Alice Williams recently graduated with an MA in Communication Studies from San Francisco State University. You can read her musings on health and fitness over at her blog.
While my decision to go to graduate school stemmed from the desire to learn more, I’d be lying if I said that the U.S. recession didn’t factor into that choice. The economy was starting to look better when I entered graduate school in 2013, but it still hadn’t completely recovered. Completing a Master of Arts degree in Communication Studies at San Francisco State University afforded me the opportunity to prolong my education while simultaneously waiting for the economy — and my chances of getting a good job post-grad school — to improve. It was a win-win in my opinion!
As an international student, being able to do an internship in the US is possible but the process is difficult. While I completed my bachelor's degree in the UK, I spent a year abroad in UC Santa Cruz and was able to procure an internship during my time there. Because I had experienced first-hand how hard it was to intern as an international student, I decided to forgo an internship during my time as a master's student. This was a hard decision to make at the time because of my desire to pursue a job in industry, as opposed to continuing with a Ph.D. and choosing to stay in academia. An industry job related to Communication Studies, such as public relations or marketing, typically requires professional experience which can easily be obtained through an internship.
In retrospect, securing a job may have been easier with an internship. But despite not having that experience, I was able to find a job relatively quickly by leveraging my other strengths and expertise. If you won’t be able to take on an internship while you’re in school, here are a few tried-and-true tips — as well as some advice I would’ve given to my younger self — to make yourself an attractive hire.
1. Write your dissertation, take comprehensive exams, or work on a final project that is catered toward a specific niche in the industry you want to enter.
This is especially important if you have your sights set on a competitive or heavily research-based industry. I decided to complete three comprehensive exams in lieu of a final project or dissertation, and although I wasn’t in full control of what I was able to write about, I catered my answers around theories derived from corporate and organizational communication. This helped prove my skill in both of these fields, and showed that I could apply theories to real-life situations. I leveraged this ability during my job interviews to gain a job in the public relations industry.
If you opt to do a final project or dissertation, consider how your topic will set you apart from other candidates and prove your capabilities.
2. Market your skills and experience through a blog.
As a scholar of Communication Studies, I learned the fundamentals of marketing and media — principles which served me well during both grad school and my post-grad job search. I used those foundations to create a blog that showed my passion for health and fitness, and it ended up providing some practical skills that were transferable to the workplace.
A blog can be a powerful self-serving tool. As a graduate student, it serves as a way to demonstrate your ability to identify where your work fits in your field of study, as well as highlighting field trends and insights. It will allow you to build your personal brand, create connections, sharpen your writing skills, develop an understanding of SEO (search engine optimization) and affiliate marketing, and grow your social media skills — plus it makes you more interesting.
3. Engage in industry-specific Twitter chats.
The premise of a Twitter chat is surprisingly simple: a group of Twitter users virtually meets at a specific time and day to discuss a topic — all while using a hashtag to help participants keep track of the conversation. You’d be surprised at the seemingly endless number of industry-specific Twitter chats that occur every week; from business to magic, you’re bound to discover one that appeals.
Finding Twitter chats to join is as simple as conducting a Google search — plenty of sites keep extensive and easily accessible lists.
Once you’ve found an appropriate Twitter chat, be sure to chime in only when you have beneficial advice; while it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a Twitter chat and the need to stand out, offering generic comments and answers will do you no good.
4. Go to conferences and industry events — network!
This is something I wish I had taken advantage of more, especially when I lived in the networking hub that is San Francisco. Websites such as Meetup and Eventbrite make it easy to find relevant events, and while it can be intimidating at first, attending these conventions is a good way to sharpen your verbal communication skills and connect with like-minded individuals in your industry. You never know who you may meet or how they may play a role in your future career.
The same goes with conferences, both academic and professional. If your aspiration is to become a professor or pursue research, these gatherings can be great venues to show off your research and get in touch with professors and key industry contacts.
5. Get a part-time student job.
For reasons unknown to me, acquiring part-time work on campus as an international student was easier than securing an internship. And while a student job may not translate immediately into a position in your favored industry, you’d be surprised at the skills you can pick up to help bolster your résumé.
This is something I did — though I was not in a position directly related to communications, there were various aspects of my job that allowed me to emphasize my worth as an effective communicator through liaising with different departments and dealing with vendors.
6. Get involved in student organizations.
My final tip is one I highly encourage you to put into action while you still can: get involved with a student organization. It’s important to bear in mind that engaging in a variety of communities on campus will strengthen “career viability” in the future if you choose to pursue a job in industry. Participating in a student organization is a fantastic way to show your leadership capabilities, learn to work effectively with a team, and build skills which you can add to your résumé. Joining a graduate student organization, in particular, is a valuable way to network with others to learn about their research and connect with like-minded individuals. You never know who may end up aiding your job search by referring you.
While it may seem like the end of the world if you aren’t able to secure an internship, know that hope is not lost — leveraging these tips and finding out-of-the-box ways to highlight your experience can help you stand out in your industry.
Do you have any additional tips on finding work without an internship? Please feel free to let me know in the comments!
[Image from Unsplash, used under Creative Commons license]