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The Question:

I am an international student in Calgary, taking a Masters in petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary. I have 18 months cumulative work experience from outside of Canada.

I want to get an internship so that I can also get relevant work experience in the industry that will allow me be considered for a full-time job, but I haven't been able to get any response concerning the applications I have sent. What do you suggest I do?

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The Answer:

Getting an internship is not different than looking for a regular job – you need to be proactive.

Many internship seekers send application after application, only to find that very few of them actually result in an interview. What you should be doing – in addition to sending out an application – is making direct contact with people whom you want to intern with, and market yourself directly to them.

A good first step is to visit the career centre at your faculty and find out from an adviser what internships are available, or which companies tend to consider interns. Tell the adviser what kind of work you are interested in exploring and the types of companies you would be interested in finding out about. See if they have any contacts or additional information for you, such as names of graduates from the program who are perhaps also involved in the university alumni groups. Use this information to your advantage.

Contact the companies or people you wish to intern for. Use your current network or go through LinkedIn to get contact information. Make a list of people to call, and then start calling. Introduce yourself and say you are Masters' student in petroleum engineering and you are interested in gaining some valuable information about their company and department. Mention that you are seeking an internship and would like an opportunity to introduce yourself. Ask if that person could meet with you for 20 minutes.

If you have provided an application for an internship, follow it up with a phone call and be direct – ask for an interview. Most people apply and wait and see what happens. It does not hurt to call the person, introduce yourself and talk about your interest in the company. Tell that person how your skills and previous experience would benefit them.

Although your aim is to secure full-time employment with a company that you intern for, that may not always be possible. One thing at a time – get the experience with the internship opportunity. Prove yourself to the company, but also gain the confidence that even if it does not result in a full-time job, you have that much more experience to market to a future employer.

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Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for McRae Inc. in Calgary.

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