It’s almost summer for college students around the country, and that means it is time to start thinking about getting an internship. Internships can be great ways to get first hand experiences in the field you may want to pursue after graduation. They also look great on resumes for new graduates, and many do pay, so you can have some spending money. Finally, it can be a good way to start building your professional network and making industry connections for after graduation.
If you’re thinking about getting an internship this summer, here is your guide to nailing the process!
Start with Research
At the heart of any internship is the research that you personally put in to making sure that it is a fit with your goals. Some people choose internships to test the waters of various industries (that’s what I did for my first two summers). I found that my desired industry really wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Others want an internship to get their foot in the door – this is almost a necessity in some industries like finance and accounting. The bottom line is that you need to know exactly what you want to get out of the internship.
After you know what you want, you need to look at what companies have to offer for internships. Some companies have very structured intern programs that are designed to accomplish different tasks: get an overview of the company, learn industry specific skills, or more. However, some companies have no structured programs and the interns end up being glorified assistants and get nothing out of it. Do you research, see what is out there at each company, and begin making a list of where you may be interested in interning.
If you’re looking for something in your field, your college department’s office is a good place to get some information. This is especially true for the liberal arts majors and science majors. Many departments can pair you up with individuals or firms doing specific research, and they usually have a tally of businesses in their field that want or need interns.
Talk to your Favorite Professors
Your professor can also be an excellent source of information when it comes to internships. Many professors, especially in science and engineering fields, maintain close industry contacts and may be able to point you in the right direction. Plus, many professors have also heard reviews from students on past internship experiences, and so they can be an excellent resource when it comes to what different companies have to offer.
Parents and Family Friends
Don’t neglect your personal network when deciding on an internship either. Your parents or their friends may be working for local companies and have insights into whether they have internship programs and what to expect at their firm. This insider knowledge can be useful for making a decision.
Career Services and Alumni Networks
Most colleges and universities have great career services departments that specialize in internships. Make sure that you stop by, as most compile a comprehensive list of internships available. Also, most career services offices leverage their school’s alumni network, so you have a better shot of at least getting an interview by making a connection through the college or university.
Finally, once you have a list of companies you may be interested in, make sure that you stop by their booths at the next career fair. This is a great time to make a first impression, get to know who you may be working with, and ask relevant questions about the company and the internship program. You can usually see right away if the company will be a fit for you or not just by that initial first interaction.
Alright, now that you’ve done you’re homework, it is time to get prepped to apply and interview. Remember, how you act throughout the entire process (from initial contact all the way through) is being judged. Don’t think that the receptionist isn’t going to share how you spoke on the phone, or the clerical person who schedules your interview won’t discuss your issues with scheduling. Bottom line, many applicants get screened out well before the interview just because of something they did or didn’t do. So be mindful as you get prepped.
The Resume and Cover Letter
Your resume and cover letter is usually the first impression you have with a potential recruiter. As such, it needs to be perfect and free from common resume mistakes. It also needs to highlight your strengths, and show how you will be an asset to the company as an intern, and not just a waste of their time. It also needs to be less than a page, so don’t feel like you need to go into immense detail. It is a high level teaser of your skills, enough to entice them to interview you, where you can share your stories in detail.
Every resume should include a cover letter. In your letter, make sure you express both why you want the internship, and how you plan to add value to the company through it. Highlight any interactions you’ve had (such as at a career fair) to show that you’ve already been interacting with the company.
After you have both the resume and cover letter, have at least three other people review it. One can be a friend, but one should be either a professor or someone in the field you are trying to internship in. The last one should be a professional. You can usually get professional resume reviews for free at your career services office. Remember, companies you apply to are using the best recruiting software, and they automate the process of looking for candidates. Make sure that your resume has the keywords for the job you’re applying to.
After you apply, you need to get prepped for the interview. There are two important things that many candidates miss when it comes to the interview:
- The initial introduction (the dreaded “tell me about yourself” lead in)
- Answering the regular questions in an organized format
- Describe the situation
- Highlight the behaviors and tactics you used
- Conclude with the outcome
Finally, it’s interview day. You’ve already put a lot of work to get this far, so it’s time to get your game face on. I like to think of getting to an interview as “its a yours to lose situation”. Meaning, the recruiters have already chosen your application and generally have a feeling they may like you. It’s now your job to prove it, and they are basically looking for ways for you to screw it up. So don’t screw it up, and don’t give them a reason to not hire you.
Dress the Part
The first step is dressing appropriately. This means understanding the culture of the company you are apply to, and always dressing just one notch above. For most men, this means suit and ties. For women, this means pant suits.
Arrive Early, but Not Too Early
Never be late to an interview, ever. Never be on time to an interview, as that is considered being late. You should plan on arriving to the interview between 5 and 10 minutes early. Many companies may require some last minute forms to be filled out, and this buffer allows for that and then for the interview to proceed on time. However, don’t be extremely early, as that can lead to awkwardness while you wait for your interview.
A good rule of thumb is to arrive in the area of the interview 30 minutes early, and either wait in your car or a local coffee shop. Then, you can actually enter the office for the interview at 10 minutes prior, to allow for good timing. You never want to let something like traffic be the cause of tardiness, so make sure you are planning ahead. Maybe even drive the route the day before if you’ve never been to the company’s facility before.
Get Business Cards
Finally, get the contact information for everyone you meet. Some companies make it easy and have them all at the reception desk, but other times you will need to get the business cards after the interview. It is polite to ask for their card, especially at conclusion of the main interview, typically when they ask “do you have any questions for me?”. Don’t lead with this question, but feel free to end with it if you haven’t received their card.
The follow up to an interview is extremely important as well. Within 24 hours, you need to ensure that you’ve sent a thank you note to everyone you’ve met. Depending on the company culture, this should be hand written and mailed. If there are two highly qualified candidates, and one writes a thank you note and the other doesn’t, chances are that last gesture can get you the internship. Beyond that, it is just polite.
Once you land the internship, the first day is no different than any other part of the process. You should think of your internship as an extended job interview. Many companies utilize their internship programs to assess future talent, and it is common practice to even offer great interns jobs upon completion of the internship. That means you need to dress well everyday, and act professional at all times. Whether you think you are or not, you are being judged by management at all times.
After completing the internship, your work is still not done. If you really enjoyed working at the company and found some individuals with which you relate, you should stay in touch. By building your professional network now, it will pay dividends later. Whether you join that company or go somewhere else, having solid industry connections with which you keep contact with is essential.
And the contact doesn’t have to be in depth. You may just email once a month and check in with how the project you were working on is still doing. Or, you could ask an individual with whom you made a connection about career advice. These little connections can go a long way to helping you network and get a job upon graduation.
Readers, I know this was a long post. Hopefully you can share some advice about getting an internship with our readers!
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him here and here.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.