Most college majors don’t require students to complete an internship before graduation, but many do. Whatever the case may be, internships are a great way to get your foot in the door for your dream career. If you look at job sites like Indeed or Glassdoor, the majority of listings are asking for five to 10+ years of experience in the field. But, what if you’ve been in college the last four years and don’t have time for a full-time job in the field? Well, that’s what internships are for, and there’s no better time than college to build your resume with as many of them as you can handle before graduation–required or not. Whether you’re looking for a summer internship or one for the upcoming school year, here are 10 essential tips for how to get an internship:
1. Make sure your resume and cover letter are up-to-date
Your cover letter and resume are usually the first point of contact you have with a potential internship. This makes it super important that both of these documents include any academic, professional or extracurricular experience that could help you land the position. All of the information that you choose to include in your resume and cover letter should be relevant in some way to the position you’re applying for. If it’s not, then whoever is reading through your resume will most likely toss it aside. Every detail should count for something, not as a filler.
Before submitting any applications, make sure that you have all of your latest certifications, achievements, skills and experience listed, with the most recent at the top. When you have 50+ applications to submit in just a couple of weeks, the last thing you want to do is customize your cover letter with each submission. However it’s crucial that you do customize. Potential employers can tell when you’ve just created a general cover letter that’s been sent to over 50 different companies. Knowing how to get an internship is not just finding the open positions–it’s about knowing how to get those positions to choose you.
2. Ask your academic advisor, professor, or career services to check your resume
Just like an essay you’ve been working on for weeks, it’s important to have another set of eyes look over your resume before sending it out. Sometimes someone else can catch a mistake that you missed, or think of something that you didn’t think to add. A professor from your department is usually more than happy to look over your resume for you and give you pointers. Your academic advisor and the career services department at your school are also well-versed in resume building and tips. Take it to one of them with enough time for them to look it over and make revisions if needed.
3. Start searching for your ideal internship way ahead of time
The most common mistake students make when internship hunting is waiting too late to start looking. Internships are competitive, and they get filled quickly. If you’re searching for an internship that will count for school credit, start looking a year ahead or at least an entire semester ahead of time. By looking a year in advance, you’ll find out when the term deadlines are and what’s expected in each application. This will give you time to get what you need in order before having to submit it when the deadline comes around.
Looking for internships ahead of time also give you some extra time to do actual research on the companies that are offering internships. Find out what you duties as an intern would be, find out where past interns are working now, etc.
4. Use an Excel spread sheet to make a list of internships and their application deadlines
If your major requires an internship before graduating, then you probably already don’t have a lot of time on your hands. This tip goes hand in hand with searching for internships way ahead of time. If you wait too long, you’ll miss deadlines or not have enough time to balance class work and applying for internships. This is why it’s important that while you’re looking for internships, you make an Excel spreadsheet with each potential company, their deadlines, and the application requirements. Sure, it sounds like a lot of work, but being organized will pay off once you’ve landed one of your top internship positions.
5. Most professors in your field are willing to help if you ask
It’s easy to think of your professors only as lecturers and test givers. But really, they’re a great start to networking in your field! They know people in the field, and those people could potentially offer you an internship (or at least point you in the right direction). Of course, they won’t just come to class tomorrow asking who needs help finding out how to get an internship or job opportunity. You just have to ask. And not every professor will have a list of names or places right off the bat… but that doesn’t mean that they won’t come across one a week from now and remember that you asked them about it. If you don’t ask, they can’t help you.
6. Ask a professor or your advisor to write a letter of recommendation for you
Again, if you ask, they will try to help. But it doesn’t help if you ask them a couple of hours or a day before your application is due. Ask a week or two in advance to give them time to write something up. They’re busy, and it’ll be inconsiderate to ask them for a letter of recommendation at the last minute. In fact, it may cause them to need to turn you down even if they did want to help.
Maintain good relationships with your professors, and ask questions during class. This will give them something to go on when writing a letter about you to a future internship opportunity. You probably don’t want to ask the professor who you’ve never had a conversation with before and whose class you skip often.
7. Don’t underestimate your school’s career services department
You know those school emails and job postings you get constantly flooding your inbox every week? Those are the people to get in touch with to answer your worries about how to get an internship. It’s literally their job to help students find jobs or internships related to their field–given that your field has high demand in your area. You probably don’t even read their emails, and that’s okay, because a lot of people don’t when they’re not actively trying to figure out how to get an internship (unless they’re already actively job or internship hunting). But it’s a good idea to start looking at those emails, or contacting someone you can meet with from your school’s career services.
8. Apply well before the deadlines
A lot of times, internship hiring personnel will start to sift through applications before the deadline has even come. Try to be one of those that gets pushed to the top for being early and having an impressive resume and cover letter. When the deadline has finally come, and they have to start from the beginning again, they’ll see yours a second time and it will be much more likely to stick in their head.
Submitting early applications never hurts, but being late does. A good way to have your application tossed aside is by submitting after the deadline. So submit early!! In some cases, you could even get accepted sooner for submitting early and being reviewed before the deadline.
9. Practice your interview skills
So, you’ve updated your resume and cover letter, found the perfect internship, submitted your application and have been called in for an interview. Now what? Even for those of you who have great communication skills, that can only get you so far on the internship and job hunt. It’s important to brush up on your interview skills a couple days before you go to your first one.
Make a list of mock questions that the interviewer could ask, and have a friend or family member interview you for practice. At least write down your answers so they are fresh in your head before you go into the interview. You should also do research on the internship program and the company that you’re applying for in case they ask questions about why you want to intern there, or what you hope to gain for interning with them.
10. Follow-up within a week of your interview
Your interview went great, and they said they would contact you when they’ve made a final decision. Take a deep breath, and set a reminder on your phone or calendar to send a follow-up email within the next week. Not everyone will care to do a follow-up, or even think to do it, so when you do, it can really raise your chances of landing that position. If the other applicants are just randomly job searching, you’ll have a real leg up for actually doing research on how to get an internship. Try not to follow up too early, because they could still have more interviewees after your follow-up. Wait about a week, or until the interview process is just ending so they can make a final note on your application that you called to follow-up.
BONUS: Choose the internship that will benefit you the most
Getting multiple offers actually happens a lot more often than you think, and even causes some people to only apply for very few internships at a time. In some cases, you’ll submit applications to your top 10 internship opportunities, get five call backs and then have five different interviews with five different companies. Make a list of pros and cons. Get to the nitty-gritty of each internship position and find out which one will benefit you the most in the long run. Know your worth, and choose the one that you could potentially be offered a full-time job with at the end or that will help you land a great job after. After all, the next big step once you’ve solved how to get an internship is figuring out how to get a job.