To Catch a Dream

Start young, have a voice, go with what you know. Try these simple steps for outstanding internship success.
Lauren Cohen started down the path to her dream internship by doing what she loved: flipping through the pages of a fashion magazine. A junior in high school at the time, she saw an advertisement in Teen Vogue for the magazine's inaugural Fashion University.

"I never in a million years thought that it was a real thing," Cohen says. She filled out the online application anyway and soon found out it was indeed the real thing. She was accepted to the program and joined 500 students from throughout the country at the Teen Vogue offices in New York City for a weekend of seminars and staff meet-and-greets.

Although your passion may have nothing to do with writing or the fashion industry, you can still use your interests as a guide to finding a great internship. Take a look at the things you enjoy most — animals, ESPN, even video games or food — and dive deeper. Pick up magazines that appeal to you, join message boards or other online groups, research companies, and don't be afraid to dream big.

Cohen got to meet industry bigwigs as a high school junior, and it all started by reading her favorite magazine.

During Fashion University, Cohen met with editors, designers and photographers, and after an editor round table, she made the gutsy decision to get on stage and ask for the phone numbers and e-mails of each editor on the panel.

"These were people sitting in front of me that, I had read their work all the time, and they inspired me," she explains. "I couldn't bear to let them walk away without knowing who I was and knowing how I felt about them."

Networking is one of the biggest benefits of any internship, as Cohen discovered. Armed with a notebook full of names and contact information, she reconnected with some of those editors for a senior project.

"Especially in the fashion or journalism area, you automatically think that it's so difficult, and people are not willing to help you," Cohen says. "I think it absolutely does come down to what you're willing to do at the start, but once you prove yourself to people, ... they're more than willing to help you."

Cohen's senior project assignment asked students to develop a question and answer it. Cohen focused on the magazine industry and made arrangements to visit Teen Vogue's offices and interview the editors for her project. She created a scrapbook that came in handy in college. She kept in contact with some of those editors, e-mailing periodically to say hello.

"Very short, kind of like, 'Hi, I'm still here,' " she says of those notes. "I continued to thank them for the opportunity."

Those things paid off. When she was a sophomore at John Carroll University, an editor she'd stayed in touch with mentioned that there might be an opening in Teen Vogue's fashion closet for a few weeks over winter break. At first the job wasn't what she expected.

"We were there from 8 or 9 in the morning till 8 or 9 at night," she says, detailing days spent crisscrossing the city for deliveries, organizing samples and checking in clothes. "I knew that I needed to put my time in as an intern, and I needed to be happy picking up staples from the carpet if that's what they asked me to do."

But she wanted to make a lasting impression. Cohen eventually did after complimenting an editor on the magazine and sharing how it had inspired her for years. From that point on, Cohen was asked to help the editor out with administrative tasks, and she even worked closely with the editor the last week of the internship.

"I felt like I established a relationship, which was really important to me," Cohen says. She continued to stay in touch with Teen Vogue staffers and returned home from an exam during her junior year to an e-mail asking if she'd be interested in returning for winter break, this time to work in the features department. She'd networked and maintained connections so well that — before she was even out of college — Teen Vogue was pursuing her.

"You definitely have to prove yourself," she says. "I didn't want to be that invisible intern. I really wanted them to remember me for something. It's when you are able to take some sort of initiative or speak up and prove yourself to somebody that they're really going to start taking you seriously."

Prep School

The Successful Intern Does Research, asks the right questions and walks into the internship prepared for what's ahead. Are you ready? We spoke with career counselors at John Carroll University and Baldwin-Wallace College for insights on how to be the best intern you can be.

- Use all your resources. As a college student, there are many routes for finding an internship, says Rosalyn Platt, JCU's assistant director of the Center for Career Services. JCU offers an online internship job board, career fairs, alumni networking events and even social networking. "We recommend signing up for LinkedIn," she says. "We actually have a John Carroll group on LinkedIn, so that networking opportunity is available to them."

- Act interested. An employer once told Carmen Castro-Rivera, B-W's director of career services, that if potential interns don't ask any questions at the interview, they're off the list. Period. What can you ask? "As a company, what are you proud of?" Castro-Rivera suggests. "Describe your culture." "What are expectations for interns?" "What are your goals?" "Do you have a mentoring program?" Questions like these can help you determine whether they will be the right fit for you, not just the other way around. 

Bring Home The Benefits

An Internship Can Be A Cool Way to spend summer vacation or winter break, but if you do the right things, it can also forge connections that will make job-hunting a breeze. Our career counselors explain why internships are so vital to success.

- Knowing is half the battle. What happens if your dream career turns into a nightmare once you're out in the real world? Internships let you test the waters, explains Carmen Castro-Rivera of Baldwin-Wallace College. "One of the best experiences I had as a student was a bad internship," she says. Before she ever had to face the idea of quitting her first job out of college, she was able to thank her bosses for the internship experience and move on with a whole lot more knowledge about what she wanted — and didn't want — out of an actual career.

- Getting in is the other half. Turns out you loved your internship. Now you're inside the company walls, you know your co-workers, and you have a leg up over everyone else applying for positions at that company, says Platt. "In many cases, these students are offered full-time positions after their internships." Make a good impression, demonstrate your skill set, make the in-house connections, and that summer job could turn into the real deal. 
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