5 Tips to Land Your First Internship

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Getting through college can be challenging. The food is sub-par, deadlines never end, and midterm and finals week are way too close together. Now add the pressure of finding your first internship, and you might feel overwhelmed. Getting a spot in a coveted internship program, or simply landing at a company where others with similar majors now work, is easier than you think. Don’t stress, follow these tips instead.

Cast a wide net when looking for an internship

Go beyond searching LinkedIn and you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that are available. Where have others in your major program interned in the last few years? Set up a coffee date with someone a year or two ahead of you and ask for advice about how they found their internships and if they still have contacts at those organizations. Internal hiring managers love referrals from past and present interns and employees.

Ask your professors. They can be a great resource for helping you sort through listings (they’ll know the pros and cons, especially if it’s a place where other students intern on a regular basis), and they can help you prepare for an interview. Don’t forget to check with your college career office. For very career-specific majors like video game design, digital journalism or restaurant or hotel management, the college career office often has very close ties to local businesses that use your university as a pipeline for interns. In short, ask around and start assembling your professional networking community.

Check your resume

Have you listed relevant coursework experience? While you might not think that classes count as work, hiring managers want to see the work you’ve done related to the internship position. List research papers, any kind of development projects, and related experience like writing for the school newspaper.

Do you explain why you’d be a star in the role? Managers understand you are starting your career and know that part of the internship is learning on the job. But they need to see that there are other skills you can offer. Maybe you’re a pro at PowerPoint or Excel, or a social media maven that understand how to grow their audience. Don’t be shy, explain your best attributes and show enthusiasm.

Is it free of typos? In addition to having a few others proof it for you (again, ask a professor or a career counselor), use free online tools like Grammarly to check grammar and overall structure.

Dress for success

This seems so obvious, but as a previous manager at a PR agency and software company, I interviewed far too many interns and junior staffers that could have used this advice. No one cares how expensive your clothes are (there are plenty of options at discount chains). It’s more important that your clothes don’t look crumpled and that you dress in a way that communicates you understand the professional environment where you want to intern. A law office will be quite formal and you’ll definitely need a suit. If you’re going to interview at a startup located in a rehabbed warehouse, it might be appropriate to wear a button-down shirt with a nice pair of jeans. Again, do your research. Ask others who have done similar internships and always ask about the office dress code when you have your initial phone interview with the recruiter or HR manager.

Interview with ease

Practice, practice, practice. Prepare for the expected questions, like why you want the interview, your strengths, weaknesses, and professional goals. But don’t sound like you’re reciting a script during the conversation. It’s also important that you think about unexpected questions. While you can definitely brainstorm other questions you’ll likely field, understand that part of the interview process is not entirely about what your answer is, but is often a way to see how you think on your feet. With that in mind, try not to get super nervous if you don’t know an answer. Simply talk to the person on the other side of the desk like a real person. Lastly, ask questions. This is the best way to show you did your research and that you are excited and genuinely interested in the position.

Line up references

You’ve mastered the search, aced the interview and now all that stands between you and your first internship is a reference or two. Don’t sweat it. Get all your references in order as soon as you start the process. Ask a professor in a class where you’ve completed projects or research related to the position. Also, have an old boss (even if it’s just a summer lifeguard position) at the ready. They will be able to vouch for your maturity, ability to show up on time and can rave about how you go above and beyond expectations, regardless of what the job is.