How to Find – And Get – a Great Internship

Article Summary

Why are internships important?

It gives you professional work experience that you can't get in a classroom; you can make important contacts in the industry you wish to pursue; they make you more valuable when applying for jobs after college and sometimes they lead to a job offer.

Aren't internships unpaid? I can't afford to work for no pay.

Many internships are unpaid, but not all. Check out the resources provided in the article for tips on how to find a paid internship and read our blog post for even more tips.

Can I get college credit for my internship?

It's possible that your college may allow you to earn credit for you internship. Ask your academic advisor about this.

How do I find an internship?

Go to your college career center; search for one using an internship job posting website (see the article below for a list); if there's a company you know you want to work for, go to their job listings page on the company website, contact someone in their human resources department or reach out to a friend who works there.

How do I apply to an internship?

Follow the directions if you're responding to an internship job posting. If you're not responding to specific ad, send a letter to introduce yourself to the human resources manager or manager of the department in which you want to work. Include your resume and/or portfolio.

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Perhaps one of the best things you can do to ensure post-college success is complete an internship while pursuing your undergraduate degree. Internships provide a great opportunity for you to get a true sense of what you can see yourself doing after college, and maybe just as important, can help you discover what you don’t want to do. In other words, interning can offer you a glimpse into what specific careers could be like and can sometimes lead to full-time job offers. How do you go about locating an internship?

Here are some tips to get you started.

Locate an Industry That’s a Good Match for Your Skills and Interests

Obviously, one of the key steps in finding an internship is having a good idea of what you’re good at and what field you’re interested in. Once you locate a possible career path (or two), then it’s time to start researching what companies are out there. You also want to meet with your academic adviser or mentor to talk logistics, such as whether an internship will count for college credit and whether you should intern during the academic year or during the summer. Check out Forbes’ list of best internships (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2012/05/08/the-best-internships-for-2012/) to start. Then check out advertised internship positions on websites. Here are a few to get you started:

For Federal Internships:

For Science/Research Internships:

  • The National Science Foundation (http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/index.jsp) funds Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) in a variety of science topics; many positions are paid or offer stipends and/or travel expense reimbursement.
  • Rochester Institute of Technology (http://people.rit.edu/gtfsbi/Symp/mcoop.htm#boldface) has a list of science-oriented internships specifically targeting minority and under-represented students; most of the positions are paid.

Nonprofit Internships:

  • Idealist.com (http://www.idealist.org/) has a list of thousands of internships worldwide with nonprofit organizations, searchable by focus.

General Internship Websites:

Establish Contact and Query Good Matches

“You want to get to the interview 10 minutes early and be dressed appropriately.”
If there’s an organization that you think is an ideal match for you, get in touch with a representative of the company to learn whether it offers internships. If you know someone working there, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask her if she knows of any openings. Oftentimes someone you know can be a great means of introduction. If you don’t know anyone at the company, then contact someone in the human resources department. You want to learn as much as you can about the details of the internship—is it paid or unpaid? How many weeks will the internship last? Do they provide housing?

Apply and Make a Good Impression

Once you get an interview with the hiring manager or company representative, you want to make the best impression possible. Consider meeting with someone from your campus career center to do a mock interview prior to meeting with individuals affiliated with the company you hope to intern for. A good impression entails more than you might think. For example, you want to get to the interview 10 minutes early and be dressed appropriately. You also want to show that you know about the company and have a good sense of what you could offer the company. Also, have a list of questions to ask about the responsibilities and expectations of the intern. If you’ll just be filing papers all day, you’re better off looking for a more valuable work experience.

IMPORTANT: Unless you show up early to an interview, in proper attire, AND with a list of questions written down in advance to ask the interviewer, there is a very good chance that your resume will be tossed in the trash—even if it’s got high grades and other good things on it. These are simple things, but, for whatever reason, many people looking for internships and jobs don’t do them. If you make a point of doing all three, every time you have an interview, it will absolutely improve your chances of finding a position. It shows employers that you are taking the opportunity seriously and that you understand what it means to be “professional.” Also, make sure you do the following:

  • Scour your resume and cover letter (if you wrote one) for typos and grammatical mistakes before anyone from the company sees them. Get friends to help—a fresh set of eyes is more likely to catch errors. Get more tips on resume writing here.
  • After the interview, write a follow-up note (an email is usually fine) to the person who interviewed you. Reiterate your interest in the position, thank them for their time, and offer to provide them with any additional information that would help them in evaluating you as a candidate. Read this article for more interview advice—you can never get enough.

Clearly a lot of planning and research goes into landing a great internship. Most students try to complete an internship during either their junior or senior year of college. Try to make the experience work for you by getting paid at least a living wage or by getting college credit. Talk to your career counselor and academic adviser to ensure all the proper paperwork is completed so that the internship is reflected on your transcript.


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