If you’re anything like the both of us, you haven’t even been living in the US for a month and you’re already bored out of your mind. The American college system requires a relatively small amount of time in class (16 credit hours per semester is typical). That means that you’re probably spending way too much time in your dorm watching Netflix or binge-reading the Iliad (Honors student problems). If you’ve already joined all of the student organizations that you’re interested in and you still find yourself with a lot of extra time, scoring an internship is probably the way to go. Internships are also a great way to put yourself ahead of your classmates and prepare for getting a job when you graduate (yikes!)
If you’re new to the whole “professional” thing, an internship involves working for a company (usually part-time) to gain work experience in a career you might be interested in. It’s kind of like a job, except you probably won’t be getting paid. Most companies will require you to register for college credit too, which means you’ll also have to pay your school.
Depending on your school, you might not be able to intern for credit as a Freshman, which can make finding an internship a bit more complicated. Do not panic though; there are a lot of smaller companies that will still hire you without school credit. (This might be frowned upon due to the lawsuits that are popping up from unpaid interns complaining, but a lot of companies need the extra work and know they’re too small to get in trouble.) As for a timeline of when to start applying for internships, we recommend October if you’re looking for the Spring, March if you’re looking for the Summer and June if you’re looking for the Fall.
All of the steps you need to take may seem a bit overwhelming, so we’ve created a simple step-by-step guide to getting your first internship ever. We’ve both had over 10 internships combined, so if there’s one thing we’re very confident about our self-awarded titles as “internship queens.”
Create a resume. If you’re not sure where to start, do a Google search for “Microsoft Word Resume Templates.” Avoid using buzz words like “proactive” or “driven,” and instead focus on practical skills like using Photoshop or event management. It is important to remember to always adapt your resume to the job you’re applying for. Always include any work experience as well as college education and honors/awards. Keep it to one page and ALWAYS save as a PDF when sending it to someone. Remember, your resume is the first impression employers will have of you, and will probably be what lands you your internship. You will be constantly developing and using it for the rest of your career, so put some time into making it stand out.
Create a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn is kind of like Facebook, but for career networking. It will help you connect with professionals in your preferred industry and it’s the best way to keep in touch with professionals that you meet. Adding someone you met at a networking event on Facebook will make you look bad, but adding them on LinkedIn will make them remember you (and keep up with all of your new achievements and internships). Plus, recruiters will be looking you up on the Internet and having a maintained account will make you look more professional. Also, since resumes should only be one page long, LinkedIn allows you to have a more extensive list of achievements. (Hashtag overachiever problems.)
Check your Internet footprint. Delete pictures of you being sloppy or drunk. Delete embarrassing videos. Keep your Facebook profile private and consider making your Instagram and Twitter accounts private as well. Trust us, they will Google you. If you’re in doubt, delete it.
Log into your school’s Career Services job board. Most schools will use systems like Career Connector, where they will have a list of internships and jobs that are available. If nothing interests you there, you can move into more general job boards like Indeed or LinkedIn jobs. If you have companies in your city that you are interested in, you can check their website directly to see if they have any postings. Choose about five internships (or more!) you’re interested in. Some will never get back to you so you always need to keep your options open.
Write a cover letter. A cover letter is a letter to your potential employer explaining why you are the best candidate for the internship, and what you can bring to the table. Internship postings will usually say if they require a cover letter, but it never hurts to include one even if they don’t mention it. Follow the same template that you used for your resume for consistency. Write it as if you were sending it through the mail even if you’re sending it via email (include the name of the company, the address, and the person you are directing the cover letter to). If you have no contact information whatsoever and have no idea who you’re sending this to, then address it “to whom it may concern”. Keep the body of the letter to about three paragraphs, and briefly explain how your skills meet the internship description as well as what you like about the company. Close by thanking them, and express that you look forward to discussing the opportunity more in person.
