HOW DID SHE HAVE THE TIME?
While Zhou says it was hard to balance her internships with school and other activities, and that sometimes she would have to prioritize work over perfect grades, she points out that many of her internships were part-time.
“All the internships I did during the school year were part-time, and I use that phrase loosely. They were extremely part-time,” she says. “The companies were very flexible with my schedule, and I don’t think I would have been able to work with them otherwise. Sometimes I would have to say, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t complete this assignment on time because I have an exam at school.’”
The key, she says, was being up front from the beginning. She would tell potential employers about her program, and about how she might have to work remotely.
There were, of course, drawbacks to doing so many internships. For one, it’s easy to get boxed into specific industries, even as a college student, Zhou says. “Whether it’s in publications or consumer packaged goods, or marketing and sales, I feel like doing internships in one field locks you into that specific industry when you’re apply for new jobs,” she says. “So when I started applying for roles in project management, I was rejected a lot, because it didn’t look like I would be a good fit.”
In fact, despite completing 11 internships, she experienced rejection quite a bit over four years. “Most of the opportunities I had, I found just by being proactive,” she says. “Available jobs aren’t always listed, and sometimes you have to create opportunities for yourself. Sometimes, that involves messaging people on LinkedIn, or suggesting roles that you could do for a company, and asking if they think there’s a spot for you. The more you put yourself out there, the more likely you are to hear back from someone.”
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR RESOURCES
For current college students, she recommends building your network with college faculty and the career center. “All of my major summer internships, I found through USC campus recruiting,” she says. “And many of my European classmates found great internships through the Bocconi career center or Hong Kong University’s career center.”
Zhou received a full-time job offer from Microsoft in Hong Kong, but ultimately decided not to accept the role, and to stay in the U.S. for a while. She’s looking for a new position at the moment — and also enjoying being a recent grad.
Looking back, she says that despite being busy and having to convince internship recruiters that she was capable of jumping from one type of role to another, she thinks doing so many internships was a good idea, and that it was worth it to spend her college years exploring different fields.
“To be honest, I never really counted them until recently, and when I did I thought, ‘Wow, I could have done a lot less,’” she says. “But I think it was really helpful. I don’t regret any of the internships I’ve done. Even if I didn’t like them, they helped me understand what I want to do later in life.”