The old saying goes: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And while with the amount of information and communication flying around on the Internet has certainly made this slightly less true, in terms of finding a job, your personal relationships and networks are still the best place to start. While you may be extremely talented and qualified for a number of positions, your resume runs the risk of never being read if you sent it to the same general email pile as hundreds of other hopeful interns.
As you approach the time of year that you have designated for you internship, make sure that you have a clear picture of what you want to get out of your placement before you put the word out that you are looking. Chances are you will have an uncle or family friend that has an opportunity, but a marketing internship at a music label doesn’t really help you if you are looking for something in art restoration at a museum. Make sure that you don’t develop the "whatever it is I’ll take it" attitude, which could potentially leave you with a placement that doesn’t suit your needs at all and will ultimately leave you unsatisfied.
At the same time, try to remain flexible. There are many companies and organizations that, on the surface, seem to only cater to a particular type of career, such as a bank or a monthly magazine publisher. But for many large companies, and in some small to medium sized ones, there are departments that run the full gamut of careers from Marketing to Accounting to Information Technology. Virtually every business needs someone to organize finances, for example. While it may seem like a large financial firm is the perfect place to spend the summer as a business major, you may actually learn more spending time with a small finance department of a local business. The more intimate atmosphere may expose you to more information and opportunity for learning, and you may even be called upon to perform more important tasks in a small office. This is similarly true for those interested in art: the opportunities for artists in design and marketing exist in virtually every business that handles their promotion in house.
If you have identified what you are expecting to get our of your internship, you next step should be to research possible places that you’d like to work where you have some sort of personal connection. Begin with your parent’s offices, and assess whether there is an appropriate department for you to ask for an internship with, while keeping in mind that working extremely closely with family members can be somewhat difficult. Think about whether you’d want your mom or dad coming to school with you every day! There might be a great opportunity at your dad’s office however, perhaps on a different floor in even another site. Since you parents have such a vested interest in your success, they will no doubt work hard to find you a place in their office if it is the right fit.
Next, think about your extended family and where they work. Do some online research about their companies if you don’t know very much about them, since they might have a department or team that can give you the work experience you are looking for.
If you see something that looks promising, as your family member if they know if the company hires interns and if they would be willing to pass your resume along. In some cases, you will submit the resume or application on your own and "name drop" to ensure that it is read; remember that every treats their business relationships a bit differently, so it is important to follow whatever process your family member is most comfortable with, especially if they are doing you a favor.
If nothing comes out of researching your own family’s places of business, start to ask around to your friends. Find out what their parents do, and see if you are comfortable enough to ask them to pass along your resume. This is much easier with old friends, of course, but you never know how willing a friend’s parent or uncle will be to help out unless you ask! You never know, your best friend might end up with an internship at your dad’s oil company while you intern at her sister’s fashion design studio!
Another network that goes beyond family and friends is your local community. Even if you live in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, there can be a lot of potential in the businesses that line the blocks leading to and from your childhood home. Perhaps there is an accounting or real estate office that you never noticed before that could use a summer intern, or a local pub that is looking to have someone spruce up their website. These opportunities could be ideal for any number of students or recent grads looking for internship opportunities, and the businesses would no doubt be open to hiring someone from the neighborhood with whom they may already be familiar.
Blindly approaching local businesses can be a daunting task, but you might be surprised at how open many will be to having an intern; they may have never thought about it before. The best thing to do is look through the business listing of your local newspaper and see what kinds of businesses might be a good fit for you. Next, think about how you could help them out, what you can offer them in terms of skills and talent. Use these talking points to start the initial conversation either by email or phone, and follow-up with an in-person meeting; someone from your neighborhood may not know your name, but will know your face.
The key to networking is keeping a friendly, open mind. Even if your internship doesn’t work out with anyone in your personal network, it never hurts to become more aware of the kinds of things your friends and family do for a living, as you might need to collaborate in your future career!