It was the end of my sophomore year of high school. I needed a summer job, but I didn’t want to work as a fast food cook, retail sales clerk, lawn mower, or nanny. What other jobs out there are available to high school students? None, I thought.
It turns out there’s a whole world of high school jobs out there, only by another name: internships. Like many of you, I thought internships were only for college students seeking to get a foot in the door of their career field. And I thought you needed experience to get them.
But the point of internships is to gain experience, and an employer’s main concern is your drive and potential. I didn’t expect much when I walked into my local newspaper’s office building with the phrase “I have an interest in writing” on my lips, but before I knew it, I was being ushered into the head editor’s office. He offered me a paid summer position as part of a program subsidized by the state’s newspaper association—and he hadn’t even seen my writing. He didn’t care about my lack of training. What mattered was that I’d taken initiative.
Now, I know I don’t have experience with any other profession, but if a declining industry like the newspaper business found room for me in their budget, I’m betting there’s an internship waiting around near you, too. You just need to seek them out. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s talk about why you should jump on the chance for an internship like it’s free food.
Why you should get a high school internship
- Discover what you want to do with your life. I would probably still be stuck taking online career-matching quizzes if it weren’t for my internship. I always thought being a journalist would be boring. I ended up adoring it.
- Learn about the pros from the pros. Your high school guidance counselor can only tell you so much about being an accountant, simply because they aren’t one. That’s why career direction from coworkers at your internship is invaluable.
- Boost your résumé. You earned experience in your major before college?! I can’t think of better résumé eye candy.
- Earn the respect of adults. I can’t tell you how many times people mistook me for a college student. Working as an intern in a professional setting not only requires you to speak, act, and dress professionally but also encourages adults to treat you the same way.
- And, of course, gain experience. Need I say more? (Okay, how about getting the experience you need to snag even more prestigious internships as a college student? You’ll be two steps ahead of your peers—and that much better prepared for “real-world” jobs.)
So, now you’re dying to get in on a high school internship. Awesome! It’s time to get down to work impressing those potential employers. Some businesses may have applications for their high school internships, but if you’re venturing into uncharted waters, here’s some advice I’ve gathered from my experience in the internship world.
Tips on how to land an internship
- Take initiative. My employer told me one of the main reasons they hired me was because I sought out the position entirely on my own. There was no ad in the paper or a “We’re hiring” sign in the window. I just went out on a limb and asked.
- Bring a copy of your résumé. This is simple but sometimes overlooked. Résumés make you look prepared and allow the employer to view your qualifications instantly.
- Go months early. You’re on the college students’ playing field now. Competition is steep. Don’t wait until the last minute.
- Be prepared for anything. I expected to spend most of my time filing papers or making copies—and I wound up a reporter. But for you, it could go the other way. Be open to different possibilities.
- Be willing to go unpaid. Some businesses would love to have you work for them but simply can’t afford you. Decide how important a paid position is to you before you ask about an internship.
One last tip: internships are awesome, but don’t give up completely on regular part-time jobs and volunteering. I still work as a janitor on the weekends, because it gives me some extra cash and I’m learning the value of hard work. And you can still learn a ton from your volunteer gig with your church, town library, or local food pantry. Don’t limit yourself to jobs you want (or think you want) to make a career of.