Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday that I was home in my pajamas on a lazy January day, looking through all the jobs and internships I could apply for this summer. I even remember the due dates for most of the applications: February. Oops.
If this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry. Not every internship or job is prestigious and exclusive to the point that applying requires being ready months before. These are often great opportunities, but by no means is it too late to find extremely valuable experience in a field you’re interested in. If it makes you feel better, last year at the end of May I was completely unemployed – every summer position at my campus dining hall job was full by Spring Break, and I never heard back about any of the early-application positions that I met the deadline for. But by the beginning of July, I had two jobs and an internship at the State Capitol. Things do get better!
So, like I said, there’s no need to worry. Here’s how to use your time wisely and put yourself in the best position to make the most of your summer break:
- Update Your Resume
We’re college students. Our lives move incredibly quickly, and there’s a good chance you’ve had a plethora of new experiences since you last looked for a new job. Before you even send an e-mail to anyone about this summer, make sure your resume contains the most recent and relevant information about you, even if it’s only a new skill you picked up in class or a Dean’s List nomination.
As with anything you write, make sure someone else has seen your resume before you use it to represent yourself. Resumes are meant to be short and to-the-point, which means every word counts. Asking a friend or a parent is a step in the right direction, but to really land your best opportunity, use official campus resources. Schedule an appointment with Letters and Science Career Services (or your school’s Career Services), or make a trip to the UW Writing Center to touch up the language you use. If you’ve never written a resume or want to self-edit as much as possible, Letters and Science Career Services has a great guide to resume writing, as well as tips on good words and structures to use. In applying for jobs, your resume is often an employer’s “first impression,” so make it as good as you can.
- Use Your Network
Before you start blindly applying to positions, think about the connections you’ve made over the past year, or even throughout your life. Who have you met that works in the industry you’re interested in? Who has a job you want? Who told you that they know a guy who knows a guy that works at your dream company? If you have a job right now, who do you know that is moving on to a better opportunity? Chances are, you can name someone right now that fits one of these categories, and the fact of the matter is that your best bet at a job opportunity lies in contacting them right now. According to an ABC News report in 2012, somewhere around 80 percent of jobs are found through networking rather than traditional applications.
If your network doesn’t already include someone close to the industry you want to be in, informational interviewing is an extremely powerful tool for making a strong connection. In an informational interview, you get the chance to ask someone about all the things you’ve always wanted to know about someone’s job. Sure, professionals are busy people, but you would be surprised at how willing and excited they are to take time to talk to someone interested in the same industry. Not only do you get to know more about the skills and experience they needed to make it to where they are, but you’ll likely get the chance to talk about yourself a little bit along the way, and it’s possibly your interviewee could have a position or connection to offer you. It doesn’t take long, and it could be the key to your next step in life. Taking time over spring break to informational interview would be an impressive and forward-thinking move.
- Find and Apply
While networking is a very effective method of finding opportunities, there are still other ways of finding jobs that can work for you. UW Students can easily get access to BuckyNet, a huge database of local and national job opportunities, offered to UW students up to a year after graduation. Students looking for local jobs can also check the Job Center, which often contains great on-campus jobs to get early experience. Finally, Letters and Science Career Services has a Job Search Strategies page with other resources and databases to help you expand your search and make it more effective.
When applying to any position, remember that every step you take should be in the
interest of appearing to be the best candidate for the job. Emails should be written in courteous, professional language, and any material you send should be as relevant to the job as possible. The best place to convey your enthusiasm about the opportunity, which can be just as valuable as your experience, is in your cover letter. For example, your resume may suggest you have customer service experience, but only in your cover letter can you say how your belief in good customer service will help the company achieve the relationship with their customers that they have described in their mission statement. Use your resources to find out as much about the company and position you’re interested in as possible, and write a cover letter (or introductory e-mail!) that shows that you have exactly what is being sought. As with a resume, it’s a good idea to bring this cover letter to a second set of eyes before sending it out, and you can use the same resources to get help.
- Nail the Interview
After putting yourself in the best position possible to get the job, the moment of truth often comes in the interview. If the opportunity is a direct result of networking, the interview may simply be a final checkup to make sure you are serious about the job and are able to clearly convey what you’re bringing to the table. However, if the opportunity is coming from a person or company you’re less familiar with, the interview may be your first and last impression for the employer, and executing it to your full potential will be key. Regardless of the situation, here are a few quick tips to be as prepared as possible for a good interview, and make sure to check out tips from L&S Career Services on making the most of your interview:
- Dress for the occasion. Different employers will always have different expectations of dress, and coming as close to this as possible is key. However, business casual is always a good bet, and being overdressed makes a much better impression than being underdressed. (Check out our Pinterest for style tips!)
- Know your stuff. Use the company’s website, or even a contact you may have within the company, to learn everything you can about the employer’s goals and philosophy. The more you know about what’s being looked for, the better answers you can give to every question asked.
- Review your own experience. Think about specific examples of experience you have that you can bring up in the interview so that you’re not scouring your brain for memories when a question comes up.
- Know what an interview is like. It may be helpful to look up a list of common interview questions to put yourself in the right mindset for what you may need to answer. If you’ve never had an interview, a mock interview would be an excellent preparation tool to get practice without the pressure.
- Be enthusiastic! While your experience and skills are valuable, employers also want to create a positive, motivating work environment. Show in your conversation that you are a pleasure to talk to about work and anything else, and that you’re happy to be around other professionals.
And… You’re off!
If you haven’t yet, it’s time to start taking steps to make sure your summer is productive and fulfilling. Speaking from experience, summer is so much better with something to do besides laying around in the heat, and a great time to get a taste of a working lifestyle without school. There will still be time to enjoy yourself! It is not too late to start looking for the opportunity that’s going to take your resume to the next level, but the more you do now, the better chance you have. Take some of the steps above and you’ll be sure to find something that satisfies you. The race for an internship or great summer job starts now!
For more ways you can set yourself up for a great summer, visit the Letters and Science Career Services website for more resources or to schedule an appointment with an advisor.