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Mitra ’18: The internship games

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Imagine hundreds of students in pitched battle, each trying to outshine the rest of the playing field. Some have advantageous connections; others have hidden weapons. Their only aim: to earn that one coveted spot as victor.

No, I’m not describing the plot of “The Hunger Games” or any other piece of dystopian teen literature. I’m talking about the reality of the internship hunt.

When I arrived at Brown, I was baffled by the inordinate emphasis on finding internships. It seemed to me that from September onward, the CareerLAB had daily sessions on the process of applying to these positions.

As a naive freshman, I couldn’t compute why students needed to start so early. How could I think of plans for the summer when I hadn’t decided on plans for December break, Thanksgiving or even the next weekend?

Apparently, my peers didn’t share my qualms: By March, most of my friends had made plans for the summer, and I began to panic. I was lucky to find an amazing internship that was exactly what I needed, but I was still plagued by self-doubt.

This year, I promised myself I would start early. I’ve attended internship fairs, visited CareerLAB and even browsed through BrownConnect — a huge improvement on my performance from last year.

Unfortunately, these efforts have done little to relieve my stress. The world of careers and internships is challenging to navigate at the best of times, but trying to search for these opportunities while balancing a full course load and other responsibilities? Quite frankly, it’s a nightmare.

My main issue with the internship process is that it propagates an unhealthy sense of competition. Of course, competition can be beneficial, pushing us to take risks and strive for new heights. But it needs to be served in moderate doses, especially when we live in such a high-stress environment.

It is important to understand that not everyone has to find internships at companies like Google or Goldman Sachs. More often than not, internships with smaller, low-profile organizations can prove just as life-changing and instructive.

And then there’s the pressure of having your future on the line. All too often, prospective employers assess us on our previous work experience. This isn’t fair or equitable by any means, but it is the harsh reality. As a result, every time I send out an application, I feel like my hopes and dreams are at stake. In many ways, the internship search resembles the college application process all over again, and let’s face it: That was so high school.

Admittedly, I’m not particularly qualified to give advice on landing the dream position — but I definitely have experience on what not to do. As someone who has spent numerous sleepless nights agonizing over Skype interviews and LinkedIn profiles, I can attest to the fact that there are resources on campus to help reduce the burden. So here are some tips to get through the internship struggle.

First and foremost, CareerLAB can be your best friend. I cannot stress this enough. It might seem obvious, and yet I know many people who are hesitant to visit CareerLAB. It can be hard to spare time for their events on a weekly basis, but even attending a few per semester can be extremely helpful.

Better yet, use the Peer Career Advisors and Career Counselors. PCAs hold open hours on weekdays and can give you recommendations on resumes, interviews and career prospects. These open hours are a great forum in which to hear students share their experiences and advice. If you’re particularly worried, don’t shy away from making an appointment with a Career Counselor. From personal experience, I can guarantee the appointment will calm your nerves and put the entire process in perspective.

If you’re interested in a specific organization or career path, I would also encourage you to reach out to peers and alums. Many of them have been in similar positions and can give you valuable insights into the programs. Once again, this might seem obvious, but it isn’t as common as you might think. Needless to say, it can really make a world of difference to your search.

This is where BrownConnect can come in handy: Use the database to find the contact details of alums, and don’t hesitate to cold email them. Yes, it can be incredibly intimidating, and you might be ignored or even rejected, but it can’t hurt to try. Along with the people you meet through courses and clubs, these contacts can strengthen your network and benefit you in the long run.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to take risks and challenge your preconceived notions. College summers are a perfect opportunity to try out new career paths and get a feel for different fields. So apply to a range of different positions — even ones for which you might be grossly unqualified. Keep your mind open to the simple internships with small organizations or start-ups.

Above all, push your boundaries and step out of your comfort zone. This might well be your last chance.

Mili Mitra ’18 can be reached at mili_mitra@brown.edu.