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Home from college? 6 ways to get ahead this summer

Back at home wondering how to get that first paid internship or gig? Here’s a roadmap.
A Class of 2022 banner is displayed as students walk on campus at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on May 2, 2022.
A Class of 2022 banner is displayed as students walk on campus at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on May 2, 2022.Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images file

Being a young college student is particularly challenging these days.

We have seen Covid-19 catapult students from college campuses, to their childhood homes, and back again. And as a result, career development has oftentimes taken a back seat.

Plus, the age of traditional, full-time, summer programs is far in the past. The gig economy is here – particularly for Gen Zers.

If you’re home from college this summer, you may be asking yourself how do you get that very first internship when often many roles require prior work experience? And how do you make sure you are fairly compensated, especially if you are a woman? According to a recent study by Binghamton University, the odds of women receiving pay for internship work is 34 percent lower in comparison to men.

This is where my company, Home From College, comes in. Since launching in early 2020, we have placed thousands of students in career opportunities. Over 75 percent of Home From College’s community are female.

Here are my four top tips I give to students who are trying to land their first gig. These are applicable to all, but particularly relevant to our future female leaders who are just getting their start:

1. The box was made so you can jump out.

In today’s working world, the playbook is being written in real-time for almost every industry. New industries and new jobs are being created that didn't exist even a few years go.

I always tell students that many of the rules are meant to be broken. For example, when I had the opportunity to intern at Snap, I didn't apply through a traditional job portal. In fact, there wasn't even an internship program. I did some research and found the team I wanted to work for and cold pitched the manager on LinkedIn. I shared my vision for interning with them and how I could contribute to the team. The next day, I got an interview. The takeaway? Those who push the boundaries, take initiative, and challenge the status quo, are most memorable and most likely to make a real impact on a business.

Julia Haber is CEO of Home From College, a platform for college students to stand out early in their professional career.
Julia Haber is CEO of Home From College, a platform for college students to stand out early in their professional career.Courtesy of Julia Haber.

2. Go the extra mile.

Oftentimes, the students who we see excel are those two who lead with their heart.

That means being the person who sends the thoughtful follow up e-mail, raising your hand to take on a task even if you feel unqualified, and always showing up with a positive attitude.

I often advise young people to send a handwritten thank you note to their mentor, boss or professor. Don’t wait until the end of the semester or internship. Do it right in the thick of the relationship. The unexpected notes are the building blocks to a professional bond.

3. Remember that assistants are queens and kings.

Everyone matters. Even though a person you are interacting with may not have a big office or a big job title, they may one day. And even if they don’t, that person still may help you make your big break.

Some of my most strategic and influential relationships came from entering through the basement. You can learn more than you may realize by building a relationship with those on the front lines.

Get to know junior staffers or bring the assistants coffee. Always be respectful of their time, and reach out even when you don’t need anything from them.

4. Ask pointed questions.

When interviewing for an internship or role, I always recommend asking three types of questions. These specific categories allow you to show your analytical skills, emotional intelligence and appetite for risk.

- A question around the “why” of a major business decision the company made.

This shows that you’ve done your research and are thinking about the company’s bigger picture.

- A question about the interviewer’s personal journey at the company.

This can be a great way to learn more about the company and helps break the ice and build rapport. It can be as simple as asking the interviewer how they ended up at the company, what they love about their job and what the biggest challenges are.

- A question asking the interviewer to share their biggest apprehension in hiring you for the role.

This shows that you’re thinking of everyone’s perspective and that you’re willing to take feedback. Be prepared, of course, to ease their concerns and share why you are great for the role.

5. Know your worth.

Having a conversation about money can feel difficult or intimidating if you're new to the game, but it’s important to realize your value and worth. Try this dialogue with your boss:

Hi _____,

Thank you for the opportunity to work at ____ company. I believe there is material value I am bringing to the organization including ____, ____ and _____. After looking into companies in similar industries and sizes, I've seen that roles resembling mine are receiving compensation in the _______range.

I wanted to bring this up to see how we could find a way we'd both feel comfortable working together.

Thank you, _____ (your name)

6. Focus on what you can bring to the table.

It's important to recognize that access to internships is statistically uncommon. In fact, the majority of college students graduate without ever experiencing an internship. Knowing that you're not alone in this process is important.

The way to get real experience starts by identifying where you can make an impact. This can be as small as teaching yourself a new design technique, writing for a blog post on a topic you're passionate about or diving into a website's code and offering to upgrade their website. Taking on such projects can show more initiative, self awareness and value than a traditional internship.

Julia Haber is CEO of Home From College, a platform for college students to stand out early in their professional career.