How to Get an Internship

Jennifer King Logan

Written By: Jennifer King Logan

Published: 8/17/2022

From small nonprofits with 15 staffers to massive multinational corporations employing thousands, organizations of all types and sizes welcome college students into their internship programs. These learning opportunities offer significant advantages to the interns who land them, especially for those students who haven't yet experienced professional work in a meaningful way. Not only do students develop technical know-how and soft skills, they gain authentic work experience to add to their resumes. Quite often, internships can lead to employment after graduation and start you on your career path, so knowing how to get an internship in college can give you a competitive edge.

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Internships can take many forms. Full-time summer internships are quite common, and many students also participate in semester-long internships that may be part-time or full-time. Some require interns to work on location, while others may be remote or a hybrid combination of the two. Before you jump into searching for your next internship, you may want to take a few preparatory steps.

Define What You Want From Your Internship Experience

With thousands of internship opportunities out there, you couldn't possibly apply to them all. To help refine your list of options, consider these factors:

Personal Goals: Is your goal to simply gain hands-on work experience, or do you want to develop a particular set of skills? Are you open to a variety of work environments, or are you trying to establish whether you're a good fit for a particular occupation or industry? The more you can define your goals, the more you can narrow your search.

School Requirements: Is this internship required for your degree, and if so, will the internship opportunity fulfill your school's requirements? For example, schools often specify that a student must complete a certain number of internship hours over the course of the semester or summer to qualify for academic credit.

Compensation: Do you need or expect to be paid for your internship hours? Approximately 40% of internships are unpaid opportunities. Unpaid internships are usually found in smaller nonprofit organizations and government agencies, while paid internships are typically available through for-profit organizations.

Location: How flexible can you be with your living arrangements? Do you need the internship to be located close to your home, or are you willing to relocate temporarily to serve the internship? Or would you prefer a remote work situation? Location may play a significant role in selecting opportunities.

Length and Time Commitment: Does the length of the internship fit with your plans? Will you be able to complete the required number of hours each week and still have enough time for other commitments, especially classes and homework?

Prestige: Is it important to you to intern with a high-profile organization? For example, if you hope to go to work for one of the major accounting firms after graduation, do you think you'd benefit from an internship at one of these firms?

Where to Find Internship Opportunities

Despite the fact that there are thousands of internships available, competition for the best positions is fierce. You'll want to identify and pursue all of the opportunities that make sense for you. Here are four different ways to hunt for internship listings.

1

Take advantage of your school's career development center. The career services counselors there are specially trained to help you search for job postings through online tools like Handshake, plus they can assist you with developing a stand-out resume and practicing your interviewing skills. Some colleges even host career fairs where you can learn about internship opportunities, often at local or regional employers.

2

Ask for help from friends, family members, and other contacts, such as current and former teachers and coaches. By putting the word out that you're looking for a specific type of internship opportunity, your network of supporters may be able to help you find the perfect job.

3

Search online job sites. Most of these online services include filters that you can set to clarify that you're looking for an internship. You can also specify the job type, industry, and location to help the search engine find appropriate listings for your needs.

4

Contact your desired employer directly.Often referred to as "cold emailing" or "cold networking," you can apply for an internship via email by contacting the HR manager or some other hiring manager of the company — or companies — you'd most like to intern with, even if you don't have a personal connection with them. Surprisingly, this method may work better than "warm networking" through your personal contacts. A 2020 study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that students who engaged in cold networking were twice as likely to land an internship.

Steps to Complete Before You Apply

While you're searching for possible internships to apply for, take some time to gather a few other items you may need besides a resume and cover letter. Some of the items prospective employers may ask for include:

  • One to three references or letters of recommendation from adults who know you, such as former teachers, coaches, supervisors, advisors, or mentors
  • Copies of transcripts from your college
  • A link to your LinkedIn profile
  • An online portfolio of work, which can be added to your LinkedIn profile or built into a personal website on a platform like Wix or Squarespace

How to Apply for an Internship

Once you've identified the job postings that meet your interests and needs, there are several ways to go about submitting an application. You can write a letter to apply for an internship, send an email, or submit an electronic application. Regardless, you'll need to provide a cover letter and resume that grab the recruiter's attention.

How to Write a Resume When You Have No Experience

If you're like most college students, you have relatively little relevant experience to put on your resume. Nevertheless, you can still develop a powerful resume that communicates the skills and experience you have developed so far.

Some ideas for writing an attention-getting resume include:

  • Follow current guidelines for formatting a resume.
  • Organize your resume with distinct sections for education, work experience (including part-time jobs you may have held in high school and college), and other experiences, such as team sports and volunteer work.
  • Within each section, look for opportunities to describe specific skills and abilities that relate to the position you're seeking. For example, if you're applying for a web development internship, you could briefly describe relevant class projects. If you're applying for a sales position, highlight the customer service experience you gained from working as a barista.
  • Whenever possible, quantify your achievements. For example, if you volunteered for an organization and grew its social media following, specify these growth numbers.
  • Review your resume for accuracy before you submit it.

