Today, more than ever, finding an internship is one of the most important things that you can do to prepare for a career after college. Internships are not only a great way to learn more about a field, they’re also the single best way to make the professional connections you will need to find a job that interests you after graduation.
Of course, like all things in life, finding an internship is easier said than done. And unless you’ve had some expert guidance, it can be difficult to know where to start.
To help you along your path, we asked a panel of college and university career counselors the following question:
What is the best way for students to identify the internship opportunities available to them?
Their answers are below. As always, we hope that you find their advice actionable and inspiring.
Jen Busick Stewart
– Career Advisor & Outreach Coordinator, Career Services, Oregon State University
There are many ways to find internship opportunities and I always encourage students to implement all strategies.
Before even starting to find an internship, it is a good idea to think about what you want to get out of the internship. In order to know what you want to get out of the internship, first think about what skills and experiences you need to have in order to get the job you want when you graduate. Check out multiple job descriptions, talk to people in the field and make a list of those qualifications. Then note the ones that you have and the ones you still need to develop. The ones you need to develop could be incorporated into your internship. For example, maybe you need to know a specific software program, or maybe you need to have experience presenting to others – include these in your learning outcomes for the internship.
Once you have identified the learning outcomes you will feel more prepared to find opportunities and you will appear more focused and confident to those looking to hire someone. Networking is always important, no matter the field, so tell all of your family, friends, professors, advisors, etc. that you are looking for an internship. Don’t just tell them you are looking for an internship, prepare a 30 second spiel that articulates what you want such as the industry, some companies or organizations that interest you, what you would like to get out of the internship, and anything else that you feel is important to include. You never know who someone in your network may know!
Besides networking, other strategies include paying attention to the emails you get from your professors, academic advisors, department, etc. Oftentimes they send opportunities your way but you have to actually read and follow up on the email.
If your school has a job database, this is another place to look for internships since employers are posting on that site because they want students from that particular school.
Career Fairs also often have internship opportunities, so be sure to attend! Depending on your major and field of interest, some companies have actual internship programs and those you can typically find on the company’s website or just do an online search of internship programs in “fill in the blank of your field.”
Another great resource for internship opportunities are through professional associations. Every field has at least one professional association or society and many offer a student discount rate to join. Many also have internship postings on their website and you don’t always have to be a member to view them. Some companies are now recruiting through social media. LinkedIn offers job and internship postings and you can also search Twitter for internships in a specific field, for example, marketing internships. Just remember to make sure you have a clean and professional online presence!
These are just a handful of strategies to finding an internship…now just make sure you do at least one internship while in school. You’ll not only build a stronger resume, but learn about yourself and your future career.
– Career Services Center, Xavier University
When beginning their search, I always encourage students to use a variety of resources for seeking out internship opportunities.
Make everyone you know aware of the kind of internship you are seeking. Everyone you come into contact with has the potential of being helpful to you in learning about internship opportunities, so tell your family, friends, classmates, instructors, advisors, mentors, and certainly anyone connected to the field you are pursuing. If they hear of something, they will likely tell you about the opportunity and you may learn of internships you would not have found otherwise. If the contact can coach you on your application materials or put in a good word for you, that’s an extra bonus!
2. Job/Internship Boards
Your campus likely has a job and internship board for employers to post their opportunities and students/alumni to apply. Be sure to utilize this resource, as it may offer you the opportunity to interview on campus – very convenient for busy students! Take some time to also seek out other job/internship boards that offer good keyword searches (Try www.indeed.com), focus on the area you are targeting (nonprofit, government, etc.), and professional organizations that post jobs/internships.
3. Company/Organization Websites
If you know the kind of organization you would like to intern with, Google organizations within the location you are targeting and look for internship opportunities posted on their websites. (Look for their “Careers” or “Employment” section.)
As you research various websites, I coach students to create a bookmark list on their computer to make it easy to find them again.
Everyone actively searching for an internship should have your resume ready, be comfortable with writing personalized cover letters, and get 3-5 references together. To keep yourself organized and proactively searching, take one day each week to review all of the sites on your bookmark list and note any internships to which you are interested in applying. Then take the next couple of days to prepare and submit your application materials for the positions you have found. That same day the next week, follow up on the internships you applied to the week before and check your bookmark list again for new postings.
This strategy keeps you from missing any postings and prevents the discouragement that sometimes comes with checking the same websites daily and seeing little change.
– Assistant Director, University Career Services, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
When students ask me about finding an internship, I usually advise them to not look for a specific internship, but be willing to try different opportunities. Internships are a time when students can confirm that a field is a good fit, and it can also help students figure out that a field is NOT a good fit. Just because a student chooses a certain major does not mean that they have to intern in that same field.
With that said, the one source I would recommend is right there in front of you – a career counselor! I would advise students to speak to a career counselor at their university. Counselors often know of special databases and resources for students – whether it’s a website, a student club, a professional organization, or alumni to contact.
In addition, a counselor is someone who can help you plan a narrower focus if that’s what you want. Most importantly, a counselor can help you figure out your values, interests, and skills to market to companies when you apply for internships.
– Director, Career Services Center, Marquette University
Internships can serve one of three main purposes.
Trying on a career field
Part of the career exploration process should include gaining first-hand exposure to your career field of interest. A job shadow or informational interview can give you some idea of what a particular career is really like. However an internship will give you a more long-term idea of what to expect. Sometimes after having completed an internship students decide a career field is not a good fit. Instead of seeing this as a failure or waste of time, this is a valuable lesson better learned earlier than later. More often an internship can better solidify career choice.
Bottom line: Look for internships that give you hands-on exposure in settings that appeal to you.
Gaining career-related experience
Employers no longer see the completion of a bachelor’s degree as the minimum requirement for entry-level positions. Career-related experience is essential. Not all internships are created equally. Some give you exposure to professionals and a working environment while others give you actual skills. Gaining new skills or improving existing skills will help you in many ways. Whether you end up in the career-field for which you intern does not matter as long as you gain valuable skills to use in any profession.
Bottom line: When interviewing for internships be sure to ask about opportunities for setting goals, having regular evaluations, working on projects… anything that helps you intentionally develop skills.
Be your ticket to a full-time offer
The majority of employers use internships as their top source for full-time entry-level hires. Many of the employers with whom we work share a 60%-85% conversion rate of interns to full-time hires. Imagine having an internship you love at an organization who then offers you a full-time position immediately after graduation.
Bottom line: Do your research and find out what percentage of interns are offered full-time positions after graduation. Larger organizations are more apt to have such a process in place.
Regardless of your intentions for landing an internship there are many resources for finding them. Start with your career center. Develop a list of criteria you seek in an internship and start the process early!