I have worked in higher education off and on for several years and I have seen more and more young people entering college with aspirations of working in the action sports industry. They are pursuing highly competitive and coveted internships and working their tails off for little or no pay, just to get their foot in the door. The competition is fierce and many companies out there are looking for students who already have experience. The conundrum I always hear from students is, “I am getting an internship to gain experience but they want someone with experience. What should I do?”
This is often the case in most companies now as they want at least junior status and experience. Although this can be frustrating for many it is not the end of the world. The sooner you get involved the better. If its events work you are thinking about, start a contest at your local skate park, volunteer to work at an event that comes to your city or at your local mountain. You could also get involved with your school’s skateboard, snowboard or bike club as a student leader. In these positions you are not only networking but you are showcasing your organizational, fund raising/soliciting, and marketing skills amongst many others.
If it is sales you are interested in, try working at a snowboard/skate or bike shop or consider looking into ambassador programs with companies. Sometimes ambassador programs are reserved for b team riders/skaters but it doesn’t hurt to inquire about it. Knowledge about the product is key to any sales position and the ability to effectively communicate, present and persuade is crucial.
Aspiring writers may want to start a local zine, column in your school newspaper, website or blog. Showing that you are on top of the latest news and trends will really help you land that internship. Interviewing people in the industry is also another way to network. Most people love to talk about their work and would be psyched if they were to be interviewed for a website or even a school newspaper. Now you will have a contact! The key is you don’t want to abuse the contact. You may want to shoot them off an email a couple times per year just as a, “Hey how are you?” type of thing but don’t think you are going to be best friends and Facebook them every day. Remember to tread lightly.
These are just a few strategies to get you started but keep in mind there are a bunch of different areas within each company such as finance, accounting, law, human resources, sales, PR/marketing, quality control, customer service, management, engineering, IT, web programming and design. This way you already have experience coming into an internship and you can actually contribute to that company.
Most action/outdoor sports companies offer internships. Many of them are unpaid but offer an awesome experience. Usually internship opportunities are listed on their websites and require a resume/cover letter. For summer internships you want to start looking in January. Most companies will not get back to you until April or May but you want to get out there early to show that you are on top of things. For fall internships be prepared to start looking at the beginning of summer.
It is more beneficial for a company to hire an intern that has been working for them for a year or more and knows the ropes than to hire someone from outside. This way they can evaluate their investment before purchasing. The benefit for them is that they get to know you and your work ethic and abilities and don’t have the burden of paying you a salary or benefits. The benefit for you is that you are gaining valuable experience to put onto your resume and you can try out the company to see if that is where you really want to be.
Companies in the action sports industry are usually operating with minimal staff, budgets and time. Make it easy on them and bring something to the table from the get go. Think about what you can do for them. How would you contribute to their success? Yes, even as an intern you need to think about how you will be an asset to them. Companies often don’t have very much time to train you and will often throw you right into the middle of the ocean and ask you to swim to shore from day one.
Almost everyone I know in the industry networked and interned at a company before getting that job offer. Often times they were up against several other qualified interns vying for the same position. So stand out by taking initiative, being on time, and being professional. Take in absolutely everything you experience. Companies will see this and may offer you a job based upon your ability to work hard, contribute and be a team player. You WILL reap the rewards in the end.