It used to be that a college education in itself was enough to guarantee you a high-paying job immediately after graduation. But with more and more Americans choosing to attend college, a degree alone unfortunately doesn’t cut it anymore. Increasingly, employers expect you to have internship experience so that you come to your first job out of school ready to hit the ground running. We know that getting one can be tough, though — which is why we’ve come up with a guide containing everything you need to know about how to get an internship.
Follow our advice, and you’ll get an offer in no time!
Consider Your Qualifications
One of the most common misconceptions that students have about how to get an internship is that they must apply to every position that catches their eye to increase their odds. But this is a sure-fire recipe for radio silence from recruiters and hiring managers. Instead, think about the skills and experience you currently possess, and which positions you might be a good fit for based on that information. A few ways to narrow down which internships are right for you:
- Think about your degree: Look up common career fields and job titles for people with your major.
- Consider your experience: Think about your previous work experience, and which roles it might prepare you for. A student working at a campus newspaper might consider a journalism internship, while a student who tutors for a statistics class may want to look at data science internships.
- Identify transferable skills: Skills that help you succeed in school or in the student organizations you participate in — such as organization, critical thinking and time management — will all be useful in the working world. Some quick research should reveal which jobs require these skills.
- Explore your interests: With how much time you spend at work, you want to make sure you enjoy it! Write down a few career fields that interest you, and search internships in those areas.
- Start small: Don’t feel pressured to get your dream internship right away, especially if you have no prior work experience. Start by exploring small local organizations, groups affiliated with your school or volunteer work in order to bolster your resume.
Know Where to Look
Once you have a more concrete idea of which internships would be the right fit, it’s time to see what’s out there! Here’s how you can do that.
Visit Job Sites: Websites like Glassdoor have millions of job listings, so you’re bound to find something that’s right for you. You can search for the internship titles you’re interested in, and narrow results down by location, size, industry, company ratings and more. To get relevant results delivered to your inbox, create a job alert.
Use Your College’s Career Resources: Almost all colleges have a career site where employers interested in hiring their students can post positions. Career and internship fairs can also be invaluable, as they allow you to connect face-to-face with hiring decision-makers.
Leverage Your Network: Getting a personal recommendation can make all the difference in your internship search, so make sure to reach out to friends, family, colleagues, classmates, professors and alumni to see if they know anyone hiring. Another great strategy is to look up the companies you’re interested in and reach out to employees there for an informational interview. You never know what opportunities it might lead to!
Contact Companies Directly: If you have a dream company in mind, but they don’t have any relevant internships, you can always try writing them a letter of interest in hopes that they will either contact you when one opens or even create a new one for you. It’s more of a longshot than applying directly, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.
Prepare Your Application Materials
No matter what job you apply to, there are a few key materials you’re going to want to have on hand. Here are the most common ones, and how to perfect them before you apply.
Resumes are brief documents that showcase your skills, education and professional background. Typically, resumes will contain your name and contact info, education, professional summary, work experience, skills and additional experience. If you’ve never written a resume before, using a template can be helpful.
Some tips to keep in mind as you write your resume:
- Use the STAR format — situation, task, action and result — in your work experience bullet points
- Quantify your impact whenever possible (e.g. ‘Served 50-100 customers per day and handled a cash register that totaled over $1,000 a day in sales.’)
- List your key wins and accomplishments, not just your day-to-day tasks
- Highlight meaningful extracurriculars & awards
- Emphasize skills & responsibilities found in the job description
- Keep it clean, concise & easy-to-read
Cover letters add additional color and context to your application. It’s important to note, though, that cover letters shouldn’t just list what’s on your resume — they should persuade whoever is reading the letter that you are uniquely right for the job. While not always mandatory, cover letters are almost always a good idea. They show that you are passionate about the opportunity, and provide a more well-rounded picture of who you are as a candidate.
