If you hope to graduate from college with a job offer in hand, gaining internship experience is essential. But with nearly 20 million students attending college in 2019, your competition for an internship is heating up. To help you stand out among a stack of resumes and job applicants, we’re going to explain exactly how to get an internship.
Getting your first internship requires more than a polished resume or business attire. You’ll need to network, show initiative, and research potential companies before any interviews take place. If you do gain face-to-face time with a potential employer, you’ll have to continue to follow up until you secure a position.
Keep reading to learn how to get an internship and what potential employers look for in college candidates.
Think Beyond the Classroom (And Work Outside It)
Yes, your studies are important. Completing assignments, studying for exams, and hitting deadlines require the same discipline, work ethic, and perseverance you’ll need in the workforce post-graduation.
But even a 4.0 GPA won’t land you an internship outright.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, infamously raised eyebrows when he announced that roughly half of Apple employees do not have a college degree. As reported by Business Insider, other companies, including Google, IBM, Bank of America, and Hilton follow Apple’s lead, noting that certain positions don’t require a college degree.
So, how can you apply this to your internship search? Remember that grades — or even a diploma — aren’t what matters most to employers. What they’re looking for is experience, even with intern or entry-level positions.
If You Can’t Find an Internship, Create Your Own
To gain the experience that many companies want in a candidate, push yourself to think creatively. How could you build your resume and find internships, even with no prior work experience?
Here are a few ideas: Reach out to local businesses and offer part-time help in exchange for a stipend or college credit. Better yet, target a company whose services you could use — a yoga studio, coworking space, or meal delivery service — and see if they’ll barter with you. Write your own job description for an unpaid internship, then gain real-world experience while enjoying free fitness classes (or food).
Make Yourself Visible
You might be perfect for an internship — but if the recruiter doesn’t know you exist, you won’t land it.
Approach the internship application process the same way you approached college applications in high school. Cast a wide net and apply for different companies within your desired career field. (You didn’t apply to just one university, did you?) If you know someone on the inside, invite them for coffee and an informational interview.
An Online Presence Can Help You Land an Internship
Attend career fairs hosted on campus, meet with a career counselor in your college’s career center, and set up a LinkedIn account online. Interact with potential employers through as many touchpoints as possible, and never underestimate how one interaction could lead to another.
For example, if you submit a job application to a company, express your interest in the position when you meet their head of HR at a job fair. Or, if you meet a potential employer at a networking event, follow up with a direct LinkedIn message.
According to the DirectEmployers Association, job board postings are the most effective tool for high-volume recruiting. In fact, 44.9% of employers use job sites as their first means of recruiting. By posting your resume online with a tool like Scholars, you’re more likely to become connected to potential employers.
Always Do Your Research
Let’s give that four-year education a little real-world pop quiz.
How do you get good grades? Answer: Do the homework. Alright, now how do you expect to land an internship? Answer: Do. The. Homework.
Hiring managers expect you to research their company. If the company has articles published in the newspaper, read them. If the CEO is a thought-leader on LinkedIn, follow them. If the company’s marketing department issues a weekly newsletter, hit the subscribe button. Download company ebooks, follow their corporate social media accounts, and ask a friend to conduct mock interviews to test your knowledge of the company, rather than just coming up with common interview questions.
Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan, the bank that employs nearly a quarter of a million people, told Stanford students the number one thing he looks for in new hires is knowledge. And he’s not referring to knowledge of investment banking.
Dimon wants candidates to prove they know about the company.
“Some people walk into your office,” Dimon says, “And they don’t bother to read the chairman’s letter I wrote.” A 30- or 40-page report is less than the reading you’ll do for a single class. Yet it lets you know every topic on the final exam: You’ll discover the major initiatives of the company, the problems they’re facing, and how they plan to tackle those issues in the upcoming year.
Make Your Resume Shine
If you find an internship you want to apply for, your internship application has to be perfect (we don’t say this lightly).
Ask two different people, such as an advisor or upper-level student, to proofread your resume and check for typos. Get specific about your accomplishments, using numbers to denote achievements whenever possible.
If you wrote a cover letter (which we highly recommend), take the extra five minutes to Google the hiring manager’s name, rather than typing “To whom it may concern,” in the salutation.
When it comes to cover letters, don’t treat it like a numbers game by sending out the same letter to each of the six internships you apply for. Retype each letter, making it as specific to the company — and the position — as you can.
Stay Humble Through the Interview Process
Let’s review something you already know: Your first internship probably won’t be your dream job.
And yet, that internship is a void the company needs to fill. And the person overseeing it wants someone who can get the job done, and will do so without complaints. Over 90% of hiring managers say that soft skills, including how you carry yourself, get along with coworkers, and respond to instructions, are the most important factors in evaluating potential hires.
In other words, when you get in-person time with the hiring manager (translation: you score an interview), check your ego, be attentive, and show your humble side.
Gary Burnison, author of “Lose the Resume, Land the Job,” wrote on Forbes that during the first two weeks of his first full-time job, he moved boxes. Dressed head-to-toe in a suit and amidst complaints from his colleagues, he performed physical labor far outside his job description. He says it was his first lesson in the value of humility. You don’t complain — you just get the job done.
Show the internship coordinator that you can be that person. Be on time. Dress appropriately. Be polite. Be attentive. Be direct and ask the hiring manager relevant questions: “What does success look like for this internship?” “What does a typical day on the job look for an intern?” “What soft skills or hard skills do you find valuable in this position?” Demonstrate that you’re a team player who genuinely cares about the success of the company as a whole — not just your personal gain.
Follow Up and Be Prompt
If you manage to connect with a potential employer and go through the interview process, you’re not guaranteed an internship. We’re not saying this to discourage you — we’re just letting you know that there’s still work to be done. (And hopefully, it will give you an edge over the other applicants).
The minute you get home from your interview, send your interviewer an email. Thank your interviewer for their time, reiterate your interest in the company and the position, and press send (after a quick proofread, of course).
You can’t send your thank-you message too soon. Employers appreciate timeliness, which is why we notify you via text and email whenever internships become available.
Knowing How to Get an Internship Requires Persistence
Landing an internship is not the finish line in your career path. Your goal should be to gain real-world, relevant experience — and that doesn’t end your first day on the job.
Continue to use these tips — being attentive, staying humble, continually asking questions, and always being timely in your follow-up — throughout your internship. And always look for the next opportunity.
At Scholars, employers are looking for interns and recent grads year-round, not just through the summer months. Continue to check back for new internship opportunities, layering new companies, roles, and experiences to your resume. Registering is free, and can help connect you with your first internship, or even your first role post-graduation.