Help Your Child Find the Perfect Internship
By Carolyn C. Wise
Finding the right internship can be a daunting experience for a student; luckily, they don’t have to go through it alone.
While internships are traditionally for college students, many are available for high school students; companies and organizations like 3M, FAO Schwarz, Comcast Corporation, American Friends Service Committee, Arden Theatre Company and Steppenwolf Theatre Company (one of Vault’s 2010 Top 10 Internships). Other companies also offer special high school internships in partnership with area schools. In Philadelphia, Breakthrough Collaborative offers a rigorous internship program in which high school students serve as teachers—designing curricula and leading classroom discussion—in an intensive summer program for middle schoolers. Not only do Breakthrough’s interns gain real-world, hands-on experience, but they also get paid a salary.
So, the problem isn’t finding a high school internship—it’s finding the right one.
Parents, it’s important to keep in mind that an internship is often a student’s first adventure in the workplace. It’s an opportunity to learn about office life: how to interact with managers, perform real-world duties and endure an eight-hour workday, all of which lays the foundation for future jobs. Interns also gain insight into a potential career or industry—a test drive that has no strings attached if they discover it’s not for them and offers huge rewards if it’s a perfect fit.
Internship experience is also a valuable addition to a college application. Although not having an internship in high school won’t hurt your application, having one will show professionalism and maturity. Pursuing an internship in a field in which you’re interested also displays motivation, demonstrating that you will be an active participant in college clubs and other extracurricular activities once on campus.
Do’s and Don’ts
Follow these rules, and your child will be sure to find an internship that will shine on a college application.
Always start the internship search by considering personal interests. Not all internship positions will be a direct correlation of your child’s interests, but if you pinpoint something she loves to do (e.g., writing, web development, etc.) it will make it easier to find an industry and company where she can pursue it.
Take experience over pay or title—whether paid or unpaid, internship or not. If your child would learn a lot about a particular subject or career, or simply love the experience, then that is the best use of her time. Plus, the enthusiasm will come through in her college application.
Open your rolodex and coordinate informational interviews. Encourage your child to reach out to professionals through informal, informational interviews—even if the interviewer doesn’t have an open internship position, your child will learn about the industry and career, and make a great connection for a future job or internship search. But remember, although a heads-up to your contact is a good idea, when it comes time to ask for a talk, your child should do the reaching out.
Treat the internship search like a job search. Help your child create a professional cover letter and resume. Even if she doesn’t have any work experience, put together a resume with education, volunteer experience and any skills (such as language and computer skills). Internship recruiters want to see a professional resume.
Take a step back. It’s easy to overdo helping your child and turn into a helicopter parent. Be sure to share your job search experience with your child, but remember that there’s a difference between encouraging and nagging. For example, feel free to suggest your child reach out to a colleague, but do not ask her every day if she’s called him. If your child doesn’t want to pursue an internship but has another plan, that’s OK—in fact, her plan might be better. So take a deep breath and hit the helicopter “off” switch. Your child should—and can—do this with relative independence.
Take an internship just to fill the college application. If your child will have a bad experience, she won’t have anything good to say about it.
Disregard a school-year internship. Academic-year internships offer a great opportunity for students to work closely with professionals and possibly gain lifelong mentors. If you’re worried about the commitment, tell your child to ask if the internship can be limited to only once or twice a week. Employers understand that your child is still in school and will mostly likely accommodate her schedule. In addition, employers are often more likely to accept high school students as interns during the school year than the summer.
Apply for your child. The employer is going to be working with your child, not you. It’s very tempting to help your child, especially because you have experience with a job search. But you have to make sure not to write her cover letter and resume for her, communicate with the company’s human resources department on her behalf (unless asked by her employer) or convince your child to apply to an internship you like if she seems less excited about it.
Here are some useful resources to help you with your internship search:
Vault Guide to Top Internships and Vault.com’s internships database: Read about over 780 internship programs, including information on who’s qualified and how to apply. You can filter the database to find internships in New York that accept high school students.
Company website: Always start the internship application process by reading about the company on its website. This will be very helpful when your child writes her cover letter, as well as in the interview.
School career center websites: School career services offer internship-specific help for students, including interview tips and sample cover letters and resumes. Some career centers also have internship listings, which are a great place to check out what’s out there.
Carolyn C. Wise is Senior Education Editor at Vault.com.