Knowing how and where to find internships – and what to do in the event you can't get them – can make all the difference.
In an ever-tightening job market, every bit of edge helps. And for young Hispanics entering the work force, internships can provide an especially valuable advantage.
Internships are about more than simply getting experience in a particular job. They can help young Hispanics and others learn to navigate the corporate world, providing an opportunity to benefit from professional mistakes that would likely be costly under other circumstances.
"We all know that there is a certain jargon and culture in an organization, and if one does not master that culture and jargon, one is seen as an outsider. Internships provide not just experiences, but also the opportunity to learn the way in which the corporate culture speaks," says Felipe Korzenny, cofounder of the research firm Cheskin in Redwood Shores, California, and a former communications professor at Michigan State University.
Internships also can provide an opportunity to rethink a particular professional direction – a little real-world experience being the best medicine for someone intent on a career that looks good on paper but really isn't a good fit.
"It allows them to make a more educated career choice," says William Gil, executive director of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) National Internship Program (HNIP) in Washington, D.C. "Many people think that they want to go into accounting, for instance, and suddenly they're in accounting and they think, 'I don't want to do this.'"
In its first year, HNIP placed 24 students in paid internships. This year, the program placed 446 students. Over the course of nine years, it has helped about 3,200 individuals between the ages of 18 and 52 secure paid internships nationwide and in Puerto Rico. Most of the internships are in Washington, D.C., in both the private sector and government agencies. Participating companies include Goldman Sachs, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Marriott Corp., and McDonald's.
It was through HACU that Emely Vela, a graduate public administration student at American University in Washington, D.C., received her summer internship at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the capital. She also has interned for the Office of Personnel Management and hopes to intern at the State Department next year. So far, she's found her experiences to be invaluable as she maps out a career.
"There aren't many Hispanics in professional work environments, especially in consulting. It's very important for students, before they actually start to apply for jobs, to kind of get their foot in the door to see what it is like," she says. "Because there aren't a lot of Hispanics, particularly in top companies, it's very important to help these students have access to internships and jobs."
There are numerous ways to find internships, from going to job fairs and contacting a company directly to going through a university, a program like HACU's, or a professor. The key is to network – and to start networking early in an academic career.
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