When I was in college, I landed a fancy internship working for a prestigious doctor in a VA hospital. I was a psychology major at George Washington University and my job was to do coding and data entry. I hated it – both the long Metro ride out there and the actual work.
My second internship was far more interesting, and much less fancy. It was an outpatient halfway house for mental illness. I recall an experience like it happened yesterday. A patient had walked up to me, staring, but saying nothing.
My twenty-year-old inexperienced pseudo-clinician’s body began to squirm. I looked around for help. The supervisor was busy, so I just looked back at the patient and said what I thought would truly help break the ice. (Of course, everything I had learned in my psychology classes flew right out of my mind). With all the muster I could gather, I uttered, “So….what’s up?“ He looked back at me, maybe even through me, and a few seconds later, with a completely straight face began to rattle off musicians – in alphabetical order.
By the time he was well past Aerosmith and just before The Clash, I became relaxed and intrigued. On he went through the entire alphabet, and I am sure he got all the ones I knew, and maybe even a few I had never heard of. Not only will I never forget this patient, but this not-so-fancy internship went on to spark my interest in the human mind, mental illness and how we cope, far more than all that data entry.
I know it will take more than a cute story to convince you to encourage your teen to forgo the fancy internship. I mean this is your child’s future, right? Breathe, and stay with me. I have more.
As a former recruiter, what always caught my attention was not the fancy internship or the most prestigious job, but the actual responsibilities the person brought to the table. I always wanted to know – how did the applicant go above and beyond, how did they overcome a challenge, what was the nitty gritty? What someone learned was far more important to me than the location, company or position. Likewise, I wanted to know how they spent their free time and why they took that job or internship to begin with. Will a fancy internship help them get in the door? Maybe, but not always. I always got my foot in the door by standing out, writing an amazing cover letter to grab someone’s attention. I used to end all my cover letters with a quote by football coach, Vince Lombardi.
Encourage your teens to focus on the actual job they will be doing, not the name. How you present yourself is also very important. My husband’s first resume had his job as a golf caddy, listed as, “Green Reading and Club Selection.” Writing a stellar cover letter and resume is what will get the attention of a human resource professional or recruiter, to help your teen land that dream job, or at least a starting job that will get them off your couch and out of your house.
We should encourage our teens, whether in high school or college, to do something that lights a fire in their bellies in a place where they would be able to really learn. Yes, there are people who love data entry at a big fancy internship (I think. Are there?) But if not, look beyond the name. We never know whom we will meet or how our life will take a turn. It has happened to me more than once, when I bumped into someone or received an opportunity for work that had nothing to do with experience, or prestige.
Have a little faith. We never know where life will take us, and there is so much more out there than fancy internships. Encourage your teens to think outside the box, talk to professors or teachers, look inside their hearts and see what excites them. Later on, when they need to write that cover letter and resume encourage them to stand out. And always remember to not give up. After all, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” -Vince Lombardi.