In the past, a college degree was often enough to set you apart and guarantee a high-paying job in your field of expertise.
However, as more and more Americans graduate from two- and four-year universities, a degree alone doesn’t quite cut it anymore.
Internships offer career stepping stones that allow students and recent graduates to get some real-world experience before landing a paid, full-time position. If you know where to look and how to get one, an internship can make a huge impact on the job offers you’ll get after graduation and beyond.
How to Get an Internship
Follow these 7 steps to stand out from the crowd and land an internship in your dream career field.
1. Consider your career goals.
Internships are great pathways for anyone looking to gain some experience and bulk up their resumes, but they’re really most helpful when they’re in alignment with your long-term career goals.
Compile a dream list of companies where you would like to work, and start researching to see if they offer any internship opportunities.
For example, if you want to become a journalist, you probably won’t land a job as the nightly news anchor straight out of high school; but you can try to get an internship in the field, with responsibilities like fact checking, assisting the production crew, or writing copy.
These duties will provide valuable experience, give you a feel for the everyday ins and outs of the real job, and provide a foothold so you can start climbing that ladder toward your dream career.
When searching for an internship, consider only those that serve your larger goals, since that’s the whole purpose of interning anyway. (If you’re going to work for free, make it count!)
2. Know where to find an internship.
Just like in a job search for regular full-time positions, knowing where to find opportunities is one of the most important steps in landing your dream internship.
Here are some places that can help you get your search up and running:
Your school’s Career Center: Most colleges and universities have a Career Resources Center with staff and volunteers who will work to help you find the internships you want. Many even feature online platforms where companies interested in hiring their students can post positions. Reach out to a career advisor today, and consider attending a career fair if your school offers them! These are great networking opportunities for finding internships and paid positions.
Job and internship websites: Many of the same job websites that you’d use to find a traditional paid position—such as Glassdoor and LinkedIn—can also be used to search for internships. However, there are also websites that specialize in matching students and young professionals with internships, such as Internships.com and YouTern.
Check your own contacts: Sometimes the best opportunities are closer than you think! Try talking with your professors, doctors, or leaders of any extracurricular activities you’re involved in. They might know of some great opportunities to assist with research or other tasks.
Don’t be afraid to ask!
Don’t see the opportunities you want? Ask for them! As many internships are unpaid positions, companies tend to be more flexible when it comes to creating openings, since their investment costs are low. If there’s a company you’re dying to work with but don’t see any existing opportunities, don’t be afraid to reach out with a letter of interest and offer your services as an intern.
And these days, virtual internships are increasingly common, so you may not need to even live near the company in order to take advantage of available opportunities. Check out our guide to virtual interviews to increase your odds of scoring a remote internship.
3. Gather your application materials.
Before you start contacting companies, make sure you have all your relevant application materials in order and that the information is up to date.
These materials can include:
Resume: Most internship programs will require you to submit a resume or fill one out online. In most cases, companies won’t expect you to have an extensive list of professional experience, but that’s no excuse to hand in a blank CV! This is the place to showcase your skills (foreign languages, clerical skills, special awards, etc.) and experiences from extracurricular activities. Did you write for your school’s newspaper? Better include that! Serve as the captain of a sports team? That illustrates leadership!
Cover letter: Your resume should be accompanied by a personalized cover letter that explains why you’re the best person for the position. You can create and save a general template to use if you’ll be submitting multiple applications, but make sure you customize the letter a bit each time. You can do this by researching each company or organization and finding what makes them unique, then identifying what you offer that makes you a great match.
Recommendation letters: Another common requirement for internship applications is a letter of recommendation, especially since most applicants don’t have much professional experience. Start asking your professors, counselors, supervisors, or other relevant figures of authority who can endorse your skills and qualifications. Make sure you give them adequate time to complete the letter before your deadline!
4. Build a portfolio.
If you’re applying for a creative position (for example, one that requires writing, design, web development, or any other work that you can show your own examples of) a portfolio can showcase your talent and set you apart from the crowd.
5. Review your social media profiles.
When scouting prospective interns, many employers will head straight to social media to research candidates.
Make sure your social media profiles project the image you want those recruiters to see and that the content you share reflects the values and issues you care about.
Choose a professional headshot for your profile photo, and delete any content that’s inappropriate or suggestive in the wrong way.
6. Brush up on your interview skills.
Next, you’ll definitely want to prepare for an interview. Interviews for internships really aren’t much different from regular job interviews, so it’s a good idea to get familiar with some of the most common job interview questions.
If you’re concerned about a lack of experience, direct the conversation toward your skills, values, and any relevant coursework or extracurricular activities.
Ask a friend to help you practice with a mock interview, and make sure you have an appropriate outfit picked out for the big day. For more insights, check out our post featuring the most important job interview tips. And always send a follow-up email after your interview!
7. Finalize the deal.
Got an offer? Congratulations!
You’ll most likely receive an email from the employer with some documents to sign and important information you should know before getting started.
Before officially accepting a job offer or internship, look for important details such as start dates, pay (if applicable), location, and responsibilities.
If you have any questions or concerns, now is the time to raise them. Also take this opportunity to ask the employer if there’s anything you should do to prepare for the role prior to your start date.
How Can You Get an Internship with No Experience?
Even if you have zero job experience (many interns don’t!), you can still land a great internship by beefing up your resume with student jobs, relevant coursework, special skills, volunteer programs, and other extracurricular activities or experiences (sometimes even things like travel can help!).
Build Your Experience With an Internship
Even if your work as an intern isn’t paid, consider it a valuable stepping stone to the career of your dreams.
You’ll build connections and learn critical skills that will give you a competitive edge when it comes time to apply for a full-time, paid position!
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
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