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Originally published August 10, 2011 at 7:15 PM | Page modified August 10, 2011 at 10:07 PM

Buttoned Up: Get organized now to nab an internship

Pointers for finding the right internships.

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Given the dismal state of the economy these days, internships are becoming an increasingly important part of student life.

In fact, some colleges, like Northeastern University in Boston, have made internships part of their four-year curriculum. Not only do they offer students who may be unsure of their ideal career path insight into a particular occupation and company, they also provide an invaluable opportunity to learn and hone real-life skills, like how to communicate effectively to a manager, that aren't always a part of college curriculums.

Internships are also a great way for companies to get insight into you, which gives you a leg up when it comes to getting hired after graduation. Many interns are offered permanent positions. We should know. We hired Hollie, now Buttoned Up's design director, because of the great work she did as an intern for our company.

Internships are often unpaid, but don't be shortsighted and pass one up because of that. Consider it a worthwhile investment in your future. Even if you're not offered a job with the company, it still is a very effective resume-builder.

If you start as a freshman, you have the potential to complete perhaps eight internships during your college career. That's eight ways to differentiate yourself from the other students who will be graduating at the same time you are.

We have put together some pointers for organizing yourself to find (the right) internships.

1. Brainstorm. All internships are not created equal. You should start with jobs that align with your career interests. This is especially true if you are working for free. After all, an internship in marine biology won't help much if you're really planning on getting into international business. If you're not sure what you ultimately want to do, head over to your school's career center. It is there to help you land a great job (and make your college look good by getting employment for a high percentage of graduates). It will often provide career-assessment tests for free and will always offer a wealth of advice.

2. Identify. After you've made a list of fields that interest you, start researching relevant companies. Consider a few different lists: the biggest, the most profitable, the startups, the most innovative. Look at the companies in each list and ask yourself which ones have cultures that seem like good fits. Don't just go for something that looks good; select an internship based on possible future employment with that company.

3. Network. You've made a list of fields and zeroed in on some companies. Now's the time to call everyone you may know. Tap into friends, neighbors and family members, and specifically ask who they might know in the industry you are hoping to get into. Everyone knows somebody, and that somebody might just be a ticket to an internship. If a contact is identified, seek an informational interview to at least sound that person out.

4. Get Your Money's Worth Out of College. See what internships your college's placement office lists and then research alumni who work in the fields that interest you. Many colleges offer programs that place interns with alumni — it's one of the best ways to find an internship.

5. Don't Waste Your Time. It may be tempting to look at job boards and classifieds, but in today's market, do you know how many people blindly send their résumés for those positions? Too many! It's not worth your time crafting a new cover letter for those jobs since they are virtually impossible to score and you'll just end up being frustrated.

(The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized.

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