Internships are a great way to try out a career, build your resume for a full-time job, and potentially earn money. To jump-start your internship search, you’ll want to brush up your resume, connect with references, collect portfolio samples (depending on your major), and possibly even do some informational interviews, suggests Michael Hampton, senior program director & chief consultant of career development at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
Winter is when many companies formally accept internship applications for spring and summer programs. However, competitive firms may open internship applications as early as September for the following summer’s opportunities, says Hampton. It’s important to visit your college’s career services office to start researching internship openings.
Here is what you can do right now to plan your college internship strategy, and increase your chances of landing your ideal summer internship.
1. Plan to complete up to three internships.“Employers today expect most of their new hires to complete at least one — or up to three — professional internships while they’re in college,” says Hampton. Planning to participate in multiple internships across your college career allows you to broaden your search to fields and companies you may not have considered if you were focused on landing one ideal internship.
2. Connect with people, not just databases.“If you just apply for any relevant internship you find online, your chances of getting an interview are about one in 350, according to our research,” says Hampton. “But if you apply for an internship where you’ve done an informational interview or have an alumni, family, or friend connection, your chances of getting an interview increase significantly — to around one in 12.”
3. Update your resume.Your school’s career services staff can help you figure out how to best highlight your work and academic skills. Did you work at a fast-food restaurant last summer? Then you learned how to work in a fast-paced environment and practiced customer service skills. You may decide that experience belongs on your resume. Did you run a charity event for your sorority? Perfect: Your resume can highlight your event-planning and marketing experience.
4. Assess your wardrobe.Career clothing needs can range from professional dress to steel-toed boots. Take advantage of sales to find the items you need at the best prices. Ask about what attire is like for the industry, company, and for interviews, if it’s not clear.
5. Schedule appointments during school breaks.Hoping to land a summer internship back in your hometown? If so, try to arrange informational interviews with companies back home over the winter holidays or spring break. Personal meetings with fellow alums or human resources representatives at companies that interest you may increase your chances of getting your resume noticed, says Hampton. They can also give you insight on the company that you can use to do better in interviews or other screening rounds.
6. Plan your finances.Internships can be paid or unpaid positions. If you think you may take an unpaid internship, start saving your money. Any money you earn and keep between now and the start of an unpaid internship will come in handy if you won’t be generating income. Also, learn a bit about the federal rules for unpaid positions to help determine if your internship should qualify for compensation.
Of course, the internship application process will be a bit different depending on your career field. For example, the process for landing engineering and accounting internships is very strictly structured and applications open very early. On the other hand, internships for students interested in photography, software or marketing careers could be more varied and have less lead time. You may even have a chance to create your own internship through a current employer, a nonprofit where you volunteer, or other company.
As you begin your internship search, consider consulting your college’s career services office or faculty advisor for more tips. And remember, as long as you put in the work and bring your A-game to interviews, you haven’t gone wrong. Good luck!