Internships 101

How Do I Get an Internship?

Internships have slowly graduated from an optional over-the-top resume addition to an essential part of finding a job when you graduate. More and more businesses are looking for internship experience on the resumes of their entry-level job candidates.

But how do you find an internship?

Step 1: Know what you want

The first step in answering the question “How do I find an internship?” is asking “What do I want to do?” Start looking at industries that you’re interested in and get a feel for what they’re looking for. Make a list of the industries you might want to work in, and then start listing potential internships in each one.

Internships should be tailored to your interests, and your skills. If you’re majoring in accounting, you probably won’t be qualified for an engineering internship (I mean, I’ve been wrong before, but stay with me). The company should also offer the kinds of things you’re looking for in an internship. If working remotely or being able to access your personal social media at work are important factors, keep them in mind when making your list.

You should also look at which cities you might want to try out or that you’ve always wanted to visit.

Step 2: Prepare for the search

Once you have a list of places to go and companies to work for, you’re going to need to gussy up that resume. “How do I get an internship?” “You make a great resume.” Take a look at an online resume guide or check out Pinterest to get some solid and creative ideas for how you want your resume to look. You’ve only got about fifteen seconds to grab a recruiter’s attention on paper, so do it right. Don’t have typos in your resume, and try not to let it get longer than a page. I know, you want to expound on all the things that make you a great person, but keep it short and sweet.

Cover letters are also a very important piece of applying for an internship. Each application should be accompanied by a completely customized cover letter. Do not generalize and then send it out to a dozen different companies.

Do some serious research on each company that you are going to contact (because you will be contacting them) and apply to. The best thing you can do to recommend yourself to a company is to be well-versed on what they do and how they do it. The more you know, the better you fit into the already established order of the company and the less they have to think about training you.

Step 3: Make contact (Network. You have to network.)

The best way for you to get an internship is to network, and to network intelligently and efficiently.

Start with your school’s career center. Honestly, that is the best resource you have at your disposal. They might not have contacts at a particular company, but you might be able to break into an industry from there. Career centers often host mock interviews for practice, have resume and cover letter help, and networks and contacts of their own that you can tap into.

If they can’t help you (or even if they can), your next step should be finding alumni from your school on LinkedIn who work at your preferred companies. Connect with them and explain briefly what you’re up to, ask if they have any tips, advice, etc.

Also consider shooting out a Tweet or a Facebook status. “I want to get an internship at X company. Does anyone know somebody I can talk to?”

Depending on a company’s internship program, you may be applying online. If this is the case, you need to identify the recruiter or internship coordinator, if at all possible. In the age of information, “To Whom it May Concern” is a thing of the past, and there are few excuses for not being able to directly address the person reading your application. Find them on LinkedIn or a company directory, or you can try calling the company.

If the company you want to work for does not have an internship program, things get a little interesting. Find the contact information for the head of Human Resources (this can sometimes be accomplished with a simple phone call to the company). If you can provide value to a company and prove the merits of having an internship program, you can get an internship simply by creating your own. But this needs to be a well-thought-out presentation, with persistence and confidence.

Step 4: Be Prompt

Whenever you make contact with someone at a company, assuming they’re interested in you, they’ll ask for your materials. This could be as simple as a resume and a cover letter, or it could extend to an entire portfolio of your creative works. Send in this information as soon as possible. Recruiters are busy people, and they appreciate someone who is on top of their game and who responds quickly and efficiently.

Apply to open positions early so that you can follow up early and can demonstrate an eagerness to fill the role.

Step 5: Follow Up

So you’ve applied, you’ve made contact. You need to follow up or all of that work will have been for nothing and you might end up not getting an internship. Send a succinct email reminding the recruiter who you are and mentioning your application. This should be sent about two weeks after you’ve sent in your application. Thank them for their time and consideration, and say that you really appreciated having the opportunity to land an internship with their company. Don’t ask when/if you’ll find out about the internship. They’ll contact you or they won’t, and bugging the recruiter for those details might make you sound like you’ve got multiple applications in the works (which, however true, is something you want to keep to yourself).

Attending your college’s career fair can also be a form of follow-up, as you should have your application completed and sent in before you set foot on a job fair floor. If a company you applied to is attending the fair, definitely pay their booth a visit. Follow some career fair guidelines to make a (favorable) lasting impression and increase your chances of getting an internship.

Step 6: Interviews

If you’ve managed to land an interview, you’re halfway there. Yes, only halfway, maybe even only one-third, depending on how many rounds of interviews the company has.

Phone Interviews:

While this arms-length interview puts less pressure on your physical appearance, it is still a very important step in the process of landing that internship. The most important thing you should remember with a phone interview is to not interrupt. I mean it: be respectful and do not interrupt. Wait for an opening. Listen and respond to the questions. Keep your answers brief, and address the interviewer’s questions without launching an in-depth tale of your life story.

In-Person Interviews:

Obviously, you’ll need to dress the part, so know what kind of dress code is common for the industry you’re interviewing for is crucial (this goes back to all that research you did). Make sure your hand isn’t clammy when you shake the interviewer’s hand (wipe it on your pants first if you have to) and do NOT be the limp fish handshake. While many people recognize the folly of basing an interview on the initial handshake, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a good firm handshake.

Similar rules apply in-person as over the phone. Do not interrupt, answer questions as completely but as briefly as possible, and don’t talk yourself silly. But now there’s a physical element. Keep eye contact when listening to your interviewer. Do not fidget, it makes you look restless and impatient. Be friendly but not informal, even when interviewing in an informal workplace.

And no matter what, always have questions for the interviewer, whether you’re talking on the phone or in person. Have at least two good questions to ask when the interviewer says “Do you have any questions?” If, at the end of the interview, the interviewer hasn’t asked you if you have any questions, ask them anyway.

Step 7: Repeat.

Don’t give up. Every rejection is a new opportunity to look for a new opportunity. And believe me, you’re not going to get every internship you apply for. You’re going to receive a lot of “Sorry, we’ve chosen someone else”s and even more opportunities will pass without a response at all. Don’t be discouraged. To get an internship, you have to be a special breed of persistent. You can do it.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as What is an Internship? and find answers to common interview questions such as What’s Your Dream Job?