You’re succumbing to a sense of anxiety as your roommate packs up her new pencil skirt, blazer and blouse to head to New York for that killer internship she landed. You panic silently, Oh my god, am I going to be that person living on the street outside of her office one day? Is that what my future is amounting to? Should I start looking for a big cardboard box? Hold it right there. It’s easy to stress out, but is it really necessary? The short answer is no.
Sure, internships are a great way to network and gain direct experience in most fields. But they aren’t the only way to build a resume, and they certainly aren’t the only way to have a productive summer. After talking with some employed graduating seniors, it’s clear that you have other options to boost your resume, gain experience and not have to sit at a desk or run errands for the next three months.
While direct experience is great, it isn’t the only characteristic necessary when applying for jobs. “Just like when you were applying to college and a college counselor told you that colleges want well-rounded students, companies want well-rounded employees,” said new Oracle employee Lauren Wilmot, who graduated from UVA this spring.
Chances are you have interests and hobbies that don’t include filing, shadowing or observing. Keep up with an current activity or turn a new interest into a learning opportunity. Wilmot suggested taking classes, volunteering or even working in your favorite coffee shop. Ultimately, you want to display commitment and utility. You can do that just about anywhere.
If you can afford it, one of the most enlightening ways to spend the summer is studying abroad. You can gain school credit, and cultural exposure will provide life lessons and valuable skills. Living in a new place teaches both independence and people skills. “Traveling for the first time on my own gave me the confidence to speak to employers and put myself out there when it came to applying for jobs,” said UVA graduating senior Sarah Dunaye. Plus, studying abroad is a great opportunity for networking. The other students on your program could be valuable connections to have in the future.
You can also get job experience by means that don’t include internships. If you want to go into consulting or accounting but can’t seem to get a glitzy New York City internship, pester the financial department of wherever you worked in high school, or ask a local business to lend a hand. Learn about their marketing strategies at a local or corporate level. Take note of things you might change if you were in a management position, as well as things that work well.
Or, you can simply play pretend. Do research. What would you do if you were in fact hired as an intern for a design company? A chemical engineering plant? Make your plans, collect your ideas and develop them. You may not get to shadow or observe, but you will demonstrate commitment to your interests—even when no one is forcing that commitment. Note that this will almost certainly make you feel like an idiot at times. But hey, so would carrying that iced double shot soy cappuccino with one-and-a-half packs of sugar into work every morning for your oh-so-lovely boss.
At this point, you may be concerned that typical summer jobs, offered classes or abroad trips don’t cater to a career you want to pursue. Fear not—summer plans are not the only thing interviewers ask about. Post-graduation, employers will ask why you want and are qualified for that specific position. “They want you to have goals and a basic plan to reach those goals. They want to know you are going to care about the job,” said Wilmot. Rest assured that sometimes genuine passion and commitment alone will be enough proof of your worth.
With all that said, I personally think lying out by the pool is an entirely viable alternative to interning. We are barely in our 20s and summer vacation will soon be a thing of the past. Remember, the reason you have this vacation is because you don’t have to have a career quite yet. So, don’t rush it. “Bottom line, if you don’t get an internship, it’s not the end of the world,” UVA grad Alexa Rosenstein said.