The hunt for the perfect summer internship consumes many a college student between January and April of every year. Internships provide students the chance to explore (or weed out) possible career paths, wear fashion-forward business suits and pack real-world experience into the all-important résumé.

This year, however, the typical ambitious Georgetown student has likely been frustrated by the internship search. Coming up empty-handed has been a common experience across the board, and students should not be discouraged by a lack of positive responses.

The recession has changed the rules of the internship game. A struggling job market means that overqualified candidates, such as graduate school students and out-of-work professionals, are applying for internships that otherwise might have gone to undergraduate students. In addition, financial constraints have led many companies to cut down their internship programs. According to Forbes.com, the hiring of interns across the country fell 21 percent in 2009, and there are no signs that the situation has improved much in 2010.

As a result, undergraduate students are often forced to jump through hoops to land anything they can get. Last year, Virgin Mobile held a “Screw You, Recession” video contest to search for summer interns. One entry featured a recent college graduate from Canada singing, playing a guitar and dancing with her family – all in the name of nabbing a position at the lowest level of the company.

Many students who aren’t subjecting themselves to the world of YouTube are shelling out big bucks to get their foot in the door with desirable internship programs. Companies like the Los Angeles-based University of Dreams can charge anywhere from $3,500 to $8,000 to place students in internships and provide for meals and transportation.

So what is the moral of this disheartening story? Students who do not get their top-choice positions should not consider it a personal failure. Many undergraduates are in the same boat, and a summer without a stellar internship is not likely to derail a student’s résumé-building mission.

Instead, students ought to pursue different summer plans in lieu of an internship. Part-time jobs and volunteering are good ways to gain work experience and, more importantly, secure letters of recommendation. If your number of unsuccessful intern applications is in the double digits, consider returning to the life guarding or waitering spot you had in high school. While not as glamorous as a government or nonprofit internship, a job with a former employer might win you the chance to step into more of a leadership role.

In addition, students whose internship plans are foiled by the competitive recession market should be flexible with their school-year extracurricular activities. If you don’t get that summer marketing position, consider applying for a similar post with an on-campus group. If you’re interested in the nonprofit sector, make a name for yourself as a leader in a student fundraising group.

Students can also get creative with their résumé writing to emphasize experience gained on campus. Some résumé-writing guides suggest grouping internship and extracurricular positions together under the umbrella term “experience.” By not explicitly differentiating between on and off-campus work, students can focus potential employers on the skills they have learned in both arenas.

Having experience in a field is more important than where you get it. Fretting about internship roadblocks at a time when most students are also hurting will not improve your résumé. Rearranging your on and off-campus priorities, however, will help you maintain a competitive edge despite a dispiriting internship market.

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