How To Write A Cover Letter

Your internship application letter is extremely important. Since you may be lacking relevant work experience, this is your chance to explain how the skills and experience you possess relate to the position. Remember that your cover letter is your best opportunity to demonstrate why you think you'd be a valuable asset to the organization, not why the internship would be beneficial for you.

Here are a few additional tips on writing a winning internship cover letter:

  • Follow current guidelines on formatting a cover letter.
  • If the name of the HR manager, hiring manager, or recruiter isn't included, try to obtain it through some online detective work on the organization's website or LinkedIn.
  • Although you can develop a general cover letter template for yourself, make sure you customize each letter to align with the job description in the posting. Reference the specific job duties, tasks, skills, and personal characteristics included in the internship listing.
  • Maintain a professional tone yet still convey your enthusiasm for the role.
  • Limit yourself to one page or less. Recruiters will appreciate having fewer words to read.
  • Consider leading off your letter with a brief story that somehow demonstrates relevant skills or achievements and emphasizes your interest in the organization or industry.
  • Conclude your letter by thanking the reader for considering you and stating your hope that you'll be contacted for an interview.
  • Proofread your letter thoroughly before submitting it.

Submitting Your Internship Applications

Job postings typically indicate how you should submit your application, so be sure to follow the instructions exactly. Many larger organizations have an online portal on their website, in which case you'll probably be directed to submit your cover letter and resume there. Smaller organizations may ask you to submit your cover letter and resume via email or traditional mail.

Before you hit the submit button, check your cover letter and resume for errors one last time. Also, make sure you include any additional information — such as a portfolio link or transcripts — requested in the job listing.

When to Apply for Internships

Many schools provide rules or guidelines for student internships, so be sure to read and follow them. For example, some schools don't give credit for internships until a student's junior year. These guidelines will also specify the criteria for earning college credit for completing the internship.

Given the stiff competition, it's important to know when to apply for summer internships. If you delay the job search process, you may not get an internship that's ideal for you. Experts say you should begin researching opportunities in January, and you should be sending out applications by February. Most organizations with internship programs schedule interviews for March and April.

If you're planning to complete an internship during a semester, it's also helpful to know when to apply for fall internships or spring internships. These opportunities follow a similar schedule. You should start researching and submitting applications about six months before you intend to start your internship.

How to Prepare for an Internship Interview

For most people, interviewing for a job can be a little intimidating. Here are a few tips to help calm your nerves through preparation:

  • Review a list of common interview questions — like those below — and develop and practice your answers so you can speak with confidence.
  • Decide what professional business attire you plan to wear in advance so that getting ready isn't a last-minute scramble.
  • Figure out where the interview will take place and determine how long it will take you to get there. Then leave a bit early so that you're sure to arrive on time.
  • Research as much as you can about the organization so you can demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role during the interview.

Common Internship Interview Questions

Although you can never entirely anticipate what an interviewer will ask you, there are several common questions and themes that will probably arise in most interviews. You don't want to give memorized answers to these questions, but you do want to come across as thoughtful and professional. Interview questions might include:

  • Why are you interested in this specific position?
  • Why do you want to work for this organization?
  • What, if any, relevant experience do you have?
  • What skills and abilities have you developed through prior school, work, and volunteer experiences?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • What do you hope to gain from the internship?
  • How do you see yourself contributing to the organization during your internship?
  • What are your career goals?

Questions to Ask In Your Internship Interview

Remember that an interview is a two-way conversation. Not only are you trying to show your interest in the internship, but you're also trying to establish if the position is right for you. Keeping in mind your goals for completing an internship, you might discuss issues like:

  • What are the job duties and responsibilities for this role?
  • What kind of job training will I receive?
  • What skills do you think I'll develop during this internship?
  • What kinds of projects will I get to work on?
  • How would you describe the organization's culture and work environment?
  • Can you describe what a typical day on the job might look like?
  • What is the job schedule in terms of starting time and number of hours a week? Is this a part-time job or a full-time job?
  • What does this organization expect from interns?

As important as compensation may be, it's best to save that conversation for a later interview when it appears the organization is interested in hiring you.

How to Get an Internship With No Experience

If you lack relevant work experience — as many traditional college students do — you may be feeling discouraged, but don't let these limitations become an obstacle. Remember that hiring managers reviewing resumes from internship applicants aren't expecting much in the way of previous experience.

Instead, they're hoping to see a few technical abilities you've probably developed in school, other jobs, and volunteer work — for example, how to use basic lab equipment or software programs — and soft skills, such as collaboration, leadership, and communication. Most of all, if you can show them your professionalism and eagerness to learn on the job, you'll impress the hiring managers enough to land the internship.

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