Your Guide to Internships
As the global job market becomes increasingly competitive, employees need to acquire as many skills and as much experience as possible. Internships represent temporary positions that college students often pursue to set themselves apart from the rest of the job candidate pool. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports that more than 91% of employers prefer applicants with work experience. Of this group, 56% state they prefer industry-specific internships over volunteer work.
Colleges and universities understand the value of relevant work experience to employers and graduate schools. They provide dedicated resources such as career counselors and internship placement programs and often require students to complete an internship as part of their degree plan. Internships offer invaluable hands-on training in a real-world setting and provide opportunities to build professional relationships with peers, industry experts, and potential employers.
This guide contains information to help you obtain and complete internships. You will gain insight into the application process and common intern responsibilities. The guide also provides strategies for maximizing the benefits of working as an intern.
You should begin your search early and use every resource to find the perfect internship. Seek the support of friends, peers, mentors, and family. Colleges and universities provide ample resources including counseling services and internship fairs. Websites represent another major source for internships, particularly remote positions and international opportunities. The following sections explore these internship search tools in greater detail.
Your College Career Center
Every college and university operates a career center that provides job counseling, application tips, and resources for internship seekers. By finding an internship through your school’s career center, you can rest assured the experience meets university standards for skill development and employee safety. You also stand a better chance of translating internship hours into course credit. Furthermore, by enlisting the assistance of an academic counselor, you can better negotiate compensation and flexible schedules.
Your Local Community
By completing internships locally, you not only save money on housing and travel but also cultivate lasting relationships with community associations and local employers. If you know the field of work or the kind of position you wish to pursue, inquire with relevant businesses, organizations, and government agencies. Some companies advertise internship positions on their websites while others prefer to offer work to candidates who seek them out. You can explore diverse possibilities by asking for the guidance of nonprofits and through public libraries.
Be sure to talk to friends and family members with similar career interests for potential internship leads. Former employers, mentors, and coaches can also provide valuable advice since they know you on a professional level and can vouch for your character and work ethic. University faculty and departmental administrators often possess in-depth knowledge of the field you want to work in and can provide guidance and connections.
You can find internships that match your short- and long-term career goals through Internships.com and InternshipFinder. Websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and WayUp can help you find remote internships. You can search for government-sponsored positions through Go Government and internships centered on sustainability through Green America. Idealist.org publishes internship positions in the nonprofit sector. Learn4Good enables you to search for internships based on relevant academic majors. Websites like The Washington Center, SmartIntern China, GoAbroad, and International Internships LLC focus on opportunities in specific geographic regions.
Networking events, whether in-person or virtual, offer valuable opportunities for finding internships. Inquire with your school’s career center and academic departments about upcoming social gatherings and internship fairs. You can seek out events in your community through websites like Eventbrite and National Career Fairs. Academic associations (like honor societies) and professional organizations also facilitate networking events for members and, occasionally, the general public. You can learn how to cultivate relationships with colleagues and mentors by accessing this networking guide.
Internship Application Tips
As with any other job, acquiring an internship requires you to plan and navigate the application process carefully. The following four sections offer information on how and when to apply. You’ll also learn about strengthening your resume, cover letters, and professional portfolio by highlighting transferable skills and relevant accomplishments. These aspects are particularly important to first-time interns who may not possess industry-specific competencies and experiences. Lastly, you’ll gain insight into the interview process.
Apply Early and Widely
Apply early to a diverse array of positions — but only after you have clearly identified your internship goals and interests. While it may seem overwhelming to juggle numerous requirements and deadlines, a well-organized spreadsheet and automated email/SMS reminders go a long way in helping you manage this process.
April and May are the busiest months for internship applications because many candidates seek summer positions. If possible, submit your documents as soon as a position opens. Many organizations start accepting summer internship applications in the fall and notify candidates over winter break. Year-round internships with rolling admissions offer an alternative to the highly competitive summer positions.
Strengthen Your Resume and Cover Letter
Your resume and cover letter are essential components of a successful internship application. You can and should use templates to help craft these documents. However, be sure to personalize each resume and cover letter for the position to which you are applying. Employers often reject candidates if they spot generic application materials since this indicates a general lack of effort.
