College Internship Guide (Step by Step!)
Summer time: a time for sunshine, relaxation, and the beach. For college students, it’s also internships season.
Looking to get a leg up on the competition this internship season? Follow this college internship guide to set yourself apart from the pack and land your dream internship.
Step 1: Start with Research
Research is a critical component to finding the internship that’s right for you.
See, there are thousands of internship opportunities out there, but no two opportunities are the same. Companies have different values and cultures, offer varying levels of internship projects/responsibilities, etc.
Plus, you have to consider what you want out of an internship. Some want to give a field a test run to see if they can see themselves working in it. Others want to get their foot in the door and start making connections. In fact, some industries basically require an internship to get a respectable position (finance, accounting, engineering, etc.)
And then some students just want a well-paying resume booster that isn’t flipping burgers or doing manual labor.
Determine what you want to get out of an internships, then start your internship research using these following sources.
Look at the different types of internship arrangements companies offer. Some companies offer a structured program of a defined length designed to complete a specific project, learn certain skills, see the company more in-depth, or a similar objective.
Other companies offer internships in a less formal arrangement, almost like a regular job. You could end up doing employee-level work, or you might be the designated coffee person.
However, these internships more often extend into the school year, where you’d be interning part-time. If you need employment during the school year, one of these internships can provide a well-paying opportunity for you.
Then, there are certain fields that have internships at odd times of the year. Take accounting, for instance. Accounting firms hire tons of interns for tax season, which is during the winter. Taking one of these jobs may push your graduation back or force you into summer classes, so weigh that during your search.
Research various companies in your industry, see what they offer for internship programs, then build a list of companies offering what you’re looking for.
Your major’s department is an excellent place to go for finding internship opportunities. They’re bound to have information about upcoming and potential internship opportunities with companies in your field. Plus, they can help you get in contact with these companies and ease the internship process for you.
Connect With and Talk to Professors
Another excellent resource are your professors, and for a few reasons.
For one, they usually know their industry quite well. They can tell you what kinds of opportunities are available, provide feedback from other students who interned at certain companies, and provide advice on navigating the internship and job hunts.
But of course, your professors also have a great network you can take advantage of. They typically stay in contact with former colleagues and coworkers, and often will recommend their favorite students to internship hiring managers if you establish a good relationship with the professor.
They might even write you a letter of recommendation!
Attend your professors’ office hours not just to get better grades, but to form that connection with them as well. It’ll pay off in spades down the line.
Career Services/Alumni Network
A college’s/university’s career services department exists solely to help you land jobs and internships. Head there for resources on looking for internships.
You might consider scheduling an appointment with a career counselor while you’re there. They’ll work with you to draw up an action plan landing your dream internship, as well as fitting that internship in with the rest of your college career and your eventual job search.
Establish a good working relationship with a career counselor; like a professor, they are in contact with many companies in the industry and can point you in the right direction.
Your career services department may also have a school-specific job board where employers can post internship openings. Browse on this job board if it’s available to see what you might be doing as an intern for your favorite companies.
Get in contact with alumni networks through you career center, too. Alumni are always willing to help out students from their alma mater.
Career fairs are your opportunity to finally see those companies you’ve researched in person, as well as to get your resume and cover letter into their hands (more on that later).
Now’s your chance to make a great first impression. Give a firm handshake, introduce yourself loud and clear, maintain eye contact, the whole nine yards. Come prepared with a list of smart, relevant questions regarding the company and their internship opportunities.
Asking questions does two things for you: it shows that you’re serious about the internship search (a plus in the eyes of employers) while helping you filter through companies offering the type of opportunity you’re after.
Family and Friends
Alongside your other internship research resources, you should work your personal network too. Your family, relatives, friends, and neighbors all might know somebody that works at a local company (or they themselves might work there).
They can inform you of internship opportunities at these companies, and of course, help you land the job since you know them.
Step 2: Prepare for the Interview
After narrowing your list down to your top companies, you have to apply to them. Each company might have a different application process; for some majors, such as accounting, you may even have to go through a formal recruitment process, so understand how recruiting in your industry works.
Now, it is of the utmost importance that you maintain a friendly and positive demeanor throughout this entire process, because every action you take is under scrutiny.
It’s not just the hiring manager judging you; employees are too. If you’re rude to the receptionist on the phone, for example, they will make note of that.
Stay on your best behavior.
Your resume is the first impression most hiring managers will get of you. Thus, it needs to be free of any errors and formatted so that it’s eye-catching and stands out.
Make sure to highlight your strengths and really sell the company on why you’d benefit them as an internet. Remember, although this is your education, the company cares about itself first.
Another note about formatting: keep the resume to one page. Your resume is supposed to be a “highlight reel”, not an entire history of your life. Save the details for the interview.
Until you’re several years into your industry, you won’t have several pages of valuable experience to demonstrate to the company.
Not to mention they have hundreds, if not thousands of candidates to sort through.
When your resume is complete, have it reviewed by at least 3 other people. Make sure one of these people is a professor or career counselor.
Your Cover Letter
A cover letter in nearly all situations should accompany your resume, even if the company doesn’t ask for one.
