Proposition I: Creating Your Own Internship

by Sharon Fleshman

So there’s this great organization doing work that really inspires and excites you.  You’d love to intern there, but there are no internships offered.  It just may be that you should propose your own.   If you seek this pioneering path, here are some ways to get started.

Identify areas where your experience, skills and interests align with the needs and mission of the employer.  Are there potential short-term projects that would help establish a new initiative or program?  Is there an opportunity for research that may inform ways to enhance existing services?  Clues can be found on the organization’s website as well as news articles that are written about the organization.

Email the employer with a concise message outlining your interest in the organization, a concrete idea or two for an internship, and proposed next steps.  As you offer your ideas, be sure to leave room for the employer to consider where you might be the best fit.  You don’t want to inundate the employer with too much information at first, so you can start with attaching a resume that provides an overview of your background.  Possible next steps would be to submit a proposed internship description or to set up a preliminary interview.  Human Resources tends to be an initial point of contact, but it is also fine to call to confirm who should get the email.

Be proactive and consider potential resource constraints ahead of time.  It could be that some organizations don’t offer internships because of a lack of staffing.  Therefore, it is important to demonstrate that you are a motivated self-starter and team player who can utilize the time of supervisors or managers wisely. Funding an internship may be challenge for non-profits in particular.  Are you able to volunteer or locate other funding sources?  Civic House has Public Interest Internship funds for Penn undergraduate students to apply to internships at a variety of types of non-profit organizations.    Penn students who have work-study funds can check with the Student Employment office about applying them to non-profit or government internships.

At the very least, adding this strategy to your internship search would allow you to make some fruitful connections.  If you are successful in proposing and obtaining the internship, you will not only gain valuable exposure and experience, but may also pave the way for others to follow in your footsteps.

Author: Sharon

Sharon Fleshman is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services for students in Education, Nursing and Social Policy & Practice.