Internships Post-College: Do or Don’t?

After graduating from Santa Clara University and moving to San Francisco to work in the art industry, I found myself moving home a year later to save money for graduate school. I knew my chances of finding relevant work experience were slim, given that I lived in the south bay and museums weren’t hiring, but fate decreed otherwise. A family friend suggested I apply for an internship at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, which was unpaid but could be terrific for my resume. Having already had a full-time job, I was hesitant to accept a position that would be unpaid, but luckily my ego subsided and I started working a week after moving home.

To my delight, I found an incredible team that was as enthusiastic about art as I was, top-notch resources at my disposal and an institute that was passionately devoted to exhibiting cutting-edge contemporary art. Like most jobs/internships what you get out of it, most often is a reflection of what you put into it. I decided to not let the fact I wasn’t getting paid get in my way and treated my assignments with genuine professionalism. Before long, I was learning the difference between nonprofit and commercial operations, learning new media marketing strategies, networking with artists and familiarizing myself further with the contemporary arts scene. Fortunately, I was able to complement the internship with a paid position, so I am saving for graduate school AND building my resume at the same time. Acknowledging the value of internships is passé yet recognizing their value post-college makes them a definite “do!”

Words to the Wise:

Field: In business related internships, it is common for internships to pay so be wary of those that don’t. If the company can’t compensate you, chances are the internship won’t be worth it. For arts/non-profit related fields, keep an open mind. Considering that competition for arts related jobs is fierce and money is almost always tight, gaining valuable work experience will offset the cost.

Time Commitment: For unpaid internships, particularly while in school, try to keep your time commitment light. Burning yourself will benefit no one, so make sure to keep your hours realistic by limiting yourself to no more than 2 days a week.

Referral: Think of internships as more than just resume builders, but also as a great opportunity to gain referrals and potentially even a paid position later down the road. Keep in mind job referrals are only made for outstanding performers so make sure to make a good impression and work hard.

Network: Take advantage of introductions made while you are interning and any invitations to events, which can lead to meaningful connections later down the road and again possibly to future job opportunities. Furthermore, if you enjoy an internship experience, be sure to refer the opportunity to friends with similar career aspirations. It’s never too early to begin to build your network!

For more information on interning at the SJICA please visit our opportunities page!

This article was adapted from The Santa Clara newspaper, from the issue printed Thursday, April 8, 2010, by SCU ’08 graduate  Anna C. Hygelund.