Are you in high school, college, recently graduated, or without a job and looking for something to add to your resume? Internships are perfect for gaining work experience so that when you apply for a job, your employers see that you have relevant qualifications. They’re also really helpful if you can’t get a job, as a way to get your foot in the door. Here are our top tips for finding and succeeding at internships.
Finding the Right Internship
There are tons of internships everywhere. (I know, it might seem like this is not the case – but internships are actually super popular with employers as they often provide free labor.) But how do you find the right internship for you? Here are somethings to consider when looking for an internship.
- Your internship should add something to your resume. I (Janani) needed an internship after graduating college. I’d already interned in one branch of government, so I decided to apply to other branches to try to add something new to my resume. In addition to adding to your resume, internships can also build on older experiences while providing better qualifications. For example, I’d already volunteered at local libraries – so I decided to apply to intern at the national library in our capital. This built on my existing experiences and sounds much better on my resume.
- Your internship should be what future employers are looking for. Think about yourself from the perspective of future employers. Why would Amy from the Microsoft programming team want to hire you? How can you prove you have the skills needed to succeed? Simply put, you want an internship that is similar to the job you’re applying to in some way. For example, if you’re interested in this theoretical Microsoft job, you might want an internship where: you develop software with programming, work in a tech company environment, or work with a team on specific projects.
- Your internship should let you explore a field of interest. Once you get a job, it’s really hard to explore new fields you might be interested in. Alternatively, if you’re lacking direction in education or in your career, an internship is a great way to try out a new field. Use internships to explore careers that you think might interest you but you’re not sure. Internships are good for trying out new things because the stakes are relatively low. Worst case, you’ve just wasted a few months figuring out that some career isn’t right for you, rather than four years in college or a decade in a job.
- Your internship should help you narrow your interests. I know this one sounds a lot like the last point but I promise it’s different. Basically, if you already know you’re super interested in filmography, but you’re not sure whether you want to go into film production or studio editing, then an internship can help you narrow down the sub-field that most interests you. This is super beneficial because it’ll save you time later since you’ll know which jobs you actually want to apply to.
- Your internship should make you happy. No one ever places enough importance on happiness in career building. But it’s really important that your internships fulfill what you want. Because if they don’t and you continue taking internships that make you unhappy, the jobs that will accept those internships as relevant experiences will also make you unhappy. So find an internship that makes you excited to go to work! Don’t get me wrong – many times, internships that start out great don’t actually fulfill you in the long term. But striving for an internship that does is still super important.
Actual Resources for Finding Internships
So now that you’ve figured out what kind of internships you want and maybe even the exact organization you want to intern at, how do you actually find an internship? Here are the basics:
If you know the organization you want to intern at, head over to their website and look under Careers (usually it’s in the footer). They’ll normally list internships there. If they don’t, then try to find the email address to their HR department. If one isn’t on their website, try calling the organization and asking them. Often, even customer service will give out contact information for HR departments.
If you don’t know (which is usually the case), try searching for internships in your field:
- Google “<my field> internships in <my location>.” Google has an internship search function built in.
- Search on LinkedIn for internships. You can specify Internships under Experience Level.
- Search on standard internship-finding websites.
- Find internship search websites relevant to your field. For example, if you’re interested in U.S. government jobs, the website USAJobs lists all internships.
- Find internship mailing lists. Often, your college department might have one (or a college might have a public one you can join). A professional organization or an individual in a field might also have mailing lists – ask around to see if anyone you know is on a mailing list and ask them to add you.
- Ask your colleagues/mentors if they know of any internship availability and if they can hook you up to a position/someone you can talk to at an organization of interest.
- Network through conferences, chance meetings, etc. (I’m serious – I got information to a Big 4 accounting firm internship recruiter through a random conference.)
- Start with smaller companies/nonprofits for your first positions. They’ll be more in need of help and likelier to say yes if you have no experience. Plus you may get more interesting projects and more responsibility. Then work your way up!
Getting Your Dream Internship
But I’m not going to just leave you hanging, so here are a few internship specific tips:
- Intern coordinators want to hear that you’re willing to do any task that’s thrown your way, even menial ones. They want you to be super excited to intern at their organization and to treat their organization (even if it’s a small one) as if it’s a really huge honor.
- HR departments are human. If you don’t have prior experience but can tell a super motivational or catchy story in a personal statement/cover letter, it might help you get an internship.
- Be confident. Don’t make your application reader/interviewer have to drag bits of information out of you. Especially with newbies applying to internships, a lack of confidence can be the number one reason an application gets tossed. So don’t let this happen to you.
Besides these three tips, really check out our other pages. They should guide you towards creating a stellar application!
Succeeding at Your Internship
So now that you’ve worked through the rest of the steps on this page and gotten an internship you want, how do you actually succeed at an internship? People always talk about making the most of an internship, but what do they actually mean?
If you’re wondering all these questions, you’re in the right place. There are two broad categories of success in an internship: 1) Succeeding at your job and 2) Succeeding in taking advantage of opportunities.
Succeeding at your job:
- Even if you think a particular task is menial, do it with excitement and gratefulness. This makes you pleasant to work with and leaves a positive impression in the minds of your mentors.
- If you do work (but due to office politics, no one is acknowledging your contributions), find ways to make sure that the people who you need to impress are aware of what you’re doing. This can be done by updating your mentor what you worked on today or talking to your colleagues about your experiences.
- Ask for projects that interest you – and be super grateful if you get one passed your way. “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” This is so true with internships. If you’re on front desk duty, but want to research, don’t be afraid to ask for it. The worst case is that your mentors will say no. (But this has never happened to me in my 5+ internship experiences.)
- Be prompt. I know this one seems obvious but nothing leaves a better impression than not only being prompt (as in arriving on time), but also getting your projects done promptly. When you work efficiently, you impress people around you.
- Be humble. At the end of the day, you’re an intern. This means you’re there to help in any way you can. Don’t brag about your experiences. Don’t act showy. Being a nice and genuine person can go a long way.
Succeed at opportunities:
- When you’re working in an office, ask each person who you’re interested in if you can “grab coffee” with them to learn more about their experiences. They’ll usually say yes and this is a great way to build connections. You can ask them the following questions:
• Do you have any projects I can help you out with as I’m really interested in your field for XYZ reasons?
• Do you know of anyone else in this organization that I should definitely get in touch with during my time here? (This is Networking 101.)
- While you’re interning, ask if there are any evening cocktails for interns or other events being hosted. Sometimes the larger organizations will host gatherings.
- If you’re interning somewhere that holds public conferences/meetings, ask if you can attend them. Some of the best internship experiences I’ve had were at meetings I was allowed to attend.
- If you notice training material or other informational material special to your organization, ask if they’ll let you enroll in it or set aside time to read it. Usually, intern mentors want you to learn while at your internship and will be more than happy for you to deepen your knowledge. I’ve learned some really cool stuff this way!
- Don’t be afraid to go after opportunities outside your team as well. Once when I was interning, I happened to mention to someone working on simulations (for a completely different team) that I’d love to work on one. They surprisingly said yes – and then I went and asked my team for permission and they also said yes. I was able to get two internship experiences in one thanks to this. So don’t be afraid to ask.
I know it can be really daunting going after an internship and working at one, but if you stick true to your interests, your enthusiasm will carry you through. Just remember – don’t give up on applying for internships even if you don’t get one at first. When I applied for my first internship, I got rejected for weeks before I got an email saying “maybe.” Perseverance will pay off.