type who is always on the lookout to fix up your single friends? Check out the career section of Match.com, which as of this week had at least one internship listed, in Los Angeles. Are you sports-minded? Major and minor teams alike have internship opportunities in a number of areas, from sales and marketing to public relations, and a careful look at a team or league's website can steer you in the right direction to apply. Major League Baseball is one example – its website lists and links to information about a host of possibilities.
Even the most random interests can lead to internships. One of my own favorite sites, Postsecret.com, has an internship program that I learned about simply from a careful read of the site one day.
If you're truly at a loss for what to do, here's some fallback advice: An internship with a political candidate, officeholder or organization can be an excellent way to get a little taste of how the world really works, while also helping you to make potentially valuable contacts no matter which field you end up working in. Whether you lean right, left, centrist, or extreme, there's something on the political spectrum that will make a good fit.
None of this is to say that internships should be applied for or done haphazardly. Even if you are interning for a group in which you have only a casual interest, you'll want to be reliable and hard-working so that you can emerge with a professional recommendation. And if you're planning on putting the internship on your resume, you'll want to remember that hiring professionals pay attention to internships.
Brett Good, district president of Southern California and Arizona for Robert Half International, says that while "employers are primarily concerned about the functional skills gained during an internship... everything on a professional's resume is scrutinized – from a candidate's college to their professional affiliations. The important thing is to be mindful that your internship choice aligns with your future professional goals and aspirations.''
That's good advice to keep in mind when putting together your professional resume. But in the meantime, if your professional aspirations haven't yet gelled, look to your personal interests for inspiration. You might come out of the experience with some new ideas about your future.
Jennifer Halperin is the internship coordinator at Columbia College Chicago, and Money College's Internship Insider. Her column runs every Wednesday; send suggestions for story ideas to Jennifer at MoneyCollege@walletpop.com.
Internships get personal