Your cover letter is kind of like a sales letter version of your resume. You need to tell the company why you want the internship while showing them how you’ll benefit the company; all of this should be done with clear, concise, professional language.
This is also a chance to mention any interaction you’ve had with them before, such as at a career fair.
Have your cover letter reviewed the same way your resume was reviewed.
Now, time to prepare for the interview. This part’s the hardest, as you can never know for sure what questions they’ll ask.
There are a few common ones, though, the most common being the dreaded “tell me about yourself” opener.
Answer this by first discussing your current job role/academic experience, then discuss a bit about how you got your current student job or why you picked your major, then finally what your career goals are and how this internship will help.
Most other questions are bound to be about your experiences. Be specific in your answers. They use these questions to gauge how you’d act on the job, so make the majority of each question about how you handled the situation, with only a sentence or two discussing the situation itself and the outcome of your actions and how it’s relevant to the question.
Also, bring some intelligent questions of your own. Questions show you’re invested in finding the right opportunity for you, impressive in the eyes of employers.
Lastly, schedule a mock interview at the career center to iron out the details. They can tape your performance so you can catch and reduce fidgeting and filler words.
Step 3: Nail the Interview
The big day has arrived. You might be nervous. But don’t worry – if you made it this far, they consider you a worthy candidate. As long as you don’t screw anything up, you’ll have a decent shot at many of your chosen companies.
For men, job interviews usually mean suit and tie. For women, pant suits.
When in doubt, stay conservative with your dress. Always be a bit overdressed rather than under dressed. Rarely will a company fault you for looking too formal.
Prepare your dress clothes the night before. The last thing you want to do is to be scrambling for your stuff the morning of your interview.
Get There Early (But Not Too Early)
Being late is a big no-no, but getting there too early can also throw off your chances. You may just have to wait an awkwardly long time, but some bosses actually fault you for arriving too early as it shows irresponsible use of time and it stresses out the front office employees.
Arrive half an hour early, spend a few minutes rehearsing some of your interview answers, and take a few deep breaths. Once you have about 10 minutes until the interview, stroll in to the building.
That way, you’ll be early enough to knock out any check-ins or paperwork as well as demonstrate your punctuality without wasting half a day at the company.
Unsure of how to get there? Worried about traffic? Drive there once or twice in the days leading up to the interview to estimate how long the drive is. They won’t take kindly to “there was a lot of traffic”.
Bring Copies of Resume and Cover Letter
They should already have your resume and cover letter somewhere in the building or digitally, but bring five extra hard copies (one for you and four to account for other interviewers) in case they forget or can’t bring it with them.
Believe it or not, this will boost your chances slightly because it shows you’re prepared and professional.
Consider bringing them in a clean black folder, too. Adds a bit more to the professional air about you.
Acquire Their Business Cards
Get business cards from every employee and manager you meet so you can stay in contact with the company. If they have business cards at the front, grab one or two. Otherwise, wait until the end of “do you have any questions for us?” to ask for their business cards if they don’t hand them to you themselves.
Don’t worry, it’s considered polite and professional to ask for these.
Step 4: Don’t Forget to Follow Up
Whew, the interviews done. But you aren’t. Many students and even full-time employees fail to follow up adequately and lose out on opportunities.
Within 24 hours of interviewing, you’ll want to follow up with a message thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in the position, as well as stating that you’re looking forward to the next steps.
But how should you follow up with them?
That depends. A hand-written letter is the best because it shows you care more than to blast out an email to several people. When presented with two equal candidate, companies will often pick the one who took time to write a note.
Of course, hand-written notes present their problems. They take time to write and mail, and they may take more than a day to arrive.
Use hand-written notes for your top few companies, then write a nice email for your lower-priority companies.
Step 5: The Internship
Congrats! You landed the internship. Hopefully, it’s a paid internship, too.
Now, it’s time to work. Employers treat internships as a form of extended job interview; by seeing you in action, they can assess if you’ll work hard and fit well with the company culture as a future employee.
That means you’ll want to be on top of your game. Dress your best, arrive early everyday, act professional on the job, and be enthusiastic about every task you’re given, even if it’s making a coffee run.
On top of that, always seek out new opportunities to learn. Politely ask your boss if you can learn more about certain tasks or take on additional responsibilities. This enthusiasm and drive will impress your boss, potentially landing you high on the list of interns being considered for full-time offers.
While you’re working hard, don’t forget to make connections with other employees. Doing so will make your internship easier and more fun, and when employees hold positive opinions of you, word might spread to your boss about your work ethic and personality.
Step 6: Post-Internship
So you’ve complete your internship. Don’t rest on your laurels just yet, as there’s still work to do.
If you followed Step 5, you’ll have made a positive impression on your boss and fellow employees. Keep in touch with them.
This doesn’t need to be labor intensive. Check in once a month with your former boss via email on how the project you worked on is going. Connect with your former boss and coworkers on LinkedIn.
Building your network will help you establish industry connections. Even if you don’t get a full-time offer or opt for a different company, knowing people throughout the industry will make finding and landing job opportunities a lot easier.
And hey, the company you intern with might have another internship position for you next summer.