Student-centric advice and objective recommendations
How to Get an Internship Guide
These days, simply having a degree is not enough to land a great job after graduation. As more and more people attend college, standing out from the crowd can become harder and harder. Students may thus feel pressured to get an internship or work experience before graduation. Doing so will increase their chances of getting a high-paying job out of college. As with many things, though, this is harder said than done.
Luckily for you, we’ve come up with a comprehensive guide on everything you should do in order to secure an internship. Keep on reading to find out how!
What is an internship (and why should I get one)?
Before we get into how you can get that perfect internship, it’s good to know what an internship is (and why you should get one!). Essentially, an internship is a period of work experience companies or organizations offer for a limited period of time (usually 10-12 weeks). They are available in all fields. Ideally, students should try to find internships within a field or industry of interest.
So, we now know what an internship is, but why should you find one? Well, there are many benefits to getting an internship. Just some of these include:
- Gaining work experience
- Learning relevant skills
- Building your resume
- Finding out what you’re really interested in (vs. what you’re not)
- Teaching you what to expect when you get your first real job
- Opportunity for full-time position
Sounds good, right? To find out more about why internships are important, we recommend checking out Why are internships important? Everything you need to know.
How to secure an internship: 6 easy steps
Finding an internship can be difficult, especially if it’s your first time doing so. On the bright side, though, we’re here to help! We’ve created a simple 5-step guide on how to secure an internship, complete with advice, resources, and other things to consider. So, keep on reading to get started!
1. Start early
Exactly how early into the school year should students start looking for internships?
Well, it ultimately depends on when you want your internship to start. It’s best practice to start looking for internships at least 3 to 4 months before your desired start date. For example, if you’re looking to have an internship over the summer, you may want to begin looking for internships in the Fall or Winter of the previous year. To sum it up, the earlier the better!
Sometimes, you get so caught up with classes and extracurricular activities that you forget to search for internships. Remember, waiting too long can mean that all the available internships in your field are already taken (or the deadlines have already passed). Starting early increases your chances of getting an internship. In addition, you will have more time to prepare any application materials you’ll need to submit!
And, as for how early into your college career you should start searching for internships, there’s no set guideline. However, many students complete internships in their junior and senior years of college (or the summer before these years). However, starting early never hurts!
2. Consider your experiences and interests
Before you jump into your internship search, take some time to think about your interests (and other factors that play into getting an internship).
Ultimately, getting an internship that doesn’t match your interests or career goals isn’t super helpful, and may make you feel like you’re wasting your time. Similarly, applying to internships that you’re either over or under-qualified for may take time away from working on other internship applications. So, before you head to that internship finder, ask yourself these questions:
What’s your major?
Finding out what internships and experiences are common for those within your major (or your desired field) will help you get ideas for what type of internships to apply for.
What interests you?
Considering that you’ll likely be working at your internship for many hours a week, it’s best that you actually have an interest in what you’re doing! Otherwise, the position may feel quite boring, or leave you feeling unfulfilled. So, be sure to write down a few fields you’d be happy to work in and look for internships in those industries.
What skills or experiences do you have?
Think about previous jobs, internships, or even volunteer positions you’ve held. What have you learned from them, and what have they taught you? Similarly, what skills have you acquired in your classes that could be of help at an internship? Take note of all these and consider what types of roles these experiences have prepared you for. From there, look for jobs which seem like a good fit for you based on your previous positions (and acquired skills!).
Last, but certainly not least, remember to be open-minded while searching for internship opportunities. While it may be enticing to only look for internships at larger, more-established companies like Google or Facebook, there’s plenty of small companies and organizations out there that are looking for interns! These are often somewhat easier to get, considering that they receive fewer applications than large businesses. These companies may be more willing to take interns with little to no prior experience. So, don’t be afraid of starting small! Working your way up from smaller companies will show larger ones that you have experience and know the field, possibly increasing their chances of hiring you down the road.
3. Know where to look
Now that you have an idea of the types of internships you want to look for, it’s time to start your search! Here are some of the top places that we recommend you begin:
Your college’s career resources
Your university’s career resources are always a great place to start looking for internships (in fact, this is how I found all of mine). While most (if not all) universities hold career fairs over the course of the school year, many also have a career site where employers can post job and internship listings available to students. These run all-year-long and are an invaluable resource for college students looking for internships. You can typically apply directly on such sites, attaching your resume and cover letter as requested.
Finding internships doesn’t always have to be difficult. Sometimes, internships are available right on-campus! Ultimately, if you meet the right people at the right time, it may lead you to an internship opportunity. To find one on campus, it may take a little work though. Consider asking your professors, peers, or anyone else you know if they know of anyone looking to hire an intern. If interested in research assistant positions for one of your professors, ask them directly if they have any open positions.
If your school doesn’t seem to be offering quite the type of internship you’re looking for, no worries! Your university is just one of many places that students can look for internships. So, if there’s a particular company or organization you’re interested in working for, it may be worth a shot to directly ask if you can intern there. Just remember to have a good explanation as to why you should be able to do so!
