It’s well known that networking can be crucial to launching a successful career, but it’s also widely acknowledged that not all students have equal footing from which to start their networking journeys. Limited confidence, packed schedules, and a lack of existing social capital can all act as barriers to traditional networking. Experiential learning offers students a meaningful opportunity to engage professionals in conversations based around real work, but with most traditional internships limited to juniors and seniors, there’s a substantial gap between when students are first making decisions about their futures and when they actually have opportunities to explore and gather the experience and data needed to make informed decisions. In fact, Parker Dewey’s recent student sentiment survey found that 72% of students start thinking about career plans before sophomore year. Thankfully, Micro-Internships are a great way for students who are just beginning their college education, like first-year student Emily McClung, to both make meaningful connections and build professional experience.
Swarthmore College’s SwatWorks Program
Emily, who is studying environmental studies and dance at Swarthmore College, found out about Micro-Internships through a combination of flyers and emails from Career Services.
“The email caught my attention because in high school I never really got much advice for furthering my career interests, so that’s something I’m excited to get from Career Services at Swarthmore.”
In the emails, Emily not only learned about all the short-term, paid, professional Micro-Internship projects that are available year-round on the Parker Dewey platform, but also became aware of Swarthmore’s SwatWorks program. Through the program and micro-grants offered by Career Services, Swarthmore alumni and parents are able to offer paid projects over winter break that are exclusively available to Swarthmore students. Because of the funding from Career Services, the alumni and parents are able to host the projects at no cost to themselves, which has expanded the range of opportunities available to Swarthmore students like Emily.
After creating her account, one of the first things that stood out to Emily was how easy the application process was.
“The application wasn’t strenuous at all. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure… It was more of an exploration opportunity.”
That exploration was appealing to Emily, as it is to most first-year students who are still trying to understand their own passions as well as their career options. Emily in particular was excited to have a way to build professional experience and learn new skills without having to make a long-term commitment. Emily shared, “I was hoping to discover what I like to do and what is interesting to me in the realm of jobs and career activities.”
One interest the environmental studies major was already sure of was her passion for the environment, and that enthusiasm led to her selection for a project with a grassroots network of communities committed to calling Congress to act on climate change. Emily was excited not only to have a paid, professional opportunity, but also to have been selected for one that reflected her own aspirations.
“My Micro-Internship has been my first professional opportunity. I’ve had a few jobs on campus and back in high school, but this was the first time I was able to do something related to my career goals in environmental studies.”
Emily was tasked with helping the group organize a virtual lobbying day for their members, which involved emailing contacts from across the US and scheduling appointments.
“The subject was very new for me because it involved political lobbying, and I had never done that before… Now I know much more about how political lobbying and grassroots organizations work. My favorite part was meeting with my supervisors and seeing the progression and the success of the event. It was a great first experience for me.”
Building a Network and Making a Great Impression
Emily’s admiration for her supervisors was enthusiastically reciprocated by the Swarthmore alumna she worked with. After every Micro-Internship experience, supervisors are given the opportunity to share feedback with their Micro-Intern related to their timeliness, communication, accuracy, presentation, skill level, and overall satisfaction with the project. Emily’s supervisor indicated that Emily executed the project like an industry veteran on all accounts, and had the following to say about Emily’s efforts.
“Our Lobby day was a great success in large measure because of the behind the scenes work that Emily did setting up appointments, keeping track of sign ups and delegations, and managing communications… Having a student intern greatly enhanced our program and enabled us to increase participation and appointments completed by approximately 400%.”
Both Emily and her supervisor got the opportunity to get to know, learn, and benefit from each other through this Micro-Internship, not to mention what Emily has been able to learn about herself in the process.
“I learned that I like working and connecting with others, even virtually… I also liked seeing the results of my work create success. Now I know that those are things I’ll look for in my next opportunity.”
This model also has benefited alumni and students alike by allowing them to make meaningful connections regardless of their location. Emily’s supervisor, for instance, is located in California, while Emily was in Virginia during winter break when she began working on the project.
Emily encourages her fellow students to take advantage of Micro-Internships, but to be discerning by only applying for projects that they’re genuinely interested in or excited about.
“There are a wide variety of projects, so look for the ones that catch your interest.”
Emily also encourages her peers to be realistic about their schedules when applying, and to take advantage of academic breaks like she did, whether it be winter, spring, or summer. While Micro-Internships can be done during the academic year, Emily shared that academic breaks in particular are great times to fit in or at least start a Micro-Internship since you have more time to dedicate to the project.
Emily is also proud that she was able to make a meaningful contribution to an organization as a first-year student, and recommends Micro-Internships to other companies and organizations as a great way to get to know talent and secure some on-demand help.
*This article was originally published on Parker Dewey.