Serving up the perfect 'DIY' internship

Instead of searching for an internship that suits your needs, ever wonder what it would be like to do the opposite: actually create your dream internship and find someone or some company that needs it? Sound impossible? Well it's not.

I recently interviewed Donna Farrugia, executive director of the staffing agency The Creative Group, a division of Robert Half International. She told me a great story about her son Dan's internship experience. In 2009, Dan decided it would be fun to intern for his longtime friend and professional tennis player, Sam Querrey, so he pitched the idea. Sam loved it. Dan soon became Sam's right-hand man, handling a plethora of duties ranging from travel arrangements to distributing tickets to matches and even stringing racquets.

He accompanied and worked for Sam across the United Sates, traveled to Bangkok, met a wide array of people in the sporting business, and even received a sweet salary in the process, according to an article in Dan's alma mater Cornell's alumni magazine. Not only was the internship fun, but was an invaluable part of Dan's education and tool to achieve his goal of becoming a sports attorney.

You don't have to be friends with someone to approach them about an internship. A few years ago, a journalism graduate at Columbia College Chicago, where I work, approached a guest speaker from a class about an internship with his online media critique site, The Beachwood Reporter. The only compensation he sought: an occasional discussion with the site's founder/operator, Steve Rhodes, about his views on journalism. The experience proved valuable for both.
New York City-based author Tim W. Brown, whose fourth novel, "American Renaissance," is scheduled to be published in November 2010, thinks he'd benefit greatly from having an intern. Among the potential duties an intern might help with: Handle correspondence, phone calls, manuscript preparation -- including proofreading and photocopying -- research assistance on the Web, in libraries and in archives, and event assistance.

Seasoned Chicago-scene musician Jim Kamp wrote in an email that he could see bands finding a place for an intern doing ... everything. "Well, maybe not everything," he says, "just all the stuff the band isn't doing for themselves. Which could be everything: Adding content to web pages, updating e-mail lists, making/selling merch (t-shirts, stickers, novelty combs, etc.), flyering for shows...and," he adds jokingly, "writing songs, taking guitar lessons, etc., etc.''

"You wouldn't need to play music, otherwise I'd suggest to any intern they should be doing so, not wasting your time working for free,'' he says. "But I can't imagine someone attempting to do anything in the music business without being, first and foremost, a fan. If there's anything that's purely a labor of love, it's making music.''

"If you can schedule gigs, you would be worth your weight in gold to any band,'' Kamp says. "After writing music, setting up good gigs is the hardest part. If those gigs actually net money... well, all the better. More than that, innate hustle is the biggest thing anybody needs to succeed in a creative field.''

None of the duties described are irrelevant to other fields. In fact, just as Daniel Farrugia parlayed an internship with a tennis player into background and insight for a future career in sports law, an intern with someone like Brown or Kamp could turn their experiences into selling points with future employers.

Manuscript preparation, proofreading and research can be useful skills in many fields, such as law, education, journalism and other careers. Scheduling of gigs for bands can be a selling point in the advertising, marketing, public relations and sales fields.

The University of California at Berkeley's Career Center has put together a guide to developing one's own internship. It spells out details of what an internship technically is, along with the advantages of interning. But it also offers advice on preparing a proposal for an internship that doesn't yet exist. Gathering background information first on the organization or company to which you are applying, as the Career Center advises, is critical in developing a quality proposal.

If you're passionate about something, you've always got something to offer. Just because something you want to do doesn't currently exist, doesn't mean you can't create it. Why try to fit into an existing position when you can create a new one?

Jennifer Halperin is the internship coordinator at Columbia College Chicago, and Money College's Internship Insider. Her column runs every Wednesday; send suggestions for story ideas to Jennifer at
Read Full Story