Perfecting the internship process from start to finish

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Internships for undergraduates help build professional skills, marketability, and experiences for resumes. During an internship, you might learn what you do or don’t want to do after you graduate, and start to understanding how “the real world” works by gaining experience in a professional work environment. Most importantly, companies will look at previous interns as the strongest candidates for new full-time hires out of college. For those reasons, looking for an internship can be stressful.

Before aimlessly throwing your resume at online job postings, consider the following steps to help you get through the internship process from start to finish.

STEP 1: SELF-REFLECTION

Ask yourself critical questions to understand what types of internships would be best for you.

Questions about picking an internship location:

  • Are there opportunities for internships nearby?
  • How far am I willing to move for an internship?
  • Would an internship in a different state or country interest me?
  • Do I prefer to stay close to family and/or friends?
  • Am I willing to commute to work in a car?
  • What types of public transportation am I comfortable taking?
  • What is my budget for living and commuting expenses?

Questions about exploring your interests:

  • What do I hope to accomplish with an internship?
  • What type of work assignments, skills, and experiences interest me?
  • Are there any industry areas that I have always been curious about?
  • Are there any specific companies that I could see myself working for?
  • Is money important to me?
  • Do I have experience in a field of study that could help me during an internship?
  • Would I like to work for a large or small company?
  • What skills do I want to use and improve?
  • What are my long-term goals?

STEP 2: PREPARE

The most important part of an internship application is your resume because it will be your first impression on the hiring committee. It should be unique to the internship that you have chosen to apply for. Recruiters spend an average of 7 seconds reading a resume, so it is crucial to keep it concise by sharing only relevant information. Resumes typically consist of education, courses, skills, and relevant experience. Class projects, personal projects, research, volunteering, awards, and other work experience are all acceptable to put on a resume when you have not had previous internship experience. 

Writing a rough draft of your resume before looking for internships can help narrow your search and highlight your past interests. After reviewing and writing down your skills and experience, you will feel more confident applying for postings that have similar requirements. You can use your resume to update your LinkedIn and Handshake profiles, which will be integral for the next step in this internship process.

STEP 3: SEARCH AND NETWORK

Now that you have self-reflected and prepared, it is time to start your internship search. Internship postings are found on company websites, professional social media platforms (e.g., LinkedIn), and online job boards (e.g., Handshake, Glassdoor, and Indeed). Make a short list of postings to apply to and keep track of information such as the link to the job posting, company, location, posted date, application due date, and candidate requirements. 

Before applying to a selected internship, it may be helpful to network with one or more individuals who work at the chosen company. You can network and learn more about internship postings through university alumni engagement and networking events, career events, company-hosted information sessions, professional social media platforms, professor connections, and university alumni. Showing your interest in a company during and after these events will help you stand out during the hiring process and may even land you the job. Networking with individuals at the company can also help you get an employee referral as a part of your application.

STEP 4: APPLY

Typically, companies will hire interns months in advance, but some applications have a deadline of up to a year before the internship start date. Therefore, it is critical to start thinking about internships before it’s too late. It is also important to understand that your first internship will not determine your next internship or full-time role. Many of the skills you learn while gaining work experience will be transferable to different companies or industries.

Remember to design your resume to be unique to the internship that you have chosen to apply for. Always try to include a cover letter with your application, even if you have to send it separately to a recruiter. Most recruiters still expect cover letters for internship postings that state they are optional. Find someone with experience writing resumes and cover letters to help improve yours before sending them off to be reviewed by the hiring committee.

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