If you need an internship this year, try learning from people who have failed or succeeded at finding one.
Your advisor says an internship will open doors and build your skills. But you’re busy with everything else, and you might not even know what to look for in an internship. What doors do you even want to open? And what skills do you even want to build?
We put together a guide of “Do’s and Don’ts” to help you find an internship that is right for you. It’s based on real stories that we heard from recruiters at Intel and The New England Center for Children. (We changed the names but the stories are about real applicants.)
The guide takes you from networking and applying, to meeting recruiters and interviewing. As you search on your own, you will learn a ton from your own experience. You’ll start to envision where you want to go. We just want to help you grab it when you see it.
Here are a few stories from the guide:
DO: Lee learned about his internship from a previous intern. That former intern connected him to some current employees. Lee asked them about the internship and their experience as staff. They were able to put in a good word for Lee when he decided to apply.
DON’T: Mary is studying Aerospace Engineering. She applied for over 20 various intern positions. She did not customize her resume to each role. To date, she has not even received an invitation to a telephone interview.
DO network with employees at the organization.
DON’T apply to everything and anything.
DO: Elena didn’t possess most of the requirements for the internship, but she was passionate and willing. She beat out other candidates who had more relevant experience because she demonstrated her ability to learn new things quickly.
DON’T: Michael submitted a resume and the recruiter’s first impression was that he had no relevant experience, only to see further down that Michael did indeed have good experience. However, the recruiter wasn’t impressed that Michael didn’t take the time to present his resume well.
DO apply for an internship you’re passionate about, even if you don’t meet all the requirements.
DON’T assume your experience alone will get you the internship.
DO: Carlos got an interview after meeting recruiters on campus. He impressed them with his enthusiasm and knowledge of the organization. He performed well during the internship, helped them as a student ambassador during their campus visit, then joined in a full-time role after college.
DON’T: Lizzie applied but her experience, coursework and interests were related to other fields. The recruiters would have considered her but she didn’t explain in her application why this position interested her and fit her career plans. They assumed she just needed college credit at any internship and would probably just do the minimum.
DO show enthusiasm and knowledge about the internship.
DON’T apply without explaining why you’re interested.
Also read: “Improve your internship search and find what you want”. This blog post is a Q&A with two expert career counselors who have helped entry-level candidates find jobs and internships for many years. Here’s an excerpt:
What is the first thing students should do to start searching for an internship?
Vicky Oliver: I would go to your career counselor at college. Give yourself a deadline for drafting your resume. Encourage feedback. You may have to go through a few drafts of it before it’s perfect. Also, students should make sure to polish up their LinkedIn profiles. Start following groups that you feel may include some people who work at the companies where you want to work. If one of them posts an article, comment on it. Be a part of the conversation.
Joanne Meehl: Don’t put it off. First, do some self-assessment. Ask yourself: “What do I want, and why? What experience would add to my expertise? What are the 3-5 things I want to get out of an internship, aside from on-the-job experience for a potential future career?
Should I consider unpaid internships? Or is an unpaid internship a red flag?
Vicky Oliver: Yes, you should consider unpaid internships, especially if they have support from someone like parents. At this point in your life, you are going for experience. You want to amass as much expertise as you can in the shortest possible time period. On a resume an unpaid resume shines just as brightly as a paid internship. It’s not a bad sign if the organization doesn’t offer paid internships. It depends on the company, and on the sector. Try to think where you want to be, maybe in two years, and work backwards to see what internships are available in the field you’re interested in.
Joanne Meehl: Yes, consider unpaid internships. If an internship is unpaid, it does not mean it’s a bad internship. Perhaps they have so many applicants that they don’t need to pay to get good interns. Just be sure the structure and content is good for YOU. Paid or not, you don’t want to be making copies and running company errands when you should be working with the team on ideas and action plans!