Finding the right internship can be overwhelming.


And if you’re considering a career path that falls outside the norm… it can feel nearly impossible.


Most of us don’t want jobs that fit into the “butcher, baker, candlestick-maker” type of roles.  

If this is you… there’s a very good chance you know what you’re passionate about and interested in…but you don’t exactly know what kind of jobs are out there for you.


Plus, it might feel like it’s hard to find a typical internship because you’re forging your own path.


And heck, you might not be entirely sure the type of internship you want even exists.


Sound like you? Awesome.


Because the best opportunities are the ones you create for yourself.


Let’s face it.  An “internship” is a way for you to gain experience and to eventually show you have working knowledge in a particular field.


But what if you didn’t have to wait for someone else to give you that internship?  


What if you could start gaining that experience right now?  


You can.  You can do through a process we call, “designing your own internship.”


Here are three ways to do it:



Who can you learn from?


One of the best ways to create your own internship is to start by finding a mentor. This could be someone who is currently working in your dream industry or at your dream company, in any capacity.


We all know about the six degrees of Kevin Baconin your network there’s bound be somebody (or somebody who knows somebody) who can help you learn more about your industry. Consider your professors, advisors, family friends, neighbors, past employers, etc.


Once you have contact info for your would-be mentor, it’s time to be bold and ask for a meeting! Respect their time by keeping it short and sweet. Quickly introduce yourself and say something like,


“I’m fascinated by what you do (or what your organization does). Could we schedule a time to chat? I would love just 15 minutes to ask you a few questions.”


Make sure to use your school email address for this introduction. It’s your golden ticket! You’d be amazed how many high-level executives are willing to give their time to a student who shows genuine interest and curiosity.


Here are five insightful questions to ask during your meeting to impress your mentor:


  • How did you get into this line of work?

  • What do you enjoy about this business?

  • What surprised you about this business?

  • What do you wish you would have known at my age?

  • Who else should I be talking to?


Your goal with this initial conversation is to learn and build a relationship, NOT score an internship. The moment you ask for an internship or a job, your potential mentor will likely shut down and try to end the conversation. Keep the focus on them and show interest in their career and experience. People love to talk about themselves!


That’s why the last question is so priceless. It continues the process by connecting you to the next person to move you forward.


You’ll make great connections, learn lots about the industry, and hopefully find someone who eventually has a suitable internship or entry-level job for what you want to do.


A young man named J.T. used this strategy to get a foot in the door and learn more about his dream company, Fox Racing. Through a series of short phone calls, he started to build relationships within the company.  As he continued to build these relationships he eventually scored a job with Fox.  So trust me, this strategy WORKS!


Related: J.T. Fox | Scoring Your Dream Job



Who can you help?


You don’t have to wait for an official internship or classroom assignment to get started working in your field. There might just be opportunities to experiment in your dream industry right around you!


Start by looking for people who need the service that you want to provide. Then, offer your services for free.


When Lindsay Palmer was a student at Duquesne University, she wanted to get experience with event planning but couldn’t find a clear-cut internship. So she offered to help organizations on campus plan their events.


With each event she worked on, she further developed her skills. She learned what to do (and what not to do…which is equally important) by rolling up her sleeves and getting real-world experience.


Around graduation time, Lindsay applied for a competitive internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers. She was up against thousands of hopeful event planners for only three spots.


Lindsay went in with a portfolio filled with all the events she’d planned. When the interviewers asked where she interned to get all this experience, they were blown away when she told them she didn’t have an “official” internship — but that she chased these experiences herself because event planning was her passion.


Lindsay’s self-made “internship” earned her one of those coveted positions with the Steelers, one of the biggest brands in the world!


Read more about Lindsay’s story here. (Trust me, it’s a good one!  Plus, I eventually hired Lindsay to be our “Event Ninja” for the BIG Dream Gathering because she knows how to make things happen!)


Don’t underestimate the power of the experiences at your fingertips right now.  



What can you create?


Sometimes, you don’t need a mentor or even outside projects to grow.


You can make your own opportunity from the ground-up.


My sons both want to work in the film industry — one behind the camera and one in front of it. However, we live in Des Moines, Iowa. And I’m not great with geography, but I’m pretty sure that’s not Hollywood, right?


Suffice it to say, they’re not exactly filming a lot of major motion pictures here.


So, they decided to create their own film project.


Our younger son put out a call on Instagram, saying, “I want to take my filmmaking up a notch. Who do I know in the Des Moines area that wants to take on a new project with me? I’m going to need editors, shooters, sound people, and actors. Let me know if you’re interested!”


He had 35 people respond and they’ve been working on the project ever since.


Will their projects win an Academy Award? I don’t know.  But that’s not the point.


The crew is learning by doing — by creating their own project to develop their skills.


You’d be surprised how many companies are started through projects like this.


I interviewed Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush, who started her business with a coding book from Barnes and Noble…and Googling her way through any questions that threatened to hold her back.


Now, she’s the owner of a thriving company with 35+ employees that teaches coding to the world.


Related: Adda Birnir | She Taught Herself, Now She Teaches Thousands


No matter what industry you want to work in, no matter what your “dream job” might look like… what if you gave yourself permission to start?


Right now. Right where you are.


There are so many situations in our lives where we have to wait for someone to pick us (college admissions, sports teams, employers, etc.) But when it comes to your internship, you don’t have to wait until you’re picked.


You can forge your own opportunity!


The beauty of the build-your-own internship strategy is that it’s an experiment. It allows you to test the waters and learn what you like and what you don’t like — all while building your portfolio.


When you approach your internship that way, there’s no limit to what you’ll discover.


Let me know in the comments…

  • What industry do you want to create your own internship in?

  • And (to start taking action) — what’s an example of ONE good first step you can take to create your dream internship?


Would you love to see the Big Dream Gathering come to your college campus, where you can learn more strategies to build a life and career you love?

Send a faculty member to this page to learn more.

Mitch Matthews

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