How To Land And Make The Most Of A College Internship

Finding a great internship and CRUSHING it ultimately comes down to giving it your “personal” best, thinking like an employer, and being ready to seize opportunities.

landing an internship

Internships are really just short-term jobs available to college students.

There’s no shortage of internship opportunities out there, you just need to know how to find them. Luckily, we’re here to teach you how to do just that!

1) Start looking for ideas early

Your internship search is not something you want to procrastinate on. If you wait too long to start looking for opportunities, other college students will have already snagged the good ones. Some summer internships even have deadlines as early as December or January.

If you really want to make sure you find a worthwhile internship, you should start looking for different opportunities that interest you as soon as the school year starts. You probably won’t be able to start applying at that point, but you can at least get an idea of what’s out there and what the application deadlines are.

Then, you can start applying 3-4 months before you plan on working. That will give you enough time to cast a wide net and find a cool internship. Bottom line (as is the case with most things) – start early if you don’t want to get passed over, because at times the internship search can be as rough as the “real” job search you’ll embark on post-college.

Basically, there are two types of internships: traditional and innovative.

A traditional internship is an existing position at an established program and can usually be found online. If you are looking for an opportunity that you can’t seem to find, you can create one better tailored to your interests – an innovative one.

The search for traditional and innovative internships starts the same way… with the people you know.

Ask around and find out what internships are available and what other people have done/are doing. Your classmates are a great resource, because they can let you know where they or their friends have interned and give their honest opinions about the job. But don’t stop with your classmates. You should also reach out to professors and your school’s alumni community. Of course, you can also turn to your college’s career services office for ideas and internship opportunities.

Have you tapped all of the aforementioned resources? Don’t worry. As is the case with most questions you have in life, you can find help online, too. In fact, a simple Google Search of “find a college internship in 2017” resulted in the following articles. Keep in mind that you can get FAR more specific with the terms that you search based on the TYPE of internship you’re looking for. These are just a few resources to give you ideas and get your started if you’re struggling.

And again, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, take the innovative approach and try to develop a position for yourself. Find an organization or company that you would like to work with and find out if they can use the help of an intern. Try getting a professor or other contact connected to the organization to see if they can help you get a conversation started.

If there’s a company you REALLY REALLY want to intern for, make it a point to hit their website every day. Check for new job openings for interns. Keep up with their blog, email newsletters, and social media posts (you can even follow the social media profiles of employees, writers and thought leaders from the company to show your interest and stay informed). Basically jsut do whatever you can to look for creative ways that you might be able to add value every day, and if you think of a really good one, send them an email or Tweet at them and let them know! By doing so, you can prepare to seize an opportunity to snag your dream internship as soon as it arises, even if the company didn’t know about it until YOU pointed it out.

2) Consider your skills, experience and recommenders

Before you start your search and begin to apply for internships, you will need a few things. A solid resume that covers your skills and experience is essential.

If you’ve never put a resume together before, go to a career counselor at your school for help. Give some serious thought as to how the skills you use at your current or former job relate to those you will need to be successful at the internship(s) you are applying for.

For example, a simple student job at the library probably requires great attention to detail and to be comfortable working and keeping busy on one’s own. Those skills can certainly apply to a wide range of internship opportunities.

Remember that you’re applying for an internship. Employers know that, and most of them don’t expect you to have a hefty resume at this point in your life. But, you can certainly work on filling yours with at least some prior experience that shows you’re capable of accomplishing the tasks they’ll send your way. We’re talking previous work experience, mentorship, volunteer work, extracurricular activities, honors, awards or certifications, etc.

Depending on the internship you’re applying for, you may also need letters of recommendation and an example of your work, like a writing sample. Just submit a term paper you aced and go to your favorite professor or volunteer coordinator for a letter.

3) Write a great cover letter (just be yourself!)

I was recently in a hiring position, and let me tell you, nothing teaches you more about “applying” than “screening applications.”

I’ve applied for a bunch of internships in my time, and I’ve learned a thing or two about finding and funding opportunities – but it wasn’t until I actually became the mysterious “Hiring Committee” that I really understood what does and doesn’t matter in an application, and what will and won’t hurt or help a candidate.

When I was applying for internships (and jobs), I was terrified of breaking the generic cover letter format I’d been taught, even though it was as dull as a fencepost. It just seemed too risky. Now I realize that nobody wants to read a generic cover letter with no personality. Sure, you’ll fit in with everyone else… and if there were as many spots as applicants, that would be fine.