When writing your resume, place the most relevant skills and academic and professional experiences at the top. First-time interns should focus on transferable knowledge and skills, specific coursework, and extracurricular achievements that, although unrelated, nonetheless add value to the position and can facilitate organizational success. Expound on these points in your cover letter and during the interview. For additional tips, visit this resume and cover letter guide.
Attach a Portfolio (as Appropriate)
A portfolio is a collection of your projects and deliverables. Depending on your field of study, a portfolio may be a required component of an internship application. For example, graphic design interns are usually asked to present their best works in paper and digital formats. Companies may ask business-oriented students to present marketing campaigns, statistical research reports, and strategic plans. Journalism internships typically require candidates to submit articles or features. Even when not required by the organization, your portfolio should reflect your best work that relates to the internship.
Preparing for an Interview
One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to submit a detailed and honest resume. Employers who discover that a student lied on an application can justifiably end the interview or terminate a position.
Be sure you understand the dress code for the organization and industry, and dress appropriately for the interview. Research the position thoroughly. This will empower you to provide detailed answers and ask the right questions. Demonstrate your passion for and knowledge of the internship position; the company’s products, services, and mission; and pertinent trends in the industry. To gain additional insight into this step, visit the interview guide.
How to Succeed as an Intern
While internships should predominantly benefit students, the experience also needs to yield value for employers. The remaining sections delve into strategies you can implement to maximize your performance and build a foundation for future opportunities.
Before the internship begins in earnest, you should take advantage of the transition period to become familiar with company policy and culture. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Friendly competition exists in all work settings, but supervisors, personnel, and other interns typically welcome inquiries and offer guidance where they can.
Treat your internships, whether paid or unpaid, as actual jobs with expectations for professional conduct and personal behavior. Dress appropriately and show up on time. During work hours, maintain a friendly, professional demeanor. Greet co-workers and engage in conversation, but avoid gossip and office politics.
In the age of social media, where individuals face backlash and lose jobs over incendiary tweets, you must cultivate a businesslike online presence. Clean up your Facebook and Twitter profiles and update your LinkedIn information. Being professional also means staying off your phone while on the job, unless a task explicitly requires it.
Fulfill Your Responsibilities … and Go Beyond
In return for valuable training and real-world experiences, companies expect interns to perform menial tasks. Successful interns handle grunt work with enthusiasm. By demonstrating that they can successfully complete the most basic duties, interns gain access to more important responsibilities.
To cultivate work relationships, you should go out of your way to assist colleagues. Ask your supervisor to schedule regular meetings to clarify expectations and confirm deadlines. Volunteer for additional work within reason, but be sure to complete assignments correctly and on time. Lastly, the best interns ask for feedback from superiors and colleagues. Receive any criticism with grace and apply the lessons in future assignments.
Soak Up Knowledge
Internships are learning experiences that allow students to soak up as much knowledge and practical skills as they can. You should not shy away from asking specific and appropriate questions of your colleagues and supervisors. They may not always provide helpful answers, but at the very least, the act of asking signals to the company’s leaders that an intern possesses the drive to grow and succeed.
Effective interns cultivate skills and knowledge beyond their immediate role. They keep updated on industry trends by exploring online platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit. Students can also learn about pertinent issues in their field by reading professional magazines and research journals.
Socialize and Network
In addition to engaging informal introductions, you should socialize as appropriate with your colleagues to build camaraderie. Work friendships can help you succeed in your internship and build the groundwork for career entry and advancement later on. You can forge work friendships by completing your own tasks and assisting others with their duties. At the same time, you’ll be viewed by co-workers as helpful, hardworking, and trustworthy.
Try to attend every social and networking event your organization facilitates. Pursue mentorships, which often grow out of the working relationships between interns and their colleagues/supervisors. Focus your attention on the individuals who take a concerted interest in your success. Ask potential mentors out for coffee or lunch (while maintaining workplace propriety). For more tips on cultivating a lasting mentorship, check out this networking guide.