Some tips to keep in mind as you write your cover letter:
- Start with a unique opening line — anecdotes, quotes and fun facts are all good options
- Do some research into the company, and mention a few things you’ve learned about it throughout the letter to showcase your knowledge of and passion for the organization
- Explain how your previous work experience has prepared you for this role
- Share a few ideas about how you would contribute to the company if hired
- Customize your cover letter for each new job that you apply to
Social Media Profiles
Many recruiters use social media to research candidates — some may even require a link to your social media profiles. So if you haven’t already, you may want to create a professional social media profile, especially on a networking site like LinkedIn.
A few best practices to follow as you polish your social media presence:
- Choose a professional headshot for your profile picture
- Add relevant work experience as applicable
- Keep it appropriate — delete any suggestive references or pictures
- Share and engage with relevant industry content
If you’re entering a creative field like web development, graphic design or writing, an online portfolio is an excellent way to stand out from the crowd. Platforms like Squarespace and Wix make it easy to put together a polished collection of your most notable projects and work samples.
As you’re creating your profile, remember:
- Highlight the projects that most closely resemble the type of work you’d like to do moving forward
- Describe the impact these projects had
- Feel free to add some color and design, but keep it clean and easy to read
- Update it frequently
With your materials ready, you’ll be ready to apply! It will likely take multiple tries, but if you keep at it, you’re bound to eventually hear back from a recruiter or hiring manager hoping to set up an interview.
Interview Like an Expert
Interviewing is often the process of the job search that people dread the most. But if you adequately prepare, it won’t be nearly as intimidating. Before your interview, make sure to look up some basic information on the company — things like what products/services they offer, who’s on their leadership team, what milestones they’ve reached recently, who their competitors are, etc. Any of these subjects are fair game in an interview, and not knowing the answer to one of them will show that you haven’t done your due diligence.
You can also use this information to come up with a few questions of your own. Asking your interviewer specific questions about the company will show that you are passionate, curious and well-informed.
You’ll also want to research common interview questions beforehand. You can reference Glassdoor’s list of the 50 Most Common Interview Questions, as well as search interview reviews for your job title and company on Glassdoor in order to see what real recruiters are asking candidates like you. Once you’ve identified a few of the questions most likely to come up, practice them aloud with a friend.
Here are some tips that can be applied to answering nearly any interview question:
- Get specific: There’s nothing interviewers find more frustrating than a vague or evasive answer, so when responding to a question, share specific ideas, examples and anecdotes.
- Think positive: Always exude enthusiasm and optimism. No one wants to hire a candidate who makes it clear that this isn’t their first-choice internship.
- Ask for time if necessary: When faced with a tough interview question, sometimes your mind just goes blank. That’s okay — it happens to the best of us! Rather than rushing through a half-baked answer, say “That’s a good question, let me think about it for a second,” and take a few moments to gather your thoughts.
- Be yourself: Students often get caught up thinking about what interviewers want to hear, but if you just tell somebody what you think you should, you risk coming off as artificial or maybe even ending up at an internship that isn’t right for you.
Follow Up & Finalize the Offer
Once you’ve gotten past your interview, breathe — the hard part is over! But your work isn’t quite over just yet. To start with, you’ll need to send a thank-you note to anybody you spoke with. Thank-you notes show that you’re organized and thoughtful, which both matter a great deal to employers. To write a great thank-you letter:
- Send it within 24 hours
- Thank the interviewer for their time
- Mention what you enjoyed learning about the company
- End with a call-to-action that invites them to reach out to you for anything they might need
Then, it’s time to wait until an interviewer provides you with an update. If they don’t reach out to you when they said they would, feel free to send a short check-in note — something like the following:
Dear [contact name],
I hope you’re doing well. I wanted to follow up about the [job title] role. I really enjoyed meeting you and the team last week, and I’m very interested in the opportunity. I’d love to know if there’s any further information I can provide during your hiring timeline.
With any luck, you’ll get an internship offer from the company shortly afterwards. Most companies make it official by sending you an offer letter, which you will be expected to sign and return to them. Look out for important details like start dates, responsibilities, pay and location. You should also ask if there’s anything you can do between now and your start date in order to prepare for your role — you want to make sure to start off on the right foot.
Congratulations on this exciting step forward in your career, and good luck!