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How to Find Your Ideal Internship:
A Three-Step Process for Gaining Key Work Experience While in College
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Congratulations! By reading this article you are taking the necessary steps for achieving greater career and job-search success upon graduation from college. Internships are invaluable learning experiences for college students -- and almost a necessity for any college graduate. Employers are demanding that college grads have "real world" experience, and internships are one of the best ways for college students to get that experience.
So how do you find your ideal internship? It's a three-step process: Determine Your Internship Goals, Prepare/Polish Your Job Search Skills, and Find/Track Down Internship Sources.
Determine Your Internship GoalsBefore you can even start thinking about finding an internship, you need to spend time reflecting on your goals for obtaining an internship. Consider these questions:
- What are your specific career interests? An internship is a great tool to help you define your career goals. For example, if you're majoring in history, but have an eye on a political career, you might consider an internship with a local or state politician. Or, an internship can help further refine your career goals. For example, if you're a marketing major but not sure whether you want to go into advertising or public relations, you should consider getting internships in both areas to help you decide which is best for you.
- Why do you want an internship -- and what do you hope to gain from it? There are multiple reasons for obtaining an internship, including answering the question above. Other possible reasons include learning new skills, gaining networking connections, adding work experience to your resume, and as an entry point that you hope leads to a full-time position with the employer when you graduate.
- What type of organization are you interested in? Organizations come in all sizes and shapes, from Fortune 500 companies to not-for-profit organizations. What are you looking for? Issues to consider include size, ownership, corporate culture, etc.
- What industry would be best for your needs? Even when you know exactly what you want to do, you can still be uncertain about the type of industry that best suits you. For example, if you are a natural-born salesperson, you really have the option of working in