10 Ways to Find and Land the Perfect Internship
The application process doesn’t have to be scary. Take chances and you will succeed.
When I graduate this spring, I will have four internships under my belt. People often ask, “so what are you going to do with an English major?” After completing those internships, I can confidently answer, “anything I please.” Now, that answer doesn’t quite mean I can pursue a career as a brain surgeon or nuclear physicist, but that’s not what I want to do. What I mean by “anything I please” is that I can do anything I want to do because I’ve now gained the necessary experience.
Some internships are certainly more glamorous than others, but all of them have provided me with plenty of experience to add to my resume. Before we jump right into the list of ways find and land the perfect internship, I should provide some context for my own internships. My first internship was during the summer between sophomore and junior year of college; I worked as the Marketing and Editorial Intern for a local golf course in Baltimore. My second internship lasted for eight months spanning the spring semester of junior year into the end of last summer; I worked as the Public Affairs Intern for a large trade association in Washington, D.C. My third internship was during this past fall semester of my senior year; I worked as the Development and Communications Intern for a small non-profit corporation, also in Washington, D.C. These three internships have led me to my current internship: Social Media Intern for a branch of the Smithsonian. As cliche as it sounds, it’s a dream come true to work for such a widely recognized institution. It feels surreal each time I step off of the metro and onto the National Mall.
So how did I land so many internships and more importantly how can you do the same? Allow me to explain:
1. Use Your School’s Resources: Chances are your college has a career center. My school’s center offers everything from mock interviews to resume workshops to employer networking sessions. If you have no idea where to begin, visit this valuable resource. It is literally their job to help you find your job. Most career centers also have a resource of job postings. Companies target our school looking for students to fill positions. I found three of my four internship positions just by searching through our internship database. Even if your school doesn’t offer a database of positions, take advantage of the services they do offer. Whether you want to polish your resume or learn how to ace an interview, anything resources you use will give you a head start in your search process.
2. Look Locally: Here at College Tourist, we like to encourage you to “live like a local.” When it comes to internships, you should search like a local as well. While an internship in New York City may seem glamorous, it may not be practical if you go to school in Nebraska. Yes, an internship is an investment in your future, but the investment shouldn’t break the bank. Working locally is a great way to obtain your first internship without spending too much money. I easily commuted from home when I worked for the local golf course. This saved me the trouble of trying to find housing in an unfamiliar city or paying to commute a great distance. When I began applying for my second internship, it did not matter that the interviewer probably had not heard of the local golf course where I worked. What mattered was that I had relevant experience that I could bring to their position. When you’re first starting out, it’s not so much about where you intern as it is about what you do there.
3. Create Your Own Internship: Having trouble finding an internship? Make your own! Now, this does not mean lie or fabricate a position. I mean that you should pursue opportunities with places who have not considered having an intern. I didn’t find my first internship at the golf course through a job posting. I found it because I worked in food service there the previous summer. I knew I needed to start gaining relevant experience within my major, but I still wanted to work my lucrative part-time summer job. I contacted the marketing director and asked if I could work with him for free for three days a week in order to gain experience in the field. Boom! Instant internship! He had an extra helping hand around the office, and I learned a lot that summer. If you find a small company you want to intern with but they don’t offer positions, contact them and ask if you can help out and gain experience. They may not have considered ever having an intern before. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
4. Get Credit: In order to balance work and school, I advise seeking academic credit for your position when you work during the semester. I did not get credit for my second internship during my junior year. That spring, I had to balance a full course load on Tuesdays and Thursdays while I worked at my internship Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I managed to balance it all, but looking back, I should have sought credit for my internship. It would have saved me some late nights and tight deadlines. If your school does not offer academic credit, you can still make an internship work, but try to receive credit when you can. It will make your life and workload a lot easier to balance.
5. Start Interning Early: You may be a stellar student, but you can’t expect to land your dream internship if you don’t have the relevant experience to bring to the job. You have to start somewhere and start small even if it’s not what you initially dreamed of. My first local internship led to the position with the trade association. While I wasn’t completely passionate about the goals of the trade association, I was excited to gain more experience and demonstrate that I could adapt to any field. The position with the trade association led to the position with the small non-profit whose mission aligned with passions. All three of these positions provided me with relevant experience to gain my dream internship with the Smithsonian. By starting early, you’re able to create a foundation of experience to give you an edge when you apply for the position you really want.
6. Discover Your Passion: Pursuing several internships also allows you discover what it is you really want to do. Working in public affairs or development and communications encompasses a lot of different tasks. By exploring differing opportunities, I learned which tasks I enjoyed and which tasks I did not. I was curious about development (the code for fundraising in non-profit). After completing my development and communications internship for the non-profit, I realized I did not like the pressure of development and enjoyed the communications aspects of my internship more. My passion involves writing, and now I know that needs to be a part of any job I do.
7. Apply Early: Show interest in the position and show interest early. While there may be a deadline for the application, apply well in advance. You may be just the candidate they’re looking for, but someone else may have gotten the position ahead of you. You don’t want to receive the dreaded response, “thank you for your interest but the position has been filled.” When I applied for the position at the non-profit, I received an email 90 minutes later requesting a phone interview the next day. Two days later, I received another email telling me I got the position. Now, not everything happens that fast, but had I waited a week or so to apply, someone else may have gotten the job.
8. Do Your Research: Learn about any company you choose to apply for. Look into their company history, their mission, or their various corporate divisions. Interviewers like to hear that you know what you’re talking about when you talk to them. Bring up small details like their corporate blog or a recent project during the interview. This research not only helps you in your interview, it also helps you figure out what you want. When you do your research, you learn whether or not this is somewhere you can see yourself working.
9. Show Enthusiasm for the Company: Aside from showing enthusiasm by researching, show your enthusiasm for the company in other ways. It is not enough to just say you want to work somewhere to gain experience. Interviewers and hiring managers want to know what it is about their company that makes you want to work there. When I applied for my position with the non-profit, I discussed how my interests and my past aligned with their mission and work. Draw on personal experience to show more about yourself and to connect to something within the company.
10. Tailor Your Resume to the Position: You can’t send the same resume to every company and expect a lot of results. Someone may contact you, but you’re far more likely to hear back if you pay attention to the job description. Draw on key words in the description and put those phrases into your resume. Add the necessary skills listed to the skills section in your resume. It may feel tedious to create a new resume for each position, but it shows attention to detail and enthusiasm for the position. In order to save yourself some time, I suggest creating a master resume. I have a file on my computer that extends beyond the standard one page listing every position I’ve had. When it comes time to apply for a new position, I cut and paste the most relevant information and positions into a new document ad edit according to the job description.
I wish you the best of luck as you apply for jobs and internships. Remember, the next time someone asks, “so what are you going to do with that?” you can just show them your resume.