Don’t see what you want on a job board? Here’s how to cultivate the opportunity you want and use the contacts you make to further your academic and professional career.
As a college student looking for an internship, you don’t need to limit yourself to opportunities that are available on a job posting board or LinkedIn. There’s no harm in asking if there are opportunities available—in fact, it makes you seem more genuine and shows why you want to work at that company.
My internship journey started when I was a senior in high school. I had been using UWorld’s SAT test prep product for about a year, and they really helped me improve my test scores. So I emailed the company to ask if they had any internships available for the summer. My soon-to-be boss wrote back to me. Of course, finding this kind of fit took much more than one lucky email.
Here are five tips for finding and making the most of internships.
1) Cast a wide net.
Before I got my first internship, I emailed about 50 people in a month. I was just trying to contact people at various companies for informational interviews to get to know what they do. I got only one or two responses. I was close to giving up when I heard back from UWorld.
2) Apply to companies you’re interested in.
The first email I sent to UWorld was just telling them how much their products had helped me. When I got a response, I asked if they had any opportunities for high schoolers to intern over the summer. They had never had high school students as interns, but because I had shown interest in the company and had knowledge about what they do, they created a position for me in their college prep department.
3) Prioritize the experience over the name of the company.
A lot of students are very focused on getting hired by big-name firms, but oftentimes, internships at these companies are reserved for upperclassmen in college or entry-level positions. If you’re a freshman in college, focus on reaching out to smaller companies or start-ups for internship opportunities.
At a smaller or private company that’s more related to your interests, specifically, you can create a significant impact as an intern. For example, my role in my first summer internship was to represent the target demographic for college prep products. I was there to test out different exam prep questions and answers and say, “this is what people my age would really like, and this is what we could improve on.” I also worked with the marketing department to create strategies to reach out to high schoolers and leveraged my personal experience with social media and testimonials from my peers. I felt like I was actually making real change, which I really attribute to the team.
When I went back after my freshman year, I got to work more on actually creating and reviewing the new Advanced Placement (AP) math products. I worked hands-on with the College Prep and the Marketing department. At the end of the summer, I had built enough experience that I was given the chance to actually write my own test question for UWorld’s SAT question bank.
4) Come with ideas, and be assertive about sharing them.
One way to determine whether a company is right for you is to see how receptive they are to your ideas. Both summers of my internship had a clear structure because I was assigned specific questions and answers to look through, but I definitely took it upon myself to brainstorm marketing ideas or other strategies in my free time. Then I asked to have meetings with department leaders to talk about my ideas. If they really liked something, they gave me the chance to work on it more.
Keeping in touch with former coworkers can be difficult, but I’ve made a point of emailing my internship colleagues with updates. After my first summer, for example, I emailed my boss with updates on my college decisions and even reached out for a recommendation letter. I’m grateful for the opportunities and people that I have met so far.
–Sahana Rao is a sophomore majoring in Finance and Government at the University of Texas at Austin. She spent two summers as an Intern at UWorld.