No matter where you are in your college or career journey, chances are you’ve had an internship or are thinking of getting one. Well, stop right there.
While internships can provide valuable learning experience and often earn you college credit, many provide little or no pay and there are so many other options out there! Don’t sell yourself short.
Before you finish that application and go through the stress of trying to prove yourself, I humbly submit these alternatives, which I can tell you from personal experience provide just as much leadership opportunity and personal development.
Many great opportunities have come to me though volunteering. Whether you need something impressive to put on a resume or just want to develop new skills, find a group in your area or online that needs your help. Going into politics? Try phone banking. Want to be an author? Help out with programming aimed at literacy or children at your local library. Whatever you want to do, there’s a group that needs your help, and they’ll be grateful for your time.
We all know the job market can be tough for college students and recent graduates, so forgo it altogether. Freelancing is a great way to get experience in your field, but it also teaches self-discipline and prioritizing. Post about your services on Craigslist and social media, and pitch yourself to local businesses who need what you’re offering.
3. Coffee Dates
Nothing feels as invigorating as learning something new from someone you admire and you can create those learning opportunities for yourself. I recently had a coffee date with the owner of a cat cafe after I reached out and asked to chat with her. I learned so much about small business. Don’t be afraid to go big. Be a little ambitious in who you ask, because most people love to pass along knowledge and help others succeed. Wouldn’t you feel flattered if someone asked you to sit down for coffee and a chat?
4. Intentional Reading
You probably already read the news or your favorite fiction books, but the best business advice I ever got was to read a book a day. That’s because there’s so much you can learn when you curate a list of relevant material. I create Twitter lists of people I admire, then look for any books they may have released. You can also check the trending lists on Amazon oriTunes by category and listen to your favorite mentors make recommendations. Then jump on them immediately.
5. Start a business
Anyone, and I mean anyone, can start a business. If you don’t believe me, listen to Tai Lopez’s ideas on the $100 startup. You always hear people say, “The only thing standing in your way is you,” and it’s true. Whatever your career area, you can test out products and business ideas today. Along the way, you’ll be forced to learn business management, tax preparation, marketing and so much more. It’s worth the experience even if you don’t hit it big.
6. Join a professional organization
Networking is king and there’s no better way than to join an organization you’re interested in. I joined the National Association of Parliamentarians in high school and at 23, I’ve now served a two-year term on the marketing and PR Subcommittee and started the group’s national Twitter account. All I did was ask how I could be involved. Jump in and get the experience you need, plus build a network of like-minded folks.
7. Apply for jobs you aren’t qualified for
It seems scary and it is. You don’t want to look uneducated or inexperienced. But preparing a resume and practicing interviewing skills is always a good idea. How are you ever going to know what you still need to work on if you don’t test it out? It’s especially true for those of us who tend to undersell ourselves, because it might just turn out that you’re more qualified than you think. Either way, you learn and gain new experience.
8. Use your college’s resources
Your college or university (maybe even your high school, if you’re ahead of the curve) likely has scores of offices and people dedicated to your success. Both my universities had people available to help build resumes, find job opportunities, and even just help with homework or research. You’re paying thousands of dollars, so you might as well get the most out of it. Tell the counselor or mentor you want experience without an internship and explain why, then find opportunities best suited for you.
There’s two takeaways I want to leave you with. The first is that everyone follows a different path, and though you’ve probably heard you have to have an internship, that’s just not true. I’ve started a business and gotten great positions without ever being an intern. Never let anyone tell you what’s best for you, not even this article.
The second is that no matter what choices you make, experience isn’t having a line on your resume. No matter what your path looks like, the decision to learn and grow is always up to you and only you. Take some time to think about the skills you want and need, and then figure out ways to get them. If it turns out to be an internship, that’s fine. Just know there are other options. Your path is yours to choose.
Author Bio: Abby Lee Hood is the founder of ForMillennialEntrepreneurs, a network dedicated to supporting ambitious young entrepreneurs. ForME is currently based in Tennessee, Abby Lee’s home state. She lives with her geriatric dog, writes fiction and manages social media for clients across the US. More importantly, she loves growing indoor plants, planning her next tattoo and plays bluegrass fiddle.