Spring semester has come to a close. Your student has returned home and you are feeling good that he finished the semester strong. But within a few days, he has the couch completely mapped out, and is hitting a routine that is making you nuts, as you think of the money you are pouring into his education…
Or maybe he is working at the local amusement park, pool or golf course – which keeps him off the couch and earning a few dollars. But the question he (and you) need to consider – “Is what he’s doing this summer moving him towards a rewarding and fulfilling career upon graduation?”
If your student knows exactly what he wants to do when he graduates, then be happy (actually, be very happy), because he’s ahead of the game! Now he needs to try it out, and “test drive” it, while still in college and get the real-world experience employers want to see upon graduation. Summers are the perfect time for this!
A meaningful summer position is worth far more than what it pays (if it pays). These positions offer your student time in their chosen career field gaining a better understanding of the actual work. They also hugely expand their network of contacts, which is extremely beneficial for finding the first full-time position. And finally, the positions offer real work experience — which is what more and more employers are looking to hire upon graduation.
Now, here’s the scary part: by the time students are home for summer, the best summer opportunities have already been filled. The time to look for a summer internship is during winter break. Organizations that provide meaningful summer internships are interviewing during fall and winter semester. How best to find internships depends upon where your child’s college is located versus where he plans to spend the summer. If he is open to opportunities in various locations, the Career Placement Offices at your child’s college or university is a great place to start your search. These offices have lists of companies that offer internship opportunities in many locations. The opportunities will tend to cluster in locations closer to the college, but they will have others outside the region. The best way to know what’s available is for your student to engage with a career advisor as soon as he gets to campus in the fall, and then to attend on-campus interviews and informational meetings with companies as they come onto campus, through the year.
If, however, you or your child have determined that any internship needs to be close to home, you will likely need to supplement what the college has to offer by initiating your own search within your hometown. In this case, a good place to start is with the administration of the child’s high school. Often, they either know of possible summer opportunities, or they may have good contacts for your child to connect with in his chosen field of work to seek out such opportunities. In parallel, you can help your child by connecting him with networking opportunities among your own contacts to expand his search. When you develop your list of network contacts, be sure to include family, friends, neighbors, members of organizations to which you belong, your own high school and college alumni … anyone with whom you have some level of connection – it does not have to be overly strong.
Networking can seem difficult, especially for those whose main forms of communication are texting and emailing. Effective networking involves a range of communication – emails and texting can play a role, but there is no substitute for phone calls, or better yet, in-person meetings. While it may seem difficult to get started, it is well worth the effort as it puts your student in touch with business professionals who can provide insightful information regarding their field of interest. Networking meetings make people aware of your student’s career interests and give them the chance to help by providing additional contacts whom they think could be useful. And the very good news – people love to help students attempting to find their way – especially when those they help are appreciative (remember to write thank-you notes).
One of your critical roles, as parents, is to help your child get over the fear of networking he may have. Networking is the proven best way to find jobs, and it is a skill set that will pay off throughout his lifetime.
One final thought: if your child missed the opportunity to find a meaningful internship this summer, he should use this time to meet and talk with professionals that either have knowledge in his field of interest or may have connections to those that do. The payoff will be in confirming the suitability of his career choice, and possibly even giving rise to future internship possibilities.
If your student is working this summer, then congratulations – to you and to them – that’s a great thing! But remember, while there are benefits to almost any type of work, some jobs are much more impactful than others in leading to a successful career. A job at the amusement park or local pool can be a good way to build responsibility and get them out of the house but (at least) by junior year, career-related experience is important. Getting work experience while in college is a good thing. Experiencing work that leads you towards your first full-time career position is even better. Have a purposeful summer!