In many fields, a degree alone may not be enough to land a great job after college. One way to get the necessary experience to land a competitive entry level job in your field may be an internship. Although they do not pay well (some not at all), and they often involve a lot of grunt work, internships can offer a new graduate a lot of perks.
First and foremost, an internship is a chance to get a taste of the different types of work that are involved in your field, from the bottom up. In addition to giving you some valuable work experience, it may help you decide which direction you want to take your career from within your chosen field.
Another important aspect of an internship are the contacts you will make along the way. In some cases, an internship might lead to a job offer, but even if it doesn’t, the odds are good that it will at least lead to a few strong references and some well-positioned professional contacts.
Here are some tips on landing the right internship to jump start your career after college:
1) Identify Opportunities
Your road to the perfect internship starts by identifying the right opportunities. If you are counting on an internship to give you valuable experience to go along with your shiny new degree, plan on applying to several positions during your last year at college.
Internships can be highly competitive, and you want to be sure you have plenty of irons in the pot to increase your odds of success. Start with a large list and narrow it down to your top 5-10 choices.
Where to Find Internships
There are several places to find out about internship opportunities. One of the easiest is to use online search tools on job finder sites such as Glassdoor and Indeed. There are also internship specific sites, such as Internships.com. You can also do general internet research by searching for “internship” and your chosen field.
It is also worth visiting your campus career center as well as the department that administers your degree. Likewise, your degree advisor may be particularly on the ball when it comes to knowing about career specific internships for your field of study.
If you are particularly interested in working for a specific company, you should take time to identify any internship programs they have advertised. If you can’t find any, don’t hesitate to reach out to their human resources department with an inquiry letter to let them know of your interest in interning for them.
Prioritize Your List
The process of applying for internships is time intensive. Once you have identified a solid list of 20 potential internships, narrow the list to those that are the strongest fit for your ultimate career goals.
In addition, if you have a contact that might provide you with an inside referral, your odds of being seriously considered are significantly improved. As such, these internships should definitely make your list of those you will apply for.
Your list should include a few “dream” internships as well as a few that might be a little less intensely competitive. This can help make sure you are hedging your bets to increase your odds that at least one of the jobs will pan out in the end.
It is important to get organized with your internship search at this early stage of the process. As you identify your opportunities, start listing them in a spreadsheet or other app so that you can keep an eye on contact information, deadlines, the status of your application, and any other relevant notes along the way. This way, when you find the time to work on your internship applications, it will be clear what steps you need to take next.
2) Research and Customize Your Resume and Cover Letter
Your cover letter and resume are the first impression that your potential future employer will have of you. It is critical that these documents are professional, error free, and ultimately “sell” your fit to the company while making clear how the internship will contribute to your career ambitions.
Take the time to fully research the company that you are applying for. Visit the company website and do independent research to learn more about recent company events, milestones, and changes in top leadership. Most importantly, try to learn more about the company culture and the core values that they promote.
If possible, try to locate some past interns to discuss their experiences. Use your social network (such as on LinkedIn) and contacts you have made through Greek organizations, sports teams, or volunteer groups you have worked with to get the inside scoop from a former intern at the places where you are applying.
Your resume and cover letter should use the information you have learned about the company to demonstrate two things in addition to your relevant qualifications: First, that you have taken the time to do your research, and second, to demonstrate your alignment with the company culture.
In addition, you should customize your resume to highlight only the most relevant skills, education, qualifications, and experiences so that they appear first to the reader. An objective statement can also be customized to showcase how this opportunity would be an important step in your individual career journey.
3) Leverage Your Network
Hopefully you have been building your professional network while in college. If you held a job, this may include supervisors and fellow employees that you worked with. If you volunteered, you probably met other college students as well as other members of your university that you can count among your contacts. Advisors or professors may also be potential professional contacts.
Now it is time to seek out help from the people you have met on the road to your degree. They may be able to help you in two important ways:
In some cases, your college contacts may know someone who is connected to an internship opportunity. For example, one of your professors may have worked for one of the companies you are considering before taking a job in academia. If your rapport is strong, you may be able to get them to provide you with a referral on a social networking platform such as LinkedIn, or better yet, make a phone call to an old contact to be sure your application materials get noticed.
Another way your college contacts can help is by providing you with a strong reference. The first aspect of a strong reference is that you have worked with the person enough that they can speak to your work ethic, ability to work with a team, or speak to your outstanding academic performance. Just taking a single class from a professor, for example, usually won’t do for a strong reference.
Equally important to consider, and often overlooked, is the professional standing of your reference. The higher they are in the ivory tower, the stronger their word will be when it comes to speaking on your behalf. For example, a recommendation from a tenured professor is more valuable than one from a teaching assistant (usually a graduate student).
Finally, be sure to talk to your references in advance of providing their contact coordinates. Give them some basic information on the internships you are applying for and what you think are your strongest qualifications for each. This will help them provide a tailored recommendation that mirrors the selling points that you emphasized in your application materials.
4) Nail the Interview
Just like hiring for a regular position, most companies use an interview process to decide which internship candidates to hire. A great internship interview is very similar to a great job interview. It is important to show up prepared, emphasize your fit for the company culture and values, demonstrate how the opportunity fits into your long-term career objectives, and make an authentic connection with the interview team.
One difference between a job interview and that for an internship is that the latter may require more emphasis on your long-term career ambitions, and why the internship is a strong fit to help you along your way. Since an internship is a stepping stone, rather than a long-term job, it is more appropriate to frame it that way, rather than emphasizing a long-term commitment to the job itself.
Although a detailed review of great interview tips is beyond the scope of this article, you can find more resources on getting ready for interviews here.
5) Follow Up
The last stage of landing an internship is a professional and prompt follow up. Be sure that you send a thank you email within 24 hours of the interview. Ideally, it will mention some aspects of your conversation to remind them of your interview. In addition, it should convey a sincere thank you for their time and a reiteration of your enthusiasm about the position itself.
If you have not heard back within a week, it is appropriate to follow up again to inquire about the process and remind the hiring team that you are still interested in the internship.