Guest Post: Creating the Perfect Internship by Justin Mathews

Justin MathewsI am super, super pleased to feature a post today by Justin Mathews who I met over a year ago through my college mentor at Syracuse University, and has worked with The Opportunities Project since January 2011. Justin has helped me take my little idea of changing people’s perspectives on careers and education to a real live profitable organization with national credibility. I can’t thank him enough for sticking by me through all the peaks and valleys of the last nine months and keeping us on track.

While Justin and I make a great team, I also support his career goal to work in the consulting industry and think any organization who convinces him to accept their offer will be a very lucky place. 


Many college students waste too much time looking for that perfect internship. They apply at big shot companies, become discouraged when they don’t get it or, if they do get in, are disappointed to find that most of their work involves answering phones, clipping news article, or shredding paper.

But what if you could construct the perfect internship from scratch? What if the entire experience was sculpted from the beginning to utilize your strengths while broadening your skill set with tools to help you succeed in a career?

It’s a very real possibility. In fact, that is exactly what happened to me during my virtual internship with The Opportunities Project last spring. I began in January when I was brought on as Market Research and Digital Strategy Assistant. Before discussing the details of my position, Tracy and I searched job descriptions for “my perfect job” and identified recurring skills an ideal candidate would possess. When we met to structure the internship, we incorporated learning these into my daily responsibilities.

Even with three and a half years of college under my belt, most of my duties required the use of tools that I had barely (if ever) learned to use. I had never touched Google Analytics or WordPress, I used social media exclusively to communicate with friends I saw on a daily basis, and I had all but forgotten the little HTML and CSS I learned in Intro to Web Design.

But I learned them quickly. I analyzed the site’s website traffic, created a custom landing page on Facebook, co-authored a white paper, managed cost per click advertising campaigns, and more.

That was the true beauty of my internship. At the time, I was one of two team members working for The Opportunities Project, which meant that the company’s potential successes and failures hinged very much on my ability to learn and apply these new skills. My work didn’t just impact a grade – it had a very real effect on the overall health of a small business.

I have since been hired by The Opportunities Project as a paid operations and marketing consultant, as well as a subcontractor on their latest recruitment consulting contract. While other recent grads may be scrambling for their first, income-generating, post-grad opportunity, I am getting paid to use all of the skills I learned through my internship, make a difference, and learn even more skills. I expect these skills to aid me as I continue to search for long-term career opportunities in consulting.

That said, here is my best advice for college students:

Reach out to small businesses:

There are tons of startups out there. In fact, with businesses becoming increasingly web-based, your opportunities for a virtual internship are endless (I’ve done all my work while at least five hours away). Many of these startups haven’t even considered the possibility of having an intern yet. Use this to your advantage. If you’re trustworthy and present a compelling argument as to how you can help, you might just create an internship on the spot. You can work with your supervisor to structure the experience to learn new skills and employ the ones you have.

If you are successful, you’ll be able to broaden your skill set and have the opportunity to make a positive and measurable impact on the business, both of which will make you extremely attractive to future employers.