To earn a great internship, you HAVE to stand out – somehow. Start with your cover letter. Be conversational, honest, passionate… and you’ll get moved to the top of the list. Then talk like a human being (rather than an Internship Robot) during your interview, and you’ll be halfway to a hire!


>> Recommended Reading: Just Be Yourself And Your College App Will Stand Out


4) Show attention to detail and consideration

When it comes to the actual documents you send potential employers, consider file names: in all but the rarest of cases, you’re competing for your internship with anywhere from five to 5,000 other applicants. Naming your resume “resume.doc” makes it seem as if you think you’re the only person who has ever or will ever send a resume to the inbox in question.

This will definitely set you off on the wrong foot. Show hiring committees that you’ve thought about their perspective (“YourName_Resume.doc” is a good place to start): check at least four times for typos, follow application instructions carefully, spell names right, and don’t start sending impatient or annoyed emails after a week without a response. Once again, those steps are:

  • Check (a minimum of) 4x for typos.
  • Follow the instructions.
  • Spell names correctly.
  • Be patient.

5) Research specific positions or companies beforehand

One good way to figure out if your internship will be worthwhile is to get in touch with current or former interns before you start. Talking with people who have already held your position can give you a great idea of exactly what you are getting yourself into.

Ask your future employer for the contact information of former interns. You may also be able to find such information on the organization’s website. If those routes don’t work, try looking for resources through your university’s career services.

6) If you get hired, advocate for yourself

Be proactive.

Once you start interning, don’t wait around for assignments to be given to you. Your time at this position is limited and if you really want to make the most of it, you have to be bold.

If you’re spending half the day twiddling your thumbs, ask for something to do. Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this. “Give me something to do” is the wrong way, but if there’s an interesting project that you want to get involved in, ask how you can help.

It’s important to note that it’s not all about fun projects either. Helping with mundane tasks may pay out in the end, too.“I noticed these reports haven’t been updated; can I take that on?”

When an exciting project comes up, your name may come up because of all of the help you’ve offered at other times. Find a way to keep yourself involved in the interesting work being done (even if it’s a minor or boring role) and your experience will be all the better for it.

Furthermore, be assertive and advocate for yourself. If you’re offered college credit, but you need money, ask to be paid or given a stipend. This is actually something to think about before applying because some places obviously won’t be able to pay you, no matter how pleasantly but assertively you state your case. On the other hand, some places are legally obligated to do so. Depending on what your unique needs are, this is something to consider when you begin your search i.e. “am I looking for a paid or unpaid internship?”

When I was one of four interns at a movie studio, I was the only one who bargained to be paid – and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I worked the hardest, had the most impact, and was assigned the most interesting projects. Which, of course, was as much of a boon for the company as it was for me… AND reflected pretty well on the hiring committee that hired me. Which brings us to our next point…

7) Come early, leave late

Even if it’s summer and school is out, don’t think for a second that you can slack off with your internship. Work hard and it will pay off in the form of a great recommendation from your boss when the whole thing is over. You can use their recommendation for a competitive internship or ‘real’ job in the near future.

8) Set goals

It’s very important that you think about what YOU want to get out of your internship and where YOU want to go next. Most likely, your internship is going to be a temporary gig that can have lasting career benefits. If you want to position yourself well when the internship is over, remember to mold your time there to best serve your goals – whatever they may be. Unsure about your goals? Talk to your college career counselor to map them out ahead of time, and of course, make sure to to talk to your boss at your internship as well. In fact, discussing your goals ahead of time may help your she/he provide a better, more engaging and rewarding work environment for you during your internship.

8) Network

If you chose your internship wisely, you will be surrounded by folks doing just the kind of work that you hope to be doing after graduation. Building relationships with some of the people that you meet through this experience will be helpful in the job search later.

You may make strong contacts or even find a mentor. So, take time to get to know your new colleagues… it will pay off in BIG ways.

As a former intern hopeful, I remember the pain of crafting cover letters, worrying over every word on my resume, and hanging around my computer, full of hope, waiting for interview requests (or even rejections) that often never came. But as a Hiro, I now know that landing an internship ultimately comes down to giving it your “personal” best, thinking like an employer, and being ready to seize opportunities. With those characteristics (and a little luck), your dream internship will be setting sail before you know it.


>>> Recommended Reading: 5 Reasons You Should Get a College Internship


Considering The ROI Of Your College Experience