How should you ask though, and what should it look like? Well, a good choice would be to ask in the form of an email. This way, you can tell the company why you like them (or what they do), and why you’re interested in working for them specifically, without stumbling over your words. Here’s an example of what this may look like:
“Dear name of contact person at company,
I am your name, a grade level in college majoring in major and looking to [delve into your career plans a little bit here – given that they’re related to what the company does]. Given my interest in [topic related to what the company does], I really admire the work you’re doing to [something specific that the company does]. It has inspired me heavily, leading me to [in what way has it changed you or your career plans].
This upcoming summer, I’m looking to gain professional experience outside the classroom. Since your company excels in [industry that the company works in], I was wondering if I could potentially spend some time in the office to learn about how/what [something the company does].
If possible, I could even help with the following:
- Whatever tasks you think that you could help with
And, so that you know you can have a little faith in me, here are some things that make me qualified to help you:
- List something relevant and/or impressive that you’ve done or learned
Once again, thank you for inspiring me in my journey to [your career goals], and I hope to talk with you soon.
And that’s it! Before we move onto the next tip, we should reiterate that this approach does not always work. Some companies don’t have positions open, or simply aren’t interested in hiring an intern. Some are, though, so it’s worth a shot!
Internship finders or job sites
Another option for finding internships is online, from internship or job sites. You’ve probably heard of some of these before, like Indeed.com, for example. While these aren’t the most reliable forms of finding internships, they’re okay for a last-ditch effort to find something before the summer starts (however, we recommend you don’t wait that long in the first place).
For now, though, here are just a few of the internship finder and job sites:
- Your university’s internship or job website!
There are many ways that one can find an internship – and some are closer to home than you think. It never hurts to reach out to friends, colleagues, peers, family, professors, or other mentors to see if they know of anyone who’s hiring. Alternatively, reach out to employees at the companies you’re interested in working at for an informational interview – they may provide valuable advice or even know of an internship opportunity available for you!
4. Prepare the necessary materials
You now know where you can look for internships, but how should you prepare for their applications? Well, luckily the process is quite standard, with applications typically requiring the same few things. In particular, résumés, cover letters, portfolios, references, and writing samples are items often requested from internship applicants. While all these will certainly not be required by every internship, some may require most, if not all, of them. So, here’s how to perfect each one before you apply!
If you plan to apply to internships (or jobs in general), expect to submit your resume. The vast majority (if not all) of employers want to know about their applicants’ previous experiences and skills. All of this information is typically listed and detailed in one’s resume. The resume contains applicants’ names, contact information, email, education, and other professional experience.
To make sure your resume is in tip-top shape before you apply, use these tips:
- Utilize the STAR format (situation, task, action, result) when listing work experiences
- Make sure to list your major accomplishments in addition to your daily tasks
- Include important extracurriculars honors, and awards
- Highlight your skills and responsibilities that relate to the positions you’re applying for
- Quantify your work whenever possible (e.g., instead of saying you’ve helped many customers, give a specific number range [e.g., “500+ customers])
- Make it short, sweet, and easy-to-read!
Cover letters are somewhat similar to resumes, in that you’re going over your professional history and experiences. However, they differ from resumes in that they focus on the specific position that you apply for. Basically, you’ll have to make a new cover for each job that requires one. For this reason, cover letters should only detail your work experiences and skills that are most relevant to the position it’s for.
Here are some tips we have for writing cover letters:
- Greet the reader and be sure to introduce yourself
- Do some research into the organization beforehand – and incorporate a few things you’ve learned about it in your letter. This will illustrate your passion and interest in the company or organization
- Detail how your previous experiences have prepared you for this position
- Explain why you would be a good fit at the company and what you can bring to the table
- Customize the letter for each job you apply to!
That’s all the tips we have for now. However, for a more detailed overview on how to write a cover letter (and a sample cover letter too!), be sure to check out How to write a cover letter for an internship!
Some companies or organizations will request references from applicants, typically in the form of a person’s name and contact info. If a company does this, they may call or email your reference to get their feedback on how it was to work with you. So, when giving references, it is of utmost importance to give the contact info of those people who thought you were a good worker, and who believed that you carried out all your duties and responsibilities well. And, if the reference works in a field that is similar or relevant to that of the position you’re applying for, even better! We highly recommend asking your reference ahead of time if it’s ok to list them as a reference. This way, they will be prepared (and not surprised) if they receive a call on your behalf.
Online portfolios are requested far more often for those applying to creative fields, such as graphic design, web development, or even writing. Portfolios are essentially collections of your work, typically organized in a way that is easy-to-follow and aesthetically pleasing. Online portfolios work well on websites like Squarespace or Wix.
