Expanding Your Horizons — Preparing for Summer Internships and Opportunities
Learn effective and practical strategies to improve your odds of securing summer internships and opportunities based on the time of the school year as a UC Berkeley student.
Let’s be honest, securing summer plans is the greatest stress on students’ shoulders every year. Internships and summer opportunities can be so broad, especially regarding the range of timing, methods for pursuit, and levels of stress, and application process.
In my observation as an UC Berkeley undergrad over the past two years, I’ve noticed that some students get internships, gain work experience, build cool projects, and work with different professors. Other students don’t get these internships, projects, or work with professors. I don’t always believe that it is solely about smarts, drive, or passion. From what I observe, certain students are hyper-aware of the specified time windows and optimal action steps for certain opportunities, whereas others may not be as aware. Many factors play into this level of awareness or non-awareness, including whether or not a student is a first generation college student, their family income level, or what social group a student is a part of. Historically, students who identify as first-generation, are from low-income households, or underserved communities do not have the social capital to secure summer opportunities⸺ nor have they been exposed or taught how to secure these opportunities. While I think that these are influential and highly impactful factors that can ultimately make awareness and access to opportunities more challenging, all students can put themselves in great positions and secure internships or summer opportunities if they identify what they want and are aware of the opportunity’s timeline.
To better understand the best methods to helping students secure summer opportunities, I had a conversation with Heidi Yu from the Career Center at UC Berkeley to get insights and learn from her expertise on trends she has noticed over the years.
Summer to Fall Semester: Building a Foundation
Nseke: Many students are on vacation or relaxing. And there is nothing wrong with that and probably well-deserved, but sometimes I believe more can be done to set myself up for success without compromising my summer plans. I’m always trying to strike a balance in being productive and still having a relaxing and restorative summer. I do not want to come back to school exhausted and ill-prepared or already feeling ‘behind.’
Heidi: You want to start setting the foundation for the upcoming year in the summer. While you do not have to sacrifice your entire summer, there are things that you should do to put yourself in a great position. Whether you are local or not, the Career Center is open during the summer and not as busy as during the school year.
The most important thing is knowing what you want, or at least starting to think about it.
We can help you structure a plan to accomplish your goals. The most important thing is knowing what you want, or at least starting to think about it. That way, you can keep your eye on opportunities as they come your way. The Career Center has a Career Clarity test to help students gain clarity on the best career path for them. Also, it will be imperative to start building your resume and LinkedIn because you must establish a professional identity. The Career Center can help you with this as well. Sometimes the hardest part is just starting — we can help guide and refine.
If you do not have an internship, don’t fret; explore temporary or gig employment opportunities or shadow someone. Remember that the goal is to get experience that you can speak to and learn from. Another way for you to gain experience is to develop your own internship. You can also create a personal project where you can develop and demonstrate your skills. Some examples of projects can include creating a blog or a YouTube channel on a topic that you care about. This will inevitably give you a perspective and build your knowledge base in the field― both of which are highly important to potential employers.
Fall Semester to Winter Break: Creating a Strategy for Success
Nseke: Once the fall semester has started, most students are still getting into the swing of things. They are figuring out their classes, financial aid, extracurricular activities, etc. They have come back from a summer layoff and need to reintegrate into university life. Students subconsciously know that they have the entire year to lock down summer plans. While there is truth to this, I noticed the students who get the best opportunities, internships, research programs, or self-directed projects began looking in the fall semester. I even found out that there are many internships that you can only secure in the fall for the upcoming summer.
Heidi: One of the best ways to connect with employers is by attending the career fairs hosted through the Career Center because their job is to connect employers and students. We have worked hard to develop connections and resources so students can access job and internship opportunities that support their professional development.
We have worked hard to develop connections and resources so students can access job and internship opportunities that support their professional development.
In addition to the Career Center, explore the UC Berkeley Career Network and coffee chat opportunities. Students will find that many Cal alums want to talk and help you in your career journey. Students should know that the connections they forge and leverage will help them get the opportunities they want in the short-term and many times, long-term. Data from LinkedIn states LinkedIn members are four times more to get hired when referred. So get to networking! Lastly, keep improving your personal branding and strengthen your interview skills through Big Interview, an online interview prep platform. Go into interviews confident, knowing that you have adequately prepared and can articulate how your experience is relevant to the specific opportunity.
Winter Break to Spring Break: Implementing Your Strategy
Nseke: This is where panic may start to creep in for students that have not secured anything. The school year is halfway over, and they have not confirmed a summer internship quite yet. Some of their friends are now relieved of the stresses of the dreaded internship search, but they are not. This is when I have seen a shift in students’ mindsets. Students start to think that they better secure something or else they’ll be out of luck for the summer. I have been here too. It is not an easy position to be in.
Heidi: The winter break can be a good time to do some self-reflection and exploration. Students should take full advantage of the Career Center being open during winter break. Students can access career assessments through the Career Counseling Library at the University Health Services: Remember, you do not have to do this alone. There are paid staff that want to help you.
Also, this is an excellent time for you to go on informational interviews. You are not in school, and you have some extra free time. Look to schedule two 20–30 minute informational interviews a week. This will help you build up your network and truly see if you want that job you are searching for or want to pursue certain fields. Additionally, look for opportunities to shadow people. This is just another great way to clarify whether or not you genuinely want a particular career. Too often, students think they want a specific internship or job without talking with or shadowing people in that field.
Too often, students think they want a specific internship or job without talking with or shadowing people in that field.
Spring Break to Summer: Planning Ahead
Nseke: This is when I find students who have not secured something for the summer transition to full panic. The sudden realization that we are basically in April and only one month left of school hits students very hard and is stressful! They are now in full-time search for internships and summer opportunity mode. This can be challenging because they are simultaneously trying to finish strong in their classes and prepare for finals. One thing that students may not realize or account for is the time and energy needed in the job search and interview process.
Heidi: More than ever, it is vital to connect with alumni and build your network. At this time, there will not be a lot of career fairs. It may feel strange to reach out to alumni, but they are a great source of support. Students should use informational interviews, LinkedIn, Handshake, and University clubs to reach out. Students who mainly apply to internships online will find it difficult and time-consuming to find an internship.
Students should look to shadowing opportunities, staffing agencies, remote work, etc. The goal is to get work experience in your field. Students graduating and looking to increase their tech proficiency should look at programs like COOP Careers that help recent first-generation graduates upskill. Also, use LinkedIn Learning (free for current students and $30 per month for recent graduates) to improve your skills and make you more marketable. For students who have not secured an opportunity, they can meet with a career counselor to discuss ideas to gain experience or think of ways to improve their career competitiveness.
Conclusion: My Thoughts
Securing a summer internship or opportunity can be daunting for many reasons: How do you find opportunities? What are good opportunities? How long should it take to find opportunities? Will I even get paid or have the chance to negotiate? The most significant piece of advice I can offer is to have a professional advocate in your corner. Whether it is your professor, career counselor, or UC Berkeley alum, share your story and goals and let them help you accomplish them. They have been through what you are going through now and can advise on how to navigate it successfully. While there is no set number of times to meet your advocate, attempt to establish a genuine relationship with them by having monthly or bi-monthly check-ins. I meet with Heidi bi-weekly. The frequency of our meetings are not that essential, but our connection is! The more your advocate knows about you, the more they will keep their eye out for networking events, people, and opportunities beneficial to you. So, please don’t do it alone; get an advocate, be proactive, and increase your chances of getting that opportunity you deserve.