The CTU Career Services team offers five tips for students seeking internships

Internships - those on-the-job experiences that help workers get practical experience - aren't just for traditional college students any more.

Non-traditional students, who are often working adults either switching careers or going back to college to pursue a new passion and learn new skills, are taking advantage of internships to differentiate themselves from the competition in this challenging job market. Organizations are also reporting the number of internships offered is expected to rise by nearly 7 percent in 2011, according to a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey.

"The growing number of experiential learning opportunities like an internship or volunteering are great ways for non-traditional students who are making a career change to get their foot in the door and apply what they've learned in the classroom in a real-world setting," says Stacia Klasen, experiential learning manager at Colorado Technical University. "In this tough market, employers often seek candidates with internship or on-the job experience, so these can be a resume-builder and competitive advantage."

Here are five tips for non-traditional students (those who don't fit the typical definition of young adults ages 18 to 22 who live on campus and go to school full time) to consider for pursuing and making the most of any internship, according to Klasen.

1. Consider your options. Many internships last three to six months. However, non-traditional students are often juggling personal and professional responsibilities with their coursework, making it especially challenging to add an internship to their busy schedules. The good news is there are flexible and shorter-term experiential learning options that can also help students build their skills and add to their resume. In addition to internships, non-traditional students can seek volunteer or job shadowing experiences in their fields. Landing a volunteer opportunity, for example, may involve identifying an organization and then finding the right person to present a proposal for what you're seeking and how you can contribute your skills to benefit the organization - without much oversight or time commitment on their part.

2. Tap into your university's career center. Non-traditional students can utilize the professional staff and resources available at their colleges to help find the right experiential learning opportunity that aligns with their degree program. Key services may include career counseling, resume and interview workshops, connections with local employers, and access to a database of job openings. At Colorado Technical University, for example, the career services team provides one-on-one coaching for students to help them prepare for and identify internships with the flexibility to fit their lifestyles.

3. Do your research. Conduct an online search, including visiting sites like www.Monster.com and www.idealist.org, a national repository of internships and volunteer opportunities. Some sites let users set up email alerts for internships that match their interests. Internship-seekers can also surf the Web to find local companies that might be a good fit and determine if those organizations post internships on their websites or use social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn to share openings.

4. Differentiate yourself. While businesses may recognize that non-traditional student interns can bring more experience and maturity than their younger counterparts, others may also feel like they're overqualified. This means non-traditional learners need to neutralize any concerns and find ways to "sell" their skills and differentiate themselves. This means they need to clearly reiterate their desire to enter a new field, why they're seeking this change, and show how their skills and experience would be a great match for the specific position.

5. Network. In addition to online searches, there's no replacement for talking with people who can offer guidance and connections to experiential learning opportunities that fit your career goals. Career fairs, alumni and the local Chamber of Commerce are good connections. Inquire about the organization for which you may want to work, ask those in your chosen field about how you might prepare for a position, and make it known that you're seeking an internship or opportunity to get on-the-job experience. It's also important for non-traditional students to ensure they establish a personal network of family and friends to offer support while they balance internship responsibilities with their schoolwork. "Once you land an internship, you need to network within the organization to make the most of the opportunity," Klasen says. "Ask for feedback, volunteer to take on different projects, and demonstrate high performance because you never know who may be watching."


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