(MoneyWatch) Did you want an internship this summer but didn't land one in time? Or perhaps you simply couldn't afford to work for free?
If you're an undergrad who is eager for professional experience, there are other ways to make yourself a better future job candidate besides a formal internship. Here are seven to try before September:
Bolster your online presence. Increasing your presence on the Web adds to your overall profile as a candidate. "If an employer can't find you online, you're a virtual non-entity. It's like you don't even exist!" says Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder, author of The New College Reality: Make College Work For Your Career. So spend time this summer revamping your Facebook page to be more professional and filling out your LinkedIn profile. Then, create your own content. "Begin to establish an online 'brand' for yourself by using social media, blogs, or a website," suggests Snyder.
Devise your own research project. If you're in an academic or medical field, getting research experience may be just as important as work experience. "Approach a professor, either at your school or the one closest to your home, to develop an appropriate topic to study in depth, and treat your independent research like a job," says Jessica Givens, author of "Get Your Summer Strategy On!" "With your professor as a mentor, write a paper and submit your findings to various publications." Givens says to add your paper to your resume -- even if it's "pending" publication.
Build your own business. If the opportunities aren't there, create one. "Look into ways that you can launch your own summer enterprise, no matter how small, to earn some money, develop some business skills, and build the work experience portion of your resume," Snyder says. Even if your business isn't a roaring success, you'll show potential employers that you're motivated and creative. Snyder recommends launching a business website to further develop your online presence.
Wait tables (really). This might seem counter-intuitive, but Tracy Brisson, founder of The Opportunities project, a consulting firm for younger employees, says that service jobs can show off skills that are transferable to most careers. "Personally, as a hiring manager, I love to hire people with previous experience as a server in the restaurant business. You learn how to think on your feet, work with difficult people, and focus on results," Brisson says.
Share your knowledge. Willing to mentor others? Consider tutoring. "If you did well in a class this semester, consider tutoring fellow students on the same subject or class. You can also contact local high schools and middle schools to tutor students who are interested in pursuing your major," says Robin D. Richards, CEO of TweetMyJobs and Internships.com. Not only will employers see that you're an expert in this subject, but you're also able to teach that information to others -- something that will translate well in an office situation.
Work for nothing but experience. Internships can be very competitive, and some companies don't want to deal with ensuring college credit. But volunteering your services -- without a formal internship offer -- can cut through some red tape. You may not get course credit, but you will gain experience. "Simply locate a desirable business or nonprofit and give them a call!," Snyder says. "Few organizations will turn down the offer of even a few hours of free labor. If you're lucky, you may also be able to secure some powerful letters of recommendation or even open the door to possible future employment."
Learn special skills. If you have free time this summer, learn things that might help you become a better candidate in your field, Richards says. For instance, if your field involves technology or new-media proficiency, you might take courses in HTML, Excel, or search engine optimization. If you're not sure what will help most, speak to someone you respect in your chosen industry or a professor at school before you sign up. Not sure what your future holds? Look for leadership training, says Richards: "There are many organizations, like Outward Bound, that offer courses in leadership and expeditions in team building."
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user University of Salford Press Office