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May 5, 2011

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By Alex Braun

The school year’s almost out, and those of you who haven’t had much luck in your summer internship search might be hitting panic mode right about now.

Yep, I’ve been there. Although I missed the brunt of the recession, I sometimes had a nasty habit in college of leaving things until the last second — and didn’t always have that summer internship lined up.

Mall interior

Working at the mall isn't the end of the world, people. It's much, much better than an employment gap.

So what you do when it’s down to Plan B? If you’re still determined to build your resume over the summer, here are a few routes you can take:

Summer classes

Getting some summer credits at a local community college can free up your schedule during fall semester, when there’s generally less competition for internships and you might be able to snag a better one. This can be especially useful early in college, because core requirement classes are usually pretty similar from school to school and credit is more commonly transferable. But even if you’re not able to get credit for summer courses, they can be useful for developing a particular career-related skill or software competency.

Career-related project

Plenty of small businesses feel too overwhelmed by daily operations to worry about training an intern, but not many will turn down useful free work. Target some entrepreneurs in your area that are working in a field you’re interested in, and brainstorm a project you could work on that could be of value to their company. Then, draft a concise proposal for your project, prefaced by a brief introduction and a copy of your resume.

Don’t ask to be hired — yet. If the business you write to finds your work useful, there’s a good chance they’ll be even more impressed by your initiative than they would have been for a summer intern, because you were proactive and you did something useful without being sought out. That can absolutely lead to full-time employment or a great recommendation later on.

Summer job

Even if it’s not directly related to the career you want to pursue, a summer job looks a whole lot better than a gap on your resume. Many students make the mistake of thinking an unglamorous summer folding clothes at the mall or busing tables will hurt their long-term prospects. That’s rarely the case. In fact, some employers will see it as a sign you’re less likely to be a prima donna when the inevitable busywork arises. A good friend of mine worked alongside me at Best Buy after his freshman year at Yale, and he feels his managers’ recommendations from that summer helped him get an incredible internship the next summer at the U.S. Trade Representative.

Besides, you don’t need us to tell you it’s nice to get paid.

Volunteer work

Volunteer work doesn't just look good on a resume -- it can be great for networking with businesses.

Volunteer work

Summer is an excellent time for establishing character on your resume. Outdoor activities like Habitat for Humanity can be fun, and provide a great opportunity to make friends and network. Volunteer organizations generally have strong ties to businesses, and you never know who’s watching.

Even better than joining a volunteer organization? Found one yourself. Reach out to local media, and get your name in the press for a good reason.

Remember, plenty of people end up finding success when things don’t go the way they planned. If you haven’t found an internship for the summer, don’t look at it as a missed opportunity. Look at it as freedom to do all the things you couldn’t have done if you had to spend your summer in an office.

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