How to make-up and obtain an unpaid internship?
June 12, 2008 11:28 AM   Subscribe

How does one go about asking an organization/company who has nothing advertised if they need any help? This would be unpaid. As I transition to another career (in this case, Urban Planning), I'm trying to get more experience and be productive at the same time. I'd like to volunteer/intern (whatever is the difference?) at firms or organizations that deal with that sort of thing (I can make that list). I think in my resume/e-mail I can explain my transferable skills (IT background). I'm doing this as I'll be attending graduate school in a year and would like to be productive outside of test prep and applications. Looking for tips on who to contact, if e-mail is the best way, and how to structure the communication.
posted by sandmanwv to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Enquire to your (future) school about what support they can provide - some universities have 'careers services' people who may have contacts.

If you know any employees of the companies you're interested in interning for, ask if they can make enquiries for you. This has the added benefit they can vouch for the fact you're not a total muppet.

Other than that, I guess writing either to the person you want to work under, or the firm's HR department would make sense. Of course, you probably knew that already :)
posted by Mike1024 at 3:07 PM on June 12, 2008

You could start by doing informational interviews - to find out more about the organization and the industry and then ask the person their advice on how you could get some experience (unpaid is fine). It is also a chance to find out what the career is like. Questions like "what do you like best" "what do you like least" "what do you wish you knew when you started" "any advice for me" can all help you get better oriented to this new job market.

Try to get as many as you can until you feel like you have a idea of the answers to your questions. Many people will be too busy or uninterested - if 25% respond, you are doing well. If you have a connection - fellow alumni, church, friend of friend - you are more likely to get a response. Also be willing to do it in person or on the phone. (I found many people prefer phone interviews if they take the same amount of time.)

However, if you bill it as an informational interview, it is not cool to ask them for a job or a job lead - just suggestions on what you should do next. (If they offer more, that's great.) Bring your resume to the meeting, to show them as a way to explain your background - I assume your resume has an effective skills section which will show what you have to offer. But remember the goal at this point is to get advice.
posted by metahawk at 5:38 PM on June 12, 2008

Ideally, find an organization advertising for volunteers or interns. There are tons of planning internships. Talk to the grad schools with planning departments in your area and see if you can get on email lists where they distribute information about these opportunities.

Beyond that, the hardest thing is going to be getting the resume in front of someone sympathetic and willing to be open to the idea. Person-to-person networking (friends of friends) would obviously be best. Otherwise, you can send out your resume and cover letter cold-call style. But send it to people likely to read it. Don't send it to the higher ups right away as you're unlikely to guess exactly which one might consider having a volunteer -- if you can get one person who will walk your resume around the office, that's better. The or emails might work. Even better are volunteer coordinators, if the organization has one.

Another way to be sure to get someone's ear would be to show up at public meetings (eg, Planning Commission hearings) and corner city staff members or representatives from consulting firms that you're interested in volunteering for.

How to structure the communication: figure out what projects they're working on, so you can be really interested in what they're doing and specific about why you'd want to intern there, but be very interested in all of it and very flexible about what you'd work on.

If you want to be more specific about what type of job you're looking for (city, consulting, nonprofit), what specialty (eg, transit, urban design), and what transferable skills you have, I could give you more specific feedback.
posted by salvia at 10:10 PM on June 12, 2008

Two more things: space constraints, the time it takes to supervise and train an intern, the amount of time you're willing to volunteer per week, and the length of time you were willing to stay would all be part of the equation for me. Are your transferable IT skills in GIS or AutoCAD or SketchUp or anything like that?
posted by salvia at 10:13 PM on June 12, 2008

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