For our parents, the rat race typically started after they graduated and started looking for full-time employment. But today’s generation of students feels the pressure to join the workforce right after freshman year, and not as a hostess at Olive Garden. Internships — particularly in this economy — are extremely competitive because they’re the opportunity most students believe give them the edge and network base they need to find a full-time paying job after graduation. But even if you’re willing to work for free in a field that’s only marginally related to your college major, you may not be able to secure an internship, at least not every summer. Sometimes, the competition is just simply too high, and there are too many applicants in your city or industry. Not getting an internship doesn’t mean your chances for a prosperous, promising career are dashed, however. There are plenty of productive ways you can spend your summer — and you may have some extra beach time, too.
Future employers — whether it’s for part-time, full-time or internship work — aren’t going to write you off if you don’t have a string of internships listed on your resume, but they do want to see that you put some effort into learning during your time off. Try looking for a part-time job for extra money, but don’t let a waitressing or retail gig satisfy you. Look into volunteer groups or projects to join. You can become a member of one group or just take part in individual events sponsored by different nonprofits. Volunteering is an excellent, more democratic way to network and even take on leadership positions, which also deserve spots on your resume. Websites like Idealist.org, VolunteerMatch, and Serve.gov can help you find opportunities in your area or even abroad if you want to do overseas work.
Do whatever you can to get involved and demonstrate your interest in learning and preparing for a career. You can sign up for a summer class, even if it’s in a subject that won’t help you graduate. Attend networking events, and call up local professionals and ask to interview them about their work. If you’re an artist, engineer or have other skills that you can work on at home, take the summer to organize your portfolio. And no matter what you’re interested in or what kind of work — or not– you find this summer, you can always find time to clean up your resume to make room for all the new things you can add to it once school starts.