Navigate the Internship Search Process Like a Pro


By Caleigh Propes

There is no better way to test drive your future career than to land an internship! While internships can be really valuable and awesome, it can also take a lot of work to find and get one that you’re truly excited about. Here are some tips to help you get started on your search.

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1. Get Prepared

If you’re looking to gain experience while in college, you probably have a good idea of the fields you’re interested in. You may even have some types of internships in mind, even if you don’t know a specific company or organization.

While it is important to keep your options open, it is also crucial to realize that different industries have different timelines for internship applications. For example, finance internship applications are due WAY in advance (almost a year), while internships with government officials usually aren’t finalized until a month or two beforehand.

Prepare for this by making a short list of job types that you might want to look into, and research the general time frame of each so that you can make the best plan of attack. Give yourself plenty of time so that you aren’t surprised and due dates don’t fly by you.

While you’re waiting for applications to be released, you can start preparing your materials. You will almost certainly need a letter of recommendation, and a professor is always a good source for these. Make sure to contact them a couple of weeks prior so that they have adequate time to be thoughtful, and even consider asking more than one in case something pops up. Also, make sure you have a resume written, if even a draft. You can improve upon it later, but it is best to have it all written down on paper first.

2. Tap Into the Resources Around You

Once you’ve got some preliminary things sorted out, check out your school’s career center for tips. Usually, universities and colleges have mentors that can help edit your resume or cover letter, give mock interviews, and provide leads for internship opportunities. Often, these career centers have connections with employers and know of networking events that can be of great value. While you don’t have to have everything completely figured out when seeking out help, it is useful to bring your resume and a short list of your interests so that the mentors can guide you more effectively. Some schools even offer fellowships to help cover the cost for unpaid internships, and the career center is the perfect place to learn about those opportunities.

If you strike out after seeing what your school can give you, try looking around you for connections. This could mean talking to your favorite professors about what their past students have done, or even asking older friends about their past experiences. Creating or growing your online professional network is never a bad idea, either, and sometimes friends and family can provide really useful connections when seeking a job. Generally, make your interests known—you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that arise.

3. Personalize Your Applications and Interview

After talking, researching, and networking, you should be ready to start filling out your applications and going through the interview process. Apply to a wide variety of places, and don’t count too much on any one opportunity working out. When filling out your applications, make sure they specifically cater to the job. This means changing your cover letter and resume for each job, highlighting what makes you a great applicant in each case. Many employers have applicant tracking systems that will weed out resumes electronically, so you want to make sure that yours stands out, even to a computer.

When going through interviews, be as prepared as reasonably possible. For phone interviews, it can be a good idea to make a “cheat sheet” of facts about yourself and answers to common interview questions about your best qualities or most memorable leadership experiences. Also, if you can ask a specific question about recent company news or publications, then you will seem engaged and invested. Practice and preparation are key, and you can never be too prepared.

4. Seal the Deal

Once you receive that email saying that you’ve got the job, you can take a deep breath.  Congrats! Between your acceptance date and your start date, make sure you have a proper wardrobe, living arrangements, and all other details settled. Contact your supervisor and ask any clarifying questions as well. While you’re there, treat every day like it is a reflection on you and your work ethic, and you will do just fine—just don’t forget to thank everyone with a written note at the end of the experience.

Searching for an internship can be stressful. With these tips, though, you will be handling the process like a champion in no time. Hopefully, once you’re through, you will have gained confidence in your abilities and a new perspective about working in the professional world.

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