Here are just a few tips we have for creating (online) portfolios:
- Include and highlight the projects that relate the most to the position you’re applying for/the work you’d be doing if hired
- Describe the impact of the projects you include
- Make sure it’s easy-to-follow, and ideally, aesthetically pleasing
- Update it often
And last, but certainly not least, are writing samples. These are somewhat similar to portfolios in that you need to provide examples of your previous work. They differ, however, in that they only want to see examples of your writing and do not require you to make an entire portfolio to showcase them. If an organization requests that you send them writing samples, make sure to first check if they require any sort of specific writing samples (e.g., blog posts, persuasive essays/articles, stories, etc.). Once you know what they want, look through your previous writing to find examples that you think are (1) a good and accurate description of your writing style, (2) somewhat relevant to the position you’re applying for, and (3) the type of writing example that they’re asking for. It’s fine to look these over and polish them a little before sending them in, but make sure that they still sound like you!
Once you’ve prepared your application materials to their best of your abilities, send in those applications! While it might take a few tries, if you keep trying, you’re sure to hear back from an organization looking to set up an interview with you.
5. Prep for your interview(s)!
Interviewing is arguably the hardest part of applying to any position, so it’s best to prepare before you go into them. This way, you’ll be able to feel confident in yourself and give your best case as to why the company should hire you.
So, without further ado, here are some ways you can prepare for your internship interviews:
Do some research
As with most anything, doing research beforehand is important! When this comes to an interview, though, it means a few things. First, you should get to know the basics of the company you’re applying for (e.g., what products/services do they offer, what have they done recently (think accomplishment-wise), who are their competitors, etc.). This way, you can mention some of this information in your interview, and employers will get the impression that you’re both passionate and knowledgeable about their company.
Further, you can use the information you’ve learnt about the company to come up with a few questions of your own. Asking these during or at the end of the interview will make you seem truly interested in what they’re doing, and like you want to be a part of the team.
Perhaps most importantly, doing research also means looking up common interview questions for the type of role you’re applying for. Taking your time to think of answers for these questions will help immensely during your interview, so that you seem well-prepared and confident (and not rushed!).
Do a practice interview
Once you have an idea of the type of questions that may be asked during your interview, it’s time to practice! Whether this means sitting down with your friends, parents, or even a mentor and reciting your answers aloud, doing so will help you remember them and seem calmer and more confident during the interview.
Dress for success
Dressing well is important, but especially so when it comes to interviewing. If you’re internship you’re applying for is an office-type job, dressing in “business professional” attire is the norm for interviews. This, however, may not be the case for every internship – so we highly recommend that you look up the type of attire typical for the setting you’d be working in (if you get the internship). This will help you neither overdress nor underdress when you come in for the interview. If you can’t seem to find what to wear, though, being overdressed is generally better than being underdressed.
P.S.: Some universities allow low-income students to rent out business clothes for interviews, or other career-related needs (like this program from the University of Wisconsin). So, if you don’t have the clothing you’ll need for your interview, try checking out whether your school has a program of this sort!
Be specific, and be yourself
Besides being confident, students should also remember to be themselves in their interviews. While this may seem like stereotypical or cliché advice, it’s especially true for interviews. If you give false answers during your interview or simply tell interviewers what you think they “want to hear,” you may end up in a position that doesn’t quite fit well with you or your interests.
Students should also be specific while interviewing. So, instead of giving vague answers or general statements, try to back up most of what you say with personal examples or anecdotes from your own life. For example, if an interviewer asks what your best qualities are, don’t just give them a list of adjectives. Instead, elaborate on why you chose those qualities with personal examples or events from your own life which showcase such qualities.
Send a thank you note
After your interviews, we highly recommend sending your interviewer(s) thank-you note(s). Typically, these simply express that you’re grateful for the opportunity to talk with them. Maybe you can add that you enjoyed chatting and hope to work with them in the future. This shows that you’re both thoughtful and diligent, qualities that matter a lot to employers.
Generally, thank-you notes should:
- Be sent within a day (24 hours) of your interview
- Mention that you enjoyed your discussion and something interesting that you learned about the company
- Express interest to work with them/the company in the future
- Let them know that they can reach out to you for anything else they may need
5. Accept the offer
Once those thank-you notes have been written and sent out to anyone who interviewed you, you’ll hopefully be able to hear back soon with an offer! If you do receive an offer, it will likely be in the form of an official offer letter – which should then be signed and returned to the company (if you wish to accept the offer). If you accept, feel free to ask if there’s any way to prepare for the internship before your official start date. This will help you start off on the right foot and make a good first impression.
With that, we’re done. Congratulations, and we wish you the best in your new position!
Frequently Asked Questions
Are internships worth it?
Yes (especially if they’re paid)! Internships provide students with valuable skills and work experience. If students are lucky, they might have a guarantee of a full-time position once graduated. Building relationships with your internship mentors and coworkers can also be helpful. Mentors provide you with advice and letters of recommendation down the road. If possible, it’s best to pursue internships within the field or industry you wish to work in. Having relevant experience is something that employers often look for in new employees.
How long is an internship?
While the duration of internships definitely varies, they typically last between 10 and 12 weeks (around the length of an academic semester). While many students pursue internships during the school year, some students seek summer internships. Doing internships in the summer allows students more time to focus on their internship duties without the worries of school work or other obligations getting in the way.