As students, we are often told to follow our passions and do what we love, but it can be hard to know what those passions might be without any experience. One of the best ways to gain experience in areas you are interested in is through real-life experiences, like internships and shadowing. The only issue is that it can often be tricky to find these opportunities, especially when you are younger and might not have a lot on your resume. So what are some good tips and tricks for getting involved?

Use Your Network

Whether it’s teachers, parents, coaches or friends, simply being in high school or college doesn’t mean you don’t have connections. In fact, you probably have many more than you realize— and they are all around you! 

Reaching out to people you already know can be one of the most successful ways to find an opportunity that excites you. Not only do you have a direct connection to the person you are reaching out, but you also have a (hopefully) positive recommender. 

In fact, networking is a common way for professionals, regardless of age or experience, to pursue their ambitions and build their career. 

The Cold Email

If networking doesn’t lead you to what you are looking for, an alternative is cold emailing. Although often intimidating and not always immediately rewarding, cold emailing can be a great way to find potential leads to internships, research, and many other opportunities. 

In their most basic form, cold emails are a way of contacting someone that you have never directly met and asked them for some sort of favor. This can mean anything from asking a professional in an area you are interested in if they have time to discuss their work with you, to directly asking for an internship or research opportunities.

In your email, make sure to include the basics, such as your own personal details and contact information. More importantly, however, you should have a clear and concise message that is customized to your recipient. It can also be helpful to reach out as more of a conversation starter, before making any direct requests, as it helps establish a relationship.

Although you may be met with many rejections (or no response whatsoever), you’d be surprised by the opportunities that this can lead to. Even if you don’t find an instant internship or position, you are building up your professional network, in ways that could benefit you in the future!

If you are looking for a more comprehensive guide, I would recommend checking out this one. 

Create a Professional Digital Presence

If you have been following the previous steps and sent out cold emails or reached out to your connections, chances are that any potential employer/mentors that are interested will follow up by doing their own research on you. And by research, I mean Googling! So, in order to present your best self, there are a few things you can do to curate your digital presence. 

The first and most obvious is likely something that you have been told many times before: make sure that everything you publish publicly online is reflective of what you want to show to the world. This is especially important for social media. If you are unsure of what your digital profile looks like, Google yourself! Make sure that you would be comfortable with a future employer seeing whatever comes up. 

Apart from maintaining a responsible image online, another great place to start is LinkedIn. Employers will often go to LinkedIn to learn more about who you are, so keeping your account up to date is critical. The hardest step is setting up your account, and from then on, all you have to do is keep it maintained. When you first set up a profile, make sure to do a thorough job of documenting your background and work experiences— think of it as a digital resume. Don’t be afraid to add photos and personalize your account. Sometimes, depending on your passions, it can even be helpful to set up your own personal website or digital portfolio, although this is not always a necessary step. 

The Interview

In some instances, you might find yourself having to do an interview. Interviews can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a lot of them under your belt. Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to be prepared. 

First, do your research! Know as much as you can beforehand about the company (or wherever else it might be) and the industry you are trying to get into. It can also be helpful to anticipate potential questions you might be faced with and think through your potential answers. And even though you are the one being interviewed, it never hurts to come up with your own questions for your interviewer. This gives you an opportunity to learn more about your potential opportunity, and it can help demonstrate your interest. If you forget everything else, the most important thing is to be confident in yourself.

Say YES!

While it’s important to prioritize your time in ways that make sense for you, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I can leave you with is to always say yes! Unfortunately, your dream internship (probably) not going to magically appear. So when an opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it! Even if it seems to be something completely different or unrelated from what you were looking for, keep your mind open, because you never know where it might land you. Although being younger and less experienced can be frustrating, it also means that all of your doors are open and there are infinite possibilities to explore. 

No Matter What, Make it Happen

Even if luck isn’t on your side, that doesn’t mean that it is time to give up and stop exploring your passions. Start your own projects and be your own boss. And if you do things right, pretty soon you might have people reaching out to you!

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