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How to Find an Internship That Will Kick-Start Your Career

Young female college student in a suit pointing at a computer with a young male looking for an internship

Internships are a great way to learn about your desired career path and gain hands-on experience before you enter the workforce. If you’ve never applied to be an intern before, the process of finding a good internship can be daunting. We’ll explain how an internship can give you a head start in the job market and explain how to land one that will stand out on your resume. 

Benefits of completing an internship

Internships can provide value in numerous ways for young professionals who anticipate entering the workforce in the near future. Here are the key benefits of being an intern.

Learn more about your desired field

As a student, it’s not unusual to be interested in a number of different fields or to feel uncertain about which path to pursue. Internships expose you to the daily operations of different careers, which can help you decide where to focus your studies and which jobs to apply for after graduation. 

Gain real-world experience

A few decades ago, interning was synonymous with a summer spent fetching coffee for company bigwigs. Thankfully, those types of internships are (mostly) a thing of the past. Today, companies take pride in offering high-quality internship programs that give students practical experience that will help them prepare for professional life–experience that will build your technical skills and help you understand the ins and outs of your desired industry.

Bolster your resume

As an entry-level candidate, you probably don’t have a very long list of experience to put on your resume. However, a resume is the company’s primary method when assessing candidates. So, you’ll need to come up with experiences to put on your resume to show prospective employers you’re dependable and qualified. An internship can help you do this, demonstrating prior experience and a level of proficiency that can set you apart from other candidates. 

Make beneficial connections

In work and in life, a superior network can take you far. Internships help you begin to make the professional connections that will advance your career not only as you enter the workforce but also for many years into the future. You’ll have the chance to get to know people who are doing the job you want, which is a valuable opportunity to gain knowledge and make a positive impression. You never know when one of the people you meet in an internship might have a job or other opportunity to offer you.

Get a possible job offer

While an internship doesn’t always result in a job offer, it sometimes does. If you still have another semester or two of school to complete, many internship programs encourage you to come back and apply for a job after graduation. You’ll have a leg up because you’re already familiar with the company and have built relationships with people who work there. 

What to look for in an internship

Here are some qualities to seek out in a worthwhile internship.

Reputable organization

Most companies work hard to offer interns an engaging experience. Unfortunately, some organizations out there take advantage of interns as free labor. Avoid this by looking for a company with a good reputation and a well-established intern program. Seek out referrals from your school’s career center, guidance counselor, or a peer who previously had a positive experience in an internship. 

Opportunity to work on meaningful assignments

While you might have to do some grunt work like running errands and filing papers, you want to find an internship where the bulk of your time will be spent gaining practical experience. Internship applications, like job openings, usually have a description and list of typical duties. This will give you a clue about what you’d be working on as an intern with that company. 

Some examples of activities that will help kick-start your career include shadowing employees, sitting in on meetings, participating in brainstorming sessions, and working with other interns on a group project. 

Academic credit

Many schools allow students to earn college credit by participating in qualifying internships. This gives you the added benefit of moving closer to your degree while honing your skills. Typically, an internship comes with credit equal to one college course. 

Pay, stipend, or other form of compensation

If you’re not receiving college credit for your internship (or even if you are), it’s feasible to be compensated financially for the time you’ll invest. Some internships offer an hourly wage, while others provide a fixed stipend or other monetary benefit like subsidized housing.

How to find a great internship

1. Assess your interests and goals

Make a list of the fields, jobs, or companies you’re most interested in. This is a great starting point for researching internships. 

You can also narrow your search by identifying any jobs you want to rule in or out of your future plans. For example, maybe you already know you’re interested in mechanical engineering, but you’re not so sure if electrical engineering would be right for you. Pursuing an electrical engineering internship could help you make a definitive decision one way or the other on the path you’re unsure about. 

2. Define your needs

Decide what level of commitment you can make to an internship, like the number of hours you can work each week and the dates you’re available. Identify other needs like where you’ll live, how you’ll pay for your living expenses, and whether you plan to work or take classes simultaneously. 

3. Tap your network

The people in your life can be a great way to get your foot in the door for an internship. Consider family members, family friends, professors, counselors, and community leaders who can make an introduction or recommend you for an internship you want. 

4. Search online

If you don’t have anyone in your network who can help, not to worry. Plenty of internships out there call for applications online the same way companies advertise their job openings. 

You can find internships online via a few channels:

  • Company websites. This is ideal if you have a dream employer in mind or a specific program you want to be part of. You can usually find application details on the organization’s careers or employment page. 
  • Job boards. Sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Google’s Jobs search engine allow you to browse dozens of publicly listed internship openings. 
  • Internship databases. Sites like InternshipFinder.com specialize in matching students with relevant intern programs. You can also find some great public-sector opportunities by searching on the government website for your state, county, and municipality. 
  • Social media. Companies frequently promote their internship programs on their social media profiles. These are also great platforms to get a feel for different organizations’ culture and decide where you might fit in best. 

5. Create your resume

This can be intimidating if you’re writing your resume for the first time. We highly recommend starting with a resume template that will give you a basic outline to follow. 

The education section is easy–that’s the degree you’re pursuing now and any you’ve already obtained. The experience part is a little more challenging since you might not have a lot to work with. But you don’t need to rely only on prior work experience. You can also include school accomplishments, relevant coursework, past internships, volunteer experience, informal work like babysitting or lawn mowing, and campus organizations in which you’re active in. 

Remember, your internship resume is the main document an intern manager will use to qualify you for their program, so you want to invest time to make it look great.

6. Apply early

The best companies fill their intern program rosters several months before starting. Your best bet is to start looking four to six months ahead of the time frame you want to intern. So, if you’re looking for a summer internship, start your search at the beginning of the spring semester. Not only will this ensure you meet the application deadline for the program you want, but it’ll also give you plenty of time to make other preparations like figuring out housing and saving up money. 

7. Prepare 

Many internship programs require you to interview for a slot just as you would for a regular job. Prepare for success by researching the company and rehearsing your answers to likely questions. 

Some common interview questions to prepare for include:

  • Why do you want to intern here?
  • What do you know about our company?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What are you hoping to learn through an internship?
  • Why would you make a good addition to our program?

If you’ll be interviewing in person, dress professionally. This may require making some additions to your wardrobe, like a suit or business casual attire. 

Also, prepare the questions you’ll ask the interviewer. These help demonstrate your interest and show that you’re taking the program seriously. Some good questions to ask during an internship interview include:

  • What does a typical day look like for an intern?
  • What types of tasks would I be working on?
  • How much would I get to interact with people who do [your desired job]?
  • How many interns will you be accepting?

By creating a strong resume, applying in advance, and preparing thoroughly for the interview, you’ll position yourself to impress an intern manager and land a spot in a program that will help you learn new skills and fine-tune your future career prospects.