So You Think You Can Intern

Courtesy of Taylor Weik

Courtesy of Taylor Weik

As the end of winter quarter draws near and we have to start thinking about what to do next quarter, the dark cloud composed of “What am I going to do” and “How do I start preparing for after graduation” grows bigger and bigger. As if stressing over classes in the present isn’t enough, we also have to look for opportunities to secure our futures. And by opportunities, I’m talking about internships: that one small word with a huge impact.

That one internship you had spring quarter of sophomore year can be what distinguishes you from the other applicants you’re up against. And so we address the most obvious question: How does one obtain an internship?

Gustavo Arellano knows.

In addition to being an author of multiple novels and a lecturer at California State University, Fullerton, as of 2011 Arellano has been the residing editor of OC Weekly, Orange County’s alternative weekly newspaper that offers award-winning arts and entertainment coverage.

OC Weekly, like other newspapers and magazines in Orange County, has been known to offer many great opportunities for budding journalists and businessmen to learn more about publications and work under those who are already experienced. Although specific in scope, Arellano knows a few things that can apply to not just journalism majors, but to all college students who are looking to hone their crafts and provide something solid in their resumés.

While there are some businesses that provide internships for cheap labor (in case you don’t know, it’s very rare that you’ll find a paid internship, and if you do, congratulations), there are many that look at interns as potential employees. If you want an internship, it shouldn’t just be for credentials. Some places see this internship as training for the real thing, so choose wisely when applying.

OC Weekly is one of these publications that takes interns seriously. Although Arellano has never been an intern himself, over half of his current staff is comprised of former interns, some of which he hired.

“Who wasn’t an intern with us?” Arellano says as he takes a quick sweeping glance of the editors at their cubicles outside his office. “One of the things that makes us great is that we’ve always made a point of trying to hire from within. Because why else do we have interns? I don’t view it to exploit students; I think that’s proposterous. I want to let them know they have an opportunity to get a job here. Even in these hard economic times, there’s always work for talent.”

So of course with job prospects looming behind internships, securing one may be as competitive as securing a job in the “real world,” especially seeing that hiring businesses only want the best of the best; the students who are willing to work hard and who want to be there.

“Usually when I talk to students and interview them over the phone, I throw all kinds of questions because I want to jar them on purpose,” Arellano says of his “weeding out” techniques.

“I don’t look for weak-willed people; I don’t look for people who think this is going to be a walk in the park. From there I can see what kind of an intern they’ll be: are you going to be the intern who sits back on their ass and does nothing? Okay, then we’re not going to pay attention to you; you wasted your time here and you wasted our time here. You’re taking up someone’s spot. That’s why the internship process is so rigorous.”

So before you need outstanding internship credentials to get a job, you need outstanding credentials to get an internship. This usually comes in the form of a cover letter and resumé that most employers require. But Arellano, as an employer, doesn’t just want to see a listing of your past work experiences; he wants you to relate them to your skills.

“All that resumés tell me is what you’ve done; they don’t tell me who you are and what your talents are. Cover letters are cool because that’s where you should tell me who you really are and what you’re really like.”

And it’s one thing to make your resumé impressive and your cover letter personable, but if you don’t know a thing about the business you’re applying to, you might as well kiss that opportunity goodbye and watch it go to that one girl who worships the business and has been following it since she was 13.

“Biggest mistake I’ve seen students make? When I find out they don’t read the paper,” Gustavo says. “Sometimes I give students pop quizzes over the phone and I’ll know. You should know everything about the place you want to intern at.”

If you don’t end up getting the internship of your dreams, it’s not the end. Like all things in life, persistence is what matters.

“If you don’t get it, try again. I had a student apply here for an internship and he made it into the finals, but I went with another guy. I told him, ‘You know what? I think you’re awesome, smart and I want you to be an
intern for us, but I can’t give it to you right now. If you’re as big a fan as you say you are, you’ll get it,’” Gustavo said.

“True to his word, he applied the next time around and got the internship. Since then he’s made a name for himself, freelanced for us and if he wasn’t in New York right now I’d offer him a full-time job here. If you really want to be an intern, not getting it the first time won’t stop you from trying to get it the second time. Persistence, persistence, persistence.”