It’s the catch-22 of employment: no one will hire you unless you have experience, but you can’t get experience unless someone will hire you.
That’s not entirely true, though. As I’ve mentioned before, you can always volunteer to do some work, which will add some experience to your resume and accomplishments to your portfolio. You can also intern. An Internship from Your Couch, in today’s Wall Street Journal, focuses on internships you can take on any time, anywhere, because they are Internet-based. You can even keep your current job, if you have one, while putting in 10-15 hours a week on the side.
Of course, how much training and experience will you get by interning from a remote location? You may just be doing work for free. Check out 10 Rules for Hiring Unpaid Interns to see if someone is offering you a legitimate internship, or is just trying to use you as free labor. A paid internship may be a way for a company to protect itself from labor & employment laws, so don’t think that a meager paycheck will provide a better experience.
The WSJ references Urban Interns, which has listings in New York and Boston and features both paid and unpaid internships. A perusal of current users looking for internships show that while many are in their 20s, there are older users as well (35, 49, and even a 57-year-old with an MD and PhD!). Of course, the number of candidates dramatically outnumbered the number of internship opportunities when I looked, so even finding an unpaid internship may be highly competitive.
When should you consider an internship?
If you are still in school or have recently graduated, an internship would be a great way to get experience. If you are trying to break into a new field, an internship might also be a good way to get some experience.
How should you select an internship?
Many people select internships in the hope that their contributions to the team will be enough to secure a permanent job offer (although nothing of the kind is guaranteed). If this is your goal, be sure to look for a company that is stable and has growth potential. If you are just looking for some experience to bolster your resume, look for a company with some name recognition, or at least a good web presence that you can show off to potential employers — IBM trumps Unknown Computer.
If neither is available, at least find an internship that offers a project where you can shine–and learn something while doing it. If you can get a marketing internship with a budding company and take them from zero-to-hero during your internship, that is a great accomplishment that you can cite, even if a potential employer has never heard of the company. I saw one listing on Urban Interns for business-to-business (B2B) sales cold-calling. Admittedly, it was a paid internship with a Fortune 500 company, so it could at least provide name recognition, but your ability to call strangers on the phone and pitch a product may or may not impress potential employers. And it sounds like work, not training, to me–which may be why they are offering it as a paid internship.
What if you don’t live in New York or Boston? You can also try InternshipPrograms.com, which has listings from around the country. Most are in urban areas, so you may have a hard time finding an internship outside of a major metropolitan area. You can always create your own internship by contacting a company you like and suggesting an internship. Just make sure you have a few good ideas in mind as to what you would like to learn from the experience.