Internships: The Back Door to Doing What You Like

Soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, speak with federal agency representatives during the Operation Warfighter Internship Fair.
Soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, speak with federal agency representatives during the Operation Warfighter Internship Fair, April 24, 2012. (Sgt. Micah VanDyke/28th Public Affairs Detachment photo)

Maybe I'm just a sucker.

It happens to me every time. Armed with enthusiasm, an interviewee comes seeking a job that I haven't advertised, and all of a sudden, I become their No. 1 cheerleader. In the last few years, many young interns have used my company to launch successful media careers. And that's a good thing and a win/win for other companies. Considering an internship is a great way to launch yourself on a new career venture.

What an Intern-Friendly Company Looks Like

I started Sierra Media as a starry-eyed optimist with all the usual hopes and dreams armed with a trait that I knew I always had: persistence. While engaged in an offsite team-building exercise for my employees many years later, a moderating psychologist buddy of mine -- who was promised a free ski weekend and all the boxed wine he could drink -- pointed out my bent for persistence and helped me launch my new motto: Persistence + Persistence = Bloody Persistence.

You see my team grew from one employee -- me -- to five in a matter of months. By examining Sierra Media's individual strengths, the psychologist showed that as a team, we doggedly pursued new projects even before we had a market for them. All of this came from persistent team members who were prepared to live out their dreams initially as interns.

How can you spot the potential intern in you? It starts with understanding the entrepreneur spirit.

Work at Doing What You Like

What I learned in managing interns is that starting off in a new career -- especially after serving your country -- can be an exciting endeavor. America is a great country, and anything is possible. Just recently, a guy who worked on motorcycles got himself a TV show, and now he's married to Sandra Bullock. Go figure.

Opportunities abound, and the economy has always been ripe for entrepreneurs. Why do you think so many immigrants are successful? They work hard (usually for themselves), find a niche' and voila -- they're happy and making money.

"Soul Search" Is the Ultimate Reality Show

Think about what makes you happy?

Not as in coffee with cream, a warm bed, the smell of your mother's chicken casserole. Take it up a level or two. Think big picture. For me, it was clear that I enjoy helping people become more successful. I get paid for it. It's fun.

The fact that I create communication tools, went to film school, studied acting and ornamental horticulture, and traveled a ton helps. When I create media, I help people. I really only figured this out a few years ago, but being a "people helper" drives my company.

Finding You Career Path

Finding a path can be as varied as pop music. If you have seen advertisements for a country music rapper or a Christian goth rocker, you get my drift.

Careers need to be exciting to you. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet where the main course is at the front. If you don't like your first pass, try something else. Use your bent for hard work and dedication and put it into practice.

Remember that if you keep doing what you're doing, you'll get more of what you got. Yes, it pays bills and puts food in mouths, but it can also frustrate you to no end.

Dan's Top 5 Ways to Get an Internship:
  • List Companies to Approach. - Smaller & Independent - Work in areas of your interest - Have immediate cash infusion needs - History of hiring interns/associates
  • Put Together a Project Idea - Develop your idea - Outline potential local area clients/users - Put a personal bio and pitch portfolio together
  • Develop an Approach and Pitch Your Idea - Consider cold calls - Mailing proposal the chicken's way out - Do not leave your proposal behind.
  • Focus on What You Bring to Company - Outline your strengths - Discuss willingness to learn new skills - Be prepared to start immediately - Concentrate on applicability and profitability
  • If Rebuffed, Ask for Referral Elsewhere - Persistence.

What Makes a Good Intern

When I look for an intern, I am actually looking for an associate, contractor or employee. I want someone who is happy, glad to be at work, and ready to rock 'n' roll. A lot of it has to do with temperament.

Interns need to do whatever it takes to get the job done. If you are doing something you love, it's your vocation and avocation. The love and commitment you bring to the table cannot be taught or bought. That is a big advantage for you and the organization.

Internship Success Stories

Several of my former employees have gone to successful media careers. One person in particular worked for me for five years. When he first started, he had some skills, but the thing that stood out was his dedication and commitment. He started out as an intern, as many have, doing a small project to show me what he can do and see whether we fit.

He did that project and more and worked his way into a full-time job. Within a few weeks, it was obvious that he was a natural in the media business. Doing an internship project for a media employer -- even if it is for little or no money initially -- can be a major step in the right direction. Interns and media careers go hand in hand. It can work in other careers as well.

A Cold Call Leads to Success

Another fellow just happened to cold-call my company asking for a price on a project. He was personable, we got to know each other, and he decided to do the project himself.

Later on, he came back and plopped the job in my lap because he was in over his head. Guess who I hired to help out on his project -- him. Eight years later, we still work collaboratively on various profitable ventures, though he started as a fairly underpaid intern.

It is important for you to know that this was a guy who, after working in front of a computer all day, went home and kept working. He polished his skills, honed his abilities, and today is working jobs for a major software company doing special effects for independent films -- all on his own terms.

Getting an Internship

If you're looking for a job or a career, keep in mind that you've got to make it happen. There is help out there, but the person who is going to do it is you. For the entrepreneur, opportunities come knocking every day. You may never have considered being a lowly intern, but dire straits can bring out the best opportunities.

Daniel Cardenas is a career editor for

© 2005

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