Whether you’re a student, recent graduate, or someone considering a career transition, an internship is an excellent way to gain skills and knowledge in a field that interests you while developing contacts that can help open doors down the road. Many also enable you to earn some money as you gain invaluable experience, and/or obtain academic credit or otherwise satisfy a particular requirement. In certain cases, you may even find that an internship leads directly to a full-time position or is a springboard to an exciting opportunity in a related field.
As the most popular season for internships, the summer can be a competitive time to be hunting for one. Moreover, many organizations fill these short-term (often 10-12 week) positions well before schools break for the season. To put yourself ahead of the game, consider incorporating a combination of these strategies that can boost your chances of landing a rewarding internship position in the upcoming months:
Don’t get too caught up in finding an exact match to your ideal job
It makes sense to identify some general areas of interest, but in many cases, it can benefit you to avoid getting overly focused on the details of the job, particularly if the internship will be your first professional experience. As The Balance points out, exposure to different areas can be helpful, especially if you’re uncertain about the career direction you want to take after college.
What’s important is that an internship can give you a sense of the type of work and the environment in which you might thrive. Importantly, it might also offer clues as the kind of position or working conditions that would be entirely unsuitable for you, even if they initially seemed like a great fit.
Start by networking among people you already know
While the importance of cultivating professional contacts is continually stressed as an integral part of an effective job search strategy, people sometimes overlook the connections they already have. This isn’t to suggest that alumni networks, career fairs and even MeetUp groups aren’t legitimate means by which you can establish contacts that can lead to meaningful prospects. Just that you may be surprised at how far you might be able to get simply by talking to the people you know.
Consider that your extended family, friends, parents, neighbors, friends ’parents and college faculty all have their own network of contacts, who in turn have their own contacts, and so forth. Any one of these individuals may be able to make an important introduction for you, or potentially set up an informational interview with an expert in a field that interests you. You may even learn that someone close to you has a contact who’s seeking to fill an internship this summer. So don’t hesitate to speak up about the type of internship you’re hoping to find. Also take care that you don’t immediately dismiss someone who doesn’t work in a field you’re interested in pursuing, because their professional contacts may extend far beyond their immediate line of work.
Look into your college or university’s resources
If you’re a college student or recent grad, check into what your school’s Career Services Office, alumni network and/or career counselors have to offer. These resources can alert you to valuable opportunities, and consulting them may give you a competitive edge when it comes to the hiring process. For instance, Susan Adams from Forbes points out that her alma mater, Brown University, has a network called BrownConnect, where alumni post internship and research opportunities. According to Adams, capitalizing on this kind of network can be a huge advantage when it comes to landing an internship among a competing pool of applicants.
Scope out internship search tools online
There is no shortage of online tools that can help connect you to thousands of internships in a wide range of fields and industries. Tapping into these can also give you ideas and inspiration on exciting career possibilities that you may not already have on your radar. A few top recommended sites: LinkedIn, Internships.com, Internmatch and Glassdoor. You can find “The Ten Best Websites For Finding An Internship” at Forbes. Hint: a quick Google search of “paid marketing internship New York City” turned up some interesting results, as the author explains.
Research the websites of companies you’re targeting, but consider reaching out to your own network before applying to positions listed on their sites.
If there are local organizations you have in mind as a potential fit, it’s a good idea to learn what you can about them by going straight to their website. You can often find information about their internships under “Careers” in their “About Us” section. But before you submit an application online, check your contacts and/or ask your parents to check their contacts on a network such as LinkedIn. You may well have a shared connection in the right department or organization.
Employee referrals are a primary means by which companies find talent, and hiring and recruitment statistics bear this out. For instance, Ampersand Professionals, Inc. points to data from a LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends report showing that 48% of businesses cite employee referrals as their top channel for finding quality hires. You’ll often get much further by starting with a brief, polite message to someone in your network who can potentially make an introduction to a hiring manager, rather than relying on a company’s online application to get your resume in front of the right people.
Work the information interview
An information interview is a great way to expand your professional contacts and get an insider’s view on a career path, industry or organization from someone who has experience in an area you may wish to pursue. Just be clear that an informational interview is not a job interview, and it’s best to approach one without any expectation that it could lead you to someone who might be in a position to hire you (although this may be possibility).
Prepare for the interview by doing preliminary research online and make sure you have some knowledge on the background of the person you’re meeting. Also bring a short list of questions that can help guide the conversation. For ideas, check out “12 Informational Interview Questions to Ask (and two that you should never ask)” from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management
A few final words of advice
The importance of treating others with courtesy and respect cannot be overstated when it comes to the job search process. Be sure to follow up with any contacts in a timely fashion, and thank any individual who offers advice, meets with you, or takes action on your behalf. As simple as this concept sounds, there are plenty of well-meaning people (and not just college students) who forget do this, often to their regret. A show of grace and appreciation for others is critical when it comes to handling professional contacts that have helped you with your search, even if it’s as simple as sending a brief thank you email.