Alternatives to a Summer “Internship”

In last week’s post, I wrote about the state of the search for summer internships. In this post, I want to focus on ways to gain relevant experience other than through internships. We’re quickly approaching a point in the semester when the odds of securing a summer internship are dwindling. If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to start thinking about alternatives.

Volunteeringis a great way to build relevant experience. For students looking at careers in human services, for example, volunteering might be the primary way to gain this experience as an undergraduate. Look into on-going service opportunities working for causes you have an interest in or with populations you eventually want to work with. You probably still want to earn money over the summer, and most if not all volunteer opportunities easily accomodate another job. In addition to valuable experience, a volunteer position can give you some insight into the world of non-profits. As workplace insight is an important outcome of an internship, you will still gain it through volunteering. Check out the UW-Whitewater Clearinghouse, a database of community service opportunities in Walworth and Jefferson counties, and Idealist to search for volunteer opportunities.

If you don’t secure an internship for the summer and if available volunteer opportunities aren’t of interest, then be more mindful of the summer employment options you consider. Even though it might be convenient to return to the same ol’ summer job you’ve had in the past, now would be a good time to explore something new. Look for summer employment in the field you hope to work in some day. For example, you might look for a basic office position in a law firm if you are looking to go into the legal profession. While you might just be answering the phone and filing, you are providing yourself with the opportunity to observe the work environment and network with professionals in the field.

Another way to approach basic summer employment is from a skills perspective. What skills are needed for your future career? Look for a summer job that allows you to build those skills, even if the job is in a seemingly unrelated environment. To take this approach requires doing some research into your desired career field (something that I hope you already did when selecting the career path). I recommend using the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) as a starting point for your research. Not only can you learn more about the nature of the work, you can also identify the desired skills and qualities for those in the field. The OOH also lists occupations related to the one you’re researching. This list might help guide your summer employment search and/or might give you ideas of other potential career paths to explore.

A great goal for the summer break is to build experience that will help you move towards your future career. While “internship” is a legitimate term used for such an experience, it has also become somewhat of a buzz word. I don’t care what the experience is called – what I do care about (and what employers care about) is what the experience IS. Focus on gaining the type of experience you need instead of focusing on what the employer or organization is titling the experience. There are plenty of valuable opportunities out there. Think outside the box to discover a potentially great opportunity that provides you with the valuable experience you need and want.

2 Responses to “Alternatives to a Summer “Internship””
  1. mathew palmer says:

    I agree. Careful planning and assertion are very important elemtns in today’s competitive society. You cannot get experience in the classroom.
    Great Article!

  2. Laura says:


    Great points! Planning is very important. The earlier you can begin to plan for an internship (even as early as freshman year) the better. Waiting until the last minute or last year of college to start thinking about or planning for an internship can make it difficult to get that experience.

    And while some of the things you do in the classroom can benefit you in the work world, employers still want to see experience gained in real work settings. And as a student, you want to have that experience in order to be competitive for jobs after graduation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: