Spring break is traditionally the time for beaches and comically large cocktails, but it precedes a more stressful seasonal occasion—the end of the year intern-rush, when students return to their hometowns looking for meaningful summer work. As companies continue to cope with budget constraints and entry-level workers stumble into a painfully slow-to-recover job market, employers not only see unpaid or low-paid internships as fiscally smart, they also understand that they can be picky.
So, this year, consider spending some of your time off tackling a few of the following intern strength-building activities. You’ll only have to give up a day or so of your break, but you’ll be rewarded with must-have skills that will increase your chances of landing an awesome internship at the end of the semester.
1. Switch Your Operating System
Sure, you’re tech savvy. Your parents call you twice a week to “fix” some catastrophe that’s befallen their ancient desktop. But if you started a new job and had to switch from a PC to a Mac (or vice versa), or, heaven forbid, navigate the nightmare that is Windows 8, would you be able to do it?
Interns usually don’t have the luxury of being able to select the machine they work with, and many companies prohibit employees from working on their personal laptops. In other words, you need to be able to perform well (and quickly) with any operating system that’s placed in front of you. This can be harder than it looks, since we become so entrenched in our daily processes. To make sure you’re up to speed, challenge yourself: Head to the library (or to Best Buy) and work with an OS that you’re not familiar with.
2. Take a Crash Course in Social Media Marketing and Customer Care Best Practices
Many companies will take for granted that, as a young person, you’ll be able to turn their brand into a viral phenomenon. Because you “know” Facebook and “get” Twitter, right?
But, as any community manager will tell you , social media marketing and customer care (responding to unhappy customers and engaging with satisfied ones) requires more than a few thousand Facebook friends. Spend some time learning how to leverage the platforms that you know and love to help brands build a following, enhance brand awareness, and keep their reputation sparkling through happy, vocal customers. You can find plenty of guidance online through companies like HubSpot, and The Thank You Economy is a quick spring break read.
3. But Learn How to Disconnect
Though learning to showcase a company’s expertise through social media is a smart skill to develop, it’s equally as important to learn how to survive a full day (or at least until lunch) without checking Facebook or Twitter. No matter how valuable those platforms can be for networking, keeping up with news, and keeping in touch with friends, if you’re scrolling through your news feed when your manager walks up to your desk, it sends the wrong signal . Try setting “social media hours” for yourself over spring break to develop a healthy habit.
4. Learn How to Use Wordpress (or a Similar Content Management System)
The beauty of Wordpress is that it allows novices to create aesthetically pleasing websites quickly. And while Wordpress and the designers that create themes for it have done a great job at making the system user-friendly, it does have a few idiosyncrasies that can be overcome with a little bit of messing around.
The best way to get to know the system is to just build a blog from scratch . Try different themes, play around with layouts and structures, upload some photos, and, even if you don’t plan on keeping an active blog, keep the site live as a sandbox. If you can show employers that you can independently build a blog for them or make changes to their existing blog or site, you’ll have a competitive edge.
5. Make Yourself a Local Business News Expert
It’s not difficult to browse through CNN’s headlines on the way to an interview and spout off a few relevant national business stories, but taking the time to learn about the local business landscape in the city you hope to intern in will show that you’re invested in that particular community. Spend some time reading the local newspapers and business journals and researching your prospective employers’ competitors. Read up on the recent local policy changes that affect businesses, and make yourself familiar with the city’s development plans.
You could even make a trip out of it—not quite “Spring Break 2014!” but a much less costly, and more valuable, vacation.
Photo of interns courtesy of Shutterstock .
Rikki Rogers is a writer and marketer working outside of our nation’s capitol. When she’s not stuck in traffic, she enjoys writing poetry and running after her son. Since earning her BA from University of Virginia and her MFA from University of Utah, she's served in marketing and communication positions at a number of tech companies in the DC area. You can read more about her obsession with language and culture at www.rikkiwrites.com.More from this Author