Photo Credit: Bev Lloyd-Roberts/SXC

Photo Credit: Bev Lloyd-Roberts/SXC

Whether you aspire to become a journalist, entrepreneur, doctor, teacher or lawyer, internships give you an extra edge and a street-smart instinct that you can’t learn from reading a textbook. It goes without saying that having internship experience puts you ahead of those who don’t. Especially today, employers aren’t just looking for applicants with a college degree and a high GPA; they’re looking for someone who is well-rounded and already has the skills for the job. And if you thought looking for an internship or job was pointless in this economy, Caroline Ceniza-Levine, veteran recruiter and co-founder of a coaching firm for Generation Y workers, says you can look for a job using alternate ways. In a competitive world, sometimes a cover letter or e-mail in response to a job post just won’t cut it. You have to dig deep into your networks and find someone who is willing to help you out.

In an interview on BusinessWeek.com, Ceniza-Levine suggesed taking on a tutoring business or shadowing someone you admire if you can’t get a paid internship. She added, “Now is the time to expand your network. Go through your resume line by line. Think not just of family and professional contacts, but also connect with high school and college friends, people at community organizations, churches and sports clubs. This is time for a guerilla job search.”

And that’s just how Stephanie Castillo, a senior at Western Washington University, landed her internship as a Sports Clerk at The Bellingham Herald. Castillo dug into her network and found someone who helped her land an internship. “A journalism professor forwarded me the qualifications and prerequisites [for application],” she said.

So how exactly can you reach out and connect? With Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and various other tools, you can easily create a brand for yourself. Dan Schawbel, author of “Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success,” ranks his top 10 social networking tools for Generation Y, including: BrazenCareerist.com20somethings.ning.comMy.BarackObama.commyYearbook.comthequad.comcoolpeoplecare.comUnigo.comMakeMeSustainable.comiMantri.com and FDCareer.com. Through these networks, you might not be guaranteed a job or internship, but you can definitely find someone who will lead you to the right path and get your career started.

Another important social networking tool you can use is the blog. Blogs are easy to create, and what makes them fun is that you can be less formal and write about your passions. CEO of Social Media Delivered Eve Mayer Orsburn said, “Blogs are a really great way for anyone to get noticed. I would suggest those in finance, medicine, education…create blogs that they update at least twice monthly to show who they are and bring a true picture of their philosophies in their respective fields.” For instance, if you’re interested in getting into the health care field, you can blog about the latest medical studies and health care reform as well as why you want to work in the field.

But no matter what industry you’re trying to get into, creating a LinkedIn profile shows employers what your career interests are and whether your passions fall in line with their companies’ philosophies before any interviews. According Orsburn, 80 percent of companies polled said they will use the information on LinkedIn to make a hiring decision. Creating a profile also provides more opportunities to connect with people in your industry and offers a more appropriate way to contact an employer without coming from left field.

So how can you strike up a conversation without sounding too desperate? Orsburn recommends that you reach out to your prospective employers directly. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose. If you don’t hear back, don’t take it personally. On etiquette, Orsburn said, “Your target is probably busy and not keeping up well. Try again, but after three strikes, you’re out. The most important part of reaching out is to explain what you can do for them.” If you’re struggling with what to say to an employer because of your lack of work experience, show how your studies, a club project or any type of school experience has given you a strong work ethic.

Castillo has the right attitude: “I have had awesome opportunities because I wasn’t afraid to take chances and talk to professionals in the business world. If an individual is fortunate enough to attend college and build a network of people that can potentially open up doors for them in the future, then this is a great step to getting where they want to be in life.”