Acing the Internship: Your Guide to Finding, Applying For and Making the Most Out of Internships

BY Abby Perkins

Acing the Internship: Your Guide to Finding, Applying For and Making the Most Out of Internships

For many students, summer is an opportunity to get ahead in the job search by applying for an internship. And these positions, from law to finance to medicine and beyond, are often highly coveted, making them extremely competitive.

However, there are tons of internships out there, from Fortune 500 companies to local businesses looking fill summer positions. And no matter what field you are going into, there are many different ways to find summer internships to gain experience and boost your resume.

With the help of some leading experts, including career coaches, college counselors and entrepreneurs, GoodCall is breaking down the internship application process into a few easy steps – and providing helpful tips for how to make the most of your internship experience.

Preparing for the Internship Search

Internships require a little bit of planning – even before you start applying. Think of it like a job. While your college courses, internships and other work experiences all prepare you for an eventual full-time job, you need to prepare yourself in a similar way for an internship. Doing so will not only make you more equipped to spend some time working in your chosen field – it will also make you a much more attractive candidate for competitive internships.

To prepare yourself for the internship search, there are a few things you can do:

Take related coursework

If you’re applying for internships in a particular field, you’re probably already majoring (or considering majoring) in a related subject. But if it’s still early in your college career, make sure you’re taking coursework that will give you a boost in the application process – whether it’s marketing for an advertising or PR internship, pre-med for an internship at a hospital, Preparing for an Internship-or economics for an internship in banking.

“Before [you apply], if you know what broad area you are interested in, try to take some specialty coursework or summer programs in that field so you have some academic knowledge and can actually speak the language and contribute.  This also shows that you are proactive about following your interests, which will help you in the selection process,” says Renee Rashid, cofounder and CEO of Blayz, Inc., a website that helps high school students find internships, volunteer opportunities and courses.

Participate in industry-specific groups and programs

In addition to taking related courses, try to get involved with related extra-curricular activities, whether that’s on-campus clubs, volunteer work or even part-time jobs. This helps show your interest in and commitment to the field, and gives you more relevant experience. It can also help widen your professional network and allow you to meet others with similar interests.

According to Elaine Krehmeyer, President of Career Revelations, “The internship candidates who stand out to employers are those with a demonstrated interest in the field, beyond the standard coursework in their major. Candidates who are seeking an internship in marketing, for example, are involved with the student chapter of the American Marketing Association. Students interested in investment banking will have completed supplemental modeling courses such as Training the Street. Others will conduct research for a professor in their field of interest.”

Maintain relationships with professors and mentors

Another thing you should do long before you start applying to internships? Identify a few professors or other professional mentors you are especially close with or who know your work well, and make sure you stay in touch with them (even if it’s just shooting them an email or dropping by their office once in a while). These are people you can ask to write you recommendations when application time rolls around, and maintaining your relationships with them helps ensure that your accomplishments stay fresh in their minds.

And don’t forget to give them plenty of time to write your recommendations. Ask as early as possible, but try give your recommenders at least five to six weeks. This ensures that they’ll have plenty of time to write you a well-thought-out letter – not one that’s rushed and provides the bare minimum of information. Rashid says, “Find and maintain relationships with teachers and other adults who can write great recommendations for you, and make sure you approach them well before the application deadlines.”

Network

It’s never too early to start networking. Growing your professional network can open up a wealth of potential opportunities – including internships. And the more people you know in the industry you’re interested in, the more likely you are to benefit from those connections.

Elizabeth Venturini, college career strategist at CollegeCareerResults.com, says she sees too many new students thinking they can wait until after college to start networking. But, she argues, “Networking starts when they enter college. Everyone is a possible contact – friends, professors, administrators, organizations, speakers for special events. Students should take advantage of every opportunity to meet venturini quotepeople in their future field of interest and begin building professional relationships with them over the next four years.”

Brush up on your professional skills

While you’re doing these things, consider brushing up on some must-have skills like public speaking, communicating and socializing in professional settings. According to Venturini, many college students are lacking these skills – and putting in a little work to build them up can go a long way when it comes to standing out in the internship search.

