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 available 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.
Applying For Internships
Now that you've done your homework, it's time to apply for internships. Remember, how you act during the entire process is being judged. Don't think the receptionist isn't going to share how polite (or rude) you were on the phone, or the HR person who schedules your interview won't discuss your problems with scheduling.
With that in mind, here's what to think about when applying.
- Highlight previous experiences – In preparing your resume and writing your cover letter, don’t worry if you don’t have experience. If you have been alive for the last 2 decades or so, you have some kind of experience that is applicable to the position you are applying for. Worked as a lifeguard for an amusement park ? That takes leadership skills and a careful eye. Worked at your local fast food joint ? You have experience operating Point-of-Sale systems. Be proud of those experiences and look for unique ways to communicate and highlight the essential skills you learned from working those jobs.
- Don’t be shy about your passions – If you are especially passionate about a particular company because you have used their products and services for years, don’t be ashamed of it. Use that. If your passions have to do with a social initiative, let that shine through as well.If you have volunteered for those social initiatives, make sure to include them on your resume.
- Be clear on the job requirements and study up – It is tempting to “mass apply” to jobs with the same resume and cover letter and hope that something will stick. If you are seriously trying to score that internship however, this is not the path to follow.
It will take some work, but take your time to get very clear on what the job/internship description is asking for. Study up on what kind of person they are looking for to fill the position. Research the company itself and read reviews on websites like Indeed to get a feel for the company culture and values so that you can incorporate that in the language you use on your application materials
- Use templates as a guide…but with caution – You can use templates as a guide for your resume and your cover letters. But you have to remember that there are thousands of college students just like you who will also be looking for internships this year and most likely will be using those same templates. So take a look at templates to give you a sense of what should go where but don’t simply copy and paste your information into template slots.
- Stand Out – As mentioned above, there are hundreds if not thousands of applicants for the very position you are applying for. Standing out, therefore is a must. Here are a few ways to stand out.
- Create a personal portfolio online – Creating a personal website has never been easier. You can easily create a personal website/portfolio. You can then add in links to things you have created – videos, podcasts, books etc – , testimonials and even an introductory video to who you are.
- Create a mini-dossier of solutions you can bring to the company – If you do a great job of researching the company, you may have noticed 1 or 2 problems you can help with off the bat. Before your interview prepare a mini-presentation of solutions (1-2 pages will more than suffice) you can bring to the company if they hire you. You can share that when you send your application in or when you go to interview. Doing this will show that you are self-motivated and an independent thinker; a soft skill 66% of job recruiters reported finding desirable in people they wanted to hire.
- Start a Youtube Channel demonstrating your skills – Getting started with video to demonstrate the skills you want to be hired for is as easy as using a good smartphone camera and great lighting.Visual content, including video is reported to be processed 60,000 times faster that written content. Using video is therefore a strategic move that will help you stand out.
Interview Like A Pro
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.
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 or workplace appropriate dresses.
No matter how “casual” a company may sound or look, they want you to look professional when you interview.
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.
Be Mindful Of Your Mannerisms
Body language communicates a lot about us even more than our words. The common advice to stand up straight, having an open body versus a closed uninviting one, smiling ,and giving firm handshakes all apply.
It's also important to be authentic. If you chew gum loudly in private, this is not the place to show that kind of authenticity. It is however important to simply relax and go with the natural flow of things. If it helps, just remember that your interviewer is a human being too.
If there was something about the company or job description you were not clear about when applying, ask your interviewer to clarify. Even during the interview if you are having trouble understanding the questions, ask for clarification so you can give the best answer. It is always better to be clear on what is being asked than to assume and give the wrong answer.
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.
Follow Up After The Interview
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.
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 on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
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.