Write a list of references. Some jobs might also ask for a list of references; it is typical to include these as a separate page after your resume, in the same format. You should list 3 to 4 references as well as their email address, phone number, title, and company. Past employers are ideal, but if you haven’t had a job in a while it’s okay to ask a professor or someone else who knows your work ethic well. Always contact your references before applying for an internship and let them know you’re listing them as a reference. You don’t want somebody calling your professor and them having no idea who you are.
Apply for the internship. Most internships will list an email address that you will send your documents to, although some will be more corporate and make you apply through an online portal. If you’re emailing someone and sending a cover letter as well as your resume, keep the email short and to the point. If you’re not sending a cover letter, try writing a very concise version of a cover letter explaining what you can bring to the company. It is important to re-emphasize to ALWAYS SEND YOUR DOCUMENTS AS A PDF. Here’s an email example:
Title: Fall 2016 Internship with Company X
Dear Mr. X,
I am a Sophomore at X University working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in X and I am currently looking for a Fall 2016 internship. I saw Company X’s posting on Career Connector and I would like to apply for the position. I have previous experience working in an office setting and answering phones. Additionally, I have participated in event management projects and logistics through past internships.
Attached are my resume and cover letter. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Get ready for your interview. If the employer likes you, you will hear back and probably set up an interview (either phone or in person). That’s great! If this is your first interview ever and you’re nervous, do not panic. Interviewing takes practice and trust us, by your 20th internship interview, you will learn how to love them and have fun. I have kept a little notebook with interview prep for every single interview I’ve ever had with points I want to mention and questions I think they might ask me with some answers. Here are some tips for preparing for your interview:
- Research the company. Know who’s the boss, what they do, what are their advantages and disadvantages, etc.
- Figure out how you will sell yourself. They will very likely start with “tell me more about yourself.” This doesn’t mean you should go on about how you love long walks on the beach and dogs… they mean your professional self!
- Be prepared to list your top 3 strengths and weaknesses. Make sure your weaknesses are something you can add a positive spin to (ie; I tend to procrastinate, but I overcome this by scheduling tasks for myself and sticking to it)
- Think about a time when you succeeded and one when you failed.
- Look up some more interview questions to be prepared for online. Be prepared to answer them all, but also don’t rehearse answers too much or you will sound forced.
- Think about one to two questions you want to ask the recruiter. Always ask questions at the end! (ie: “What is the typical day like in this position?”)
- Know your industry’s dress code. Never wear a suit to a music business interview. Probably wear a suit to an accounting interview. If you’re not sure, a nice shirt and pants or a skirt is best practice.
- Arrive to the building 15 minutes early but don’t entire the office until 10 minutes before your interview. You don’t want to come across as over-eager.
- Be yourself and you will do great!
Send a thank you note after the interview. Handwritten is even better. If you choose to email one, that’s okay too. Send it within a day of your interview, but not immediately after. Thank the person you spoke to for their time and tell them you look forward to hearing back from them.
Wait to hear back. They will usually take about 2 weeks to make decisions since they’re still interviewing other potential candidates. Some internships might have more than one interview, some will offer you the internship after just one. While you wait, make sure you’re continuing to apply for more internships and you’re still interviewing with other companies. Once you hear back, if you know you want to accept, then do. If you’re not sure, thank them for the opportunity and tell them you need a few days to think about it.
Confirm with your school. If you’re interning for credit, make sure you register for the appropriate class. If this is a paid internship, talk to your international student adviser so she can create a new I-20 for you with the Circular Practical Training (CPT) on it. If this is the case, you have to have completed your first academic year before you can apply for CPT.
Show up for your first day. Now that you have a kick-ass internship lined up, show up and do an amazing job. If this is your first workplace experience, you may just be stuck to the copy machine or coffee pot. That’s fine, as long as you’re still learning while you’er there. Be positive and do everything with a smile, even if it’s taking the trash out. We all gotta pay our dues.
So that’s it. How to get your first internship. Interning was one of the most valuable parts of our time at college, and hopefully it will be for you too! At the very least, you’ll come out of it with a stronger resume and better prepared for your career.