Venturini suggests taking a speech or debate class to practice public speaking and presentation skills. She also says it’s important to learn business etiquette, noting, “In an age when it is second nature for so many young people to prefer to text than talk, knowing business etiquette is critical as they prepare for college and future employment. Because no matter how technically brilliant you are, a lack of business and social skills could hold you back from prime academic, social, and future career opportunities.”

Think about what you want from the experience

Finally, before you start applying for internships, think about what you actually want to gain from the experience. Critically considering this will help you narrow down your options and make the most out of your internship once you land one.

Consider what you want most from an internship. Is it industrial knowledge? Work experience? Professional connections? However, it’s equally important to think about what you don’t want. As Chris Palmer, author of Now What, Grad? Your Path to Success After College, asserts, “Internships enable you to enrich your education with hands-on experience and to apply lessons learned in the classroom to professional settings. Half of the time, interns report that their experiences affirm their career aspirations. However, learning what you dislike in a position, organization or industry is equally valuable.” Many students enter an internship in a field that they’re sure they want to major or work in, only to change their mind after actually gaining experience in that field.

Palmer also advises students to consider logistics. What does your ideal company culture look and feel like – is it buttoned-up and professional, or more laid back? Do you expect or need to be paid for your internship? Will you need to receive academic credit?

Also consider where you want to be. Royi Shemesh, partner and CEO of Sichuan Internships & Immersion Programs, says, “If you have the time and means to do your internship abroad, I would PREMIUM CLOTHING CO. (2)definitely advise it. This will not only help you gain actual work experience, but will also show your future employer that you are able to work in a different environment.” However, for other students, an internship close to home might make the most sense.

Finding an Internship

Next, you need to actually start looking for internships to apply for. The first wave of applications for summer internships begins in the fall of the year before, with application periods usually running through late May. The largest number of applications are usually received between February and April. Deadlines also depend on the field you’re looking to work in – government, finance and engineering typically have earlier deadlines, as do programs abroad. All that said, it’s always better to start early – experts recommend starting to look for summer internships by or before winter break.

There are many different resources you can use to find available internships:

Online databases

Often, the quickest way to see what’s out there for internships is to hit the Internet. And just like for jobs, there are tons of websites you can use to search for internships you might be interested in. Many allow you to filter search results by field, location, desired experience and even pay. A few of the best options are below:

And, as Forbes’ Susan Adams notes, you shouldn’t overlook the power of a simple Google search. By searching for something like “paid marketing internship New York City,” she writes, you can get dozens of hits.

internshipsYour college’s career services

Your college or university’s career services center is another great resource for finding out about available internships, particularly local ones (and even programs abroad that your college is affiliated with). The professionals there can also help you hone your career goals, boost your resume and figure out what you need to do to get ahead.

Tara Milliken, career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, says, “Students should utilize their university’s career services office for support during the internship search. These offices often provide resources and individual advising to support students in clarifying their career goals and helping them to identify and pursue available opportunities. Services typically include resume and cover letter reviews, LinkedIn assistance, knowledge of industry hiring timelines, an internal jobs and internship database, and mock interviews.”

Your professional contacts

Remember that professional network you’ve been working to build? Now’s the time to put it to use. Reach out to professors you are close with, former bosses, alumni from your school, or even friends of your family to see if they know of any internships in fields you’re interested in. They may offer to put you in touch with other people in those fields, which can open up your opportunities even further.

How to go about it? Tom Dowd, Executive Director of the Career Center at Muhlenburg College, tells students, “Find alumni from your school that work at organizations that interest you and reach out to them. Use the Advanced Search on LinkedIn to find shared connections and ask for introductions.  When you reach out to people, ask them for advice on how to get an internship at their organization or similar organizations.”

Do your research

Finally, once you’ve found several opportunities you’re interested in, do your research. Look into the specific internships and make sure you have all the relevant details on location, salary, job description and duration of the position – and make sure these align with what you’re looking for. Also make sure to look into the company as a whole. Does the culture seem to line up with your expectations? Do employees seem to like it? Check out things like Glassdoor reviews, the company website and blog and their social media profiles to get a better idea of what it might be like to work there.

