Boost Your Career Credentials with an Internship
What are you doing next June? The fall semester may have just begun, but now is the ideal time to start your search for next summer’s internship. As you settle into classes, keep an eye out for opportunities to improve your resume, boost your confidence and procure a position with your ideal employer.
What an internship can do for you
Classes and projects go a long way toward preparing you for the workforce, but they cannot teach you the day-to-day realities of a career in your major. An internship — whether paid or unpaid, for-credit or not — provides an in-depth look at a job in your chosen field. Internships are usually short, a summer or semester in length, and can be your best chance to “try on” a career before graduation.
“Internships are short term, so whether students think they might really love an area or might be unsure, this is an opportunity to do that litmus test,” said Kristy Ruiz, director of the Student Life Center (SLC), a Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management initiative focused on nurturing critical soft skills such as networking and communication. The goal of the SLC is to approach the personal and professional development of students holistically and with industry partners and alumni.
An internship can help sharpen your career focus, by eliminating or expanding potential job options.
“If you can do a couple of internships, especially if the first one is something that you dreamed of and really wanted to do but you realize you hated the experience…well, that’s the best thing that could happen to you,” said Kent Hester, director of Student and Career Services for the Wilson College of Textiles. “You mark it off the list and realize, ‘Nope. It’s not for me.’ And some people will get to companies and realize there are career paths they didn’t even know existed until they got there.”
Some people will get to companies and realize there are career paths they didn’t even know existed until they got there.
An internship is a concrete way to bridge the transition from school to employment, because it helps you build real skills applicable to future employers and gain experience to recount in interviews.
“Some companies require an internship when they hire someone full time,” said Hester. “And it gives you great examples to use when an interviewer says, ‘Tell me about a challenge, tell me about a time you worked on a team, tell me about a time you worked on a project.’ They are much better at job interviews because they have some meat, some substance to talk about.”
Perhaps the most important aspect of an internship is the opportunity to form relationships with fellow interns, mentors and potential employers. You might work on a team with students who will be your future coworkers, connect with managers who will recommend you for job openings, and impress the brass at companies who are searching for talent just like yours.
Why employers value NC State Wilson College of Textiles students
A company gets to show off to their interns what they make and do, the strength of their business and what their facilities are like, but they also get to employ students full of energy and enthusiasm who are ready to learn and work hard.
“Students are truly adding value to an organization, whether it be a startup or a larger company,” said Ruiz. Interns work on research or projects that further the company’s mission, and although their employment term is short, they make an impact.
Interns from the Wilson College of Textiles are increasingly in demand, according to Hester.
“Companies are realizing, ‘I can throw a rock in New York and hit 15 designers; I don’t need just another designer, I need one who knows the technical aspects and business aspects.’ Then they seek us out,” he said. “One thing that separates us from the other fashion schools and marketing and merchandising schools is we still require our students to take chemistry, calculus and physics. They still have to take fiber science, they still have to take yarn manufacturing, knitting, weaving, dyeing and finishing.”
This summer, more than 150 Wilson College of Textiles students interned at a wide variety of employers, including Biltmore Estate, Berry Plastics, HanesBrands, Spanx, the United States Department of Justice, Cotton Incorporated, VF Corporation (The North Face, Reef, Timberland and more), L Brands (companies include Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works) and Technimark, among others. Many of these employers start looking for interns in the fall — and their openings fill quickly.
Read more about 12 of our interns and their experiences working around the country this summer.
How to get your dream internship
First, you will need to prepare your resume, your online presence — and yourself. Seek guidance from the Office of Student and Career Services, who can help you polish your resume and cover letter as well as prepare for future interviews. TATM students can delve deeper through workshops with the Student Life Center that cover important topics like managing first impressions, the elevator speech, dressing for success and more.
“It’s a good idea to have multiple resumes, because when they’re applying, sometimes there is a computer on the other side, scanning for keywords,” said Ruiz. “(They should) look at the posting and look at their resume, and circle the key buzzwords they see. If something is repeated four or five times in the job description, that’s probably an indicator of importance.”
She added, “Sometimes students don’t think about how there is so much they have done in their life or in college that they could put on their resume in a marketable way, starting with bullet points with action words, including results where they can. It should highlight their accomplishments, but it’s often about the reader, the audience, the company culture. Same thing for the cover letter. So students should check the company websites and look for what stands out as key themes and how their interests and desires align, and write to that in their cover letters.” Ruiz recommends each student set up a LinkedIn profile with their polished resume and professional headshot photos, and use it to connect with others in the Wilson College of Textiles.
They say practice makes perfect, and that applies to resumes and interviews, too.
“One of the things I encourage students to do is go through a resume workshop or an interview skills workshop, but to practice as much as you can, because the more you do it, the better you get at it,” said Hester. “Do some mock interviews, let people with experience give you some feedback.” He stresses students should work hard in the classroom, because companies often have a GPA requirement.
One of the most effective steps you can take is registering for the biannual Wilson College of Textiles Career Fair. The event is attended by dozens of local and national employers and is an excellent opportunity to connect with potential employers, and even those not looking for an internship or job this summer will find value in the chance to network.
“Networking is key,” said Hester. “If a student does it right, they will sometimes go to their first career fair as a freshman or a sophomore, familiarizing themselves with the companies, going up and introducing themselves…by the time our students are juniors and seniors, it’s amazing how many of them will walk into the career fair and the industry knows them. Because this is such a small, specialized career fair, that happens quite a bit — because it’s not necessarily who you know, but it’s who knows you as well.”
This semester’s fair will be held in the Atrium on Thursday, September 14 from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. — visit Career Services for more information and prerequisites.
What to do after your internship
Once your internship is over, it can be tempting to throw yourself into a new semester of school, only thinking of your internship when you update your resume. But Ruiz suggests taking some time to think critically about what you’ve learned during your internship, as well as reaching out to keep in touch with mentors and fellow interns.
“Consider maintaining that open dialogue,” she said. “Not just saying, ‘What’s up?’ but having something of substance to speak from. For example, if there is something amazing that happened with their student leadership involvement, or if they’re planning on going on an alternative service project — something of substance that they can send in a pretty concise email, reiterating their interest, to continue their relationship building.”
www.StyleCareers.com (founded by Wilson College of Textiles alumni Chris and Betsy (Frey) Kidd)