Landing the Internship

Now that you’ve narrowed down a list of internships to apply for, it’s time to land it. That means crafting a killer application (including a resume and cover letter), going above and beyond to prepare, and eventually dominating the interview.

Submitting an application

Your application is the first impression a potential employer gets when you apply for a job or internship. That means it has to be good. To make sure yours leaves a solid impression:

  • Research: Make sure you’re informed about current standards for resumes, cover letters and applications – what to include, what they should look like, how long they should be and more. There are many online resources that can help, as can your college’s career services center.
  • Proofread: Check over all your application materials for errors before you submit anything. Many employers say they immediately throw out applications that include grammar or spelling mistakes.
  • Go above and beyond: Always include a copy of your resume, as well as a personalized cover letter expressing your interest in the position and your unique qualifications. Employers often use these to judge writing and communication skills.

Makenzie Marzluff, an entrepreneur and founder of Delighted by Hummus, has employed several interns. Her best application advice? Don’t pretend you’re experienced if you’re not. Instead, highlight your ability to learn. “Most companies don’t expect that you will be tremendously experienced, so don’t try to convince them that you are,” she says. “In any internship, there is a lot of new learning, so emphasize (honestly) your willingness to learn fast and self-motivate.”

Another way to stand out? Show your enthusiasm about that particular company. Dowd notes, “Employers don’t want students who want just any internship; they want interns who want an internship at their organization.   Saying you are interested is good, but being able to demonstrate your interest by referencing specifics such as their mission, recent initiatives, or vision will show that you are -Emphasize (honestly) your willingness to learn fast and self-motivate.-genuine.”

Preparing for the interview

If you’ve learned one thing by now, it should be that preparation is key. And that’s never more true than for the actual interview.

You never want to go into an interview cold. Whether your interview is in-person, over the phone or via Skype, you need to do some work beforehand. A few things to start with include:

  • Researching the company: You should have done some preliminary research on the company already. But if you’re going in for an interview, you want to be able to speak more specifically about things like their business model, their mission and their organizational goals.
  •  Gathering materials: Make sure you have all the materials you’ll need to bring into the interview (and that they’re organized and presented in a professional, visually appealing way). This includes printed copies of your resume, as well as examples of relevant work, like writing, design, photography or marketing materials.
  • Preparing for interview questions: Do some basic preparation for common interview questions you think you might be asked, as well as any specific questions you think pertain to the individual position or company. You can prepare by writing out notes, or by practicing verbally with a friend or parent.
  • Thinking of questions to ask: You should also prepare a few questions to ask your interviewer. Sarah Burrows, Director of Internship Programs and Associate Professor of Communications at Lasell College, says, “Students should always pose two to three good questions that cannot be answered by perusing the organization’s web site.”

Stand out from start to finish

Want to go above and beyond? Our experts provided a few tips that they believe make internship applicants stand out above the rest:

  • Make a major commitment: Susan Ward, Coordinator of Career Development and Outreach at Beacon College, says students can make themselves stand out by committing their schedule to the internship. She notes, “One way to make your application stand out among the rest is to clear your summer schedule of anything except your commitment to that company. Many applications provide a place for you to display your availability. If you convey that you are available morning, noon and night for the entire summer, you are going to be considered before the applicant that has prior obligations.  This shows your dedication and commitment to the company before you have even been considered.”
  • Sell your skills: As a student, you don’t have traditional work experience to rely on. But you can relate your coursework, volunteer work and other skills to the job in a way that makes you stand out. Ward advises students, “Make your resume stand out by selling yourself.  You may not have years of work experience, but you have skills that you have strengthened through coursework and life experience. Align those true skills with the internship description throughout your resume. Remember to add all volunteer opportunities as well.”
  • APPLICATION DO's AND DON'T's (1)Differentiate yourself: Dowd advises students to think hard about what makes them different, and emphasize that in the application and interview process. “Work hard to uncover what makes you different than other applicants,” he suggests. “Are there projects from your courses that the employer will care about?  Relevant classes?  Impressive campus leadership or activities?  Once you find your main selling points, you can make them stand out on your resume.”
  • Dress professionally: Don’t show up for an interview in what you would wear to class or to go out with friends. What’s appropriate will vary by the company, but most will expect some variation of business or business casual attire, especially for the interview. It should go without saying, but all our experts concur: err on the side of more professional if you’re unsure.
  • Follow up: Once you’ve gone through the application and interview process, don’t forget to follow up with a thank-you note or email. It’s also okay to follow up later (based on whatever timeline the company gave you) to ask about their decision. Burrows agrees, saying students “should always follow up on their applications – systematically but politely.”

Making the Most of Your Internship

So – you landed an internship! Congratulations. But the work doesn’t end here. In fact, the real work is just beginning.

Internships are short – most last just a few months. That’s not very long to make an impact on the people around you – not to mention navigate a new industry, develop your skills and build a whole new base of knowledge. That’s why we’ve rounded up our top tips for making the most of your internship in a short period of time.

Be great, not just good

To make the largest impact on a company (and increase your chances of getting a job offer down the line, if that’s your ultimate goal), you need to go above and beyond just average performance. Krehmeyer shares some specific tips for figuring out what separates good from great: “Good interns understand the job. Great intern understand the company. Good interns are always on time. Great interns are the first in and last out. Good interns do exactly what is asked. Great interns anticipate the next step and ask for more. Good interns have strong technical skills. Great interns exhibit strong -Good interns understand the (1)technical and soft skills. Good interns network well with leadership. Great interns are fully engaged with both peers and managers.”

Be active, not passive

It’s going to take more than just sitting back, keeping your head down and completing your assignments to really make the most of your internship. Take an active role when it comes to communicating with your manager and peers, asking for assignments and stepping outside the box. Palmer advises students, “From your interview to your exit, actively listen and summarize what you hear, be inquisitive and ask questions for clarification, keep your supervisor informed about your progress and activities, seek feedback and receive it in a gracious, professional manner.” He adds, “Don’t wait for assignments during a lull. See what needs attention and offer to help.”

Dowd agrees, suggesting that students take this opportunity as a chance to go outside their comfort zone. “Once you accept an internship,” he says, “it is time to focus on making the experience meaningful.  The more you go outside of your comfort zone on your internship, the more you will get out of it.”

Ask questions

One way to go outside your comfort zone? Talk to people at all levels of the company. Ask people in different departments, at different levels of seniority, to grab coffee or lunch or just to chat for a few minutes. Your new coworkers are the best resources you have to learn about the company and the industry, so just ask. Milliken says, “An internship is a wonderful opportunity for students to ask questions or request informational interviews with those in leadership positions at a company, because most professionals are eager and willing to share insight and advice with current students.”

Marzluff concurs, adding, “Ask someone in a role that you’re interested in to be your mentor. Maybe even suggest weekly or monthly meetings to check in, ask questions, and shadow.”

Reflect on your experience – both during and after

To really make the most of your internship, you need to think about the effect it’s having on your professional development – both after the fact and while you’re there. Palmer tells students, “Take the time to think about what you’re learning – not just about the organization, industry, or projects, but about yourself.”

Another great way to reflect on your progress is to ask for feedback often, from your manager and from others you work closely with. And don’t just take in the good. Marzluff encourages students, “Be open to receiving both negative and positive feedback. This is your time to fail fast.”

Stay in touch

The final thing you can do to make the most of your internship? Make sure you make a good impression right up until you leave, and then stay in touch with your contacts there. That means thanking your employer for the opportunity, saying goodbye to your manager and teammates and giving them the opportunity to connect with you in the future.

Palmer says that reaching out with thanks before you leave may make your employer more likely to write you a generous letter of recommendation down the line: “Appreciate the opportunities and support that you receive throughout your internship and always send a farewell message to your colleagues, not just your supervisor, extending your gratitude for the experience. In turn, your supervisor may show thanks to you by offering a letter of recommendation for you to share with future employers. Burrows suggests doing the same, as well as asking coworkers to connect on LinkedIn for future networking. “As they leave the internship,” she recommends, “students should thank anyone they have worked with and ask to connect on LinkedIn. Then, use the connection to stay in touch for future opportunities.”

Below, we’ve compiled a few of our favorite tips on finding, applying for and landing internships, from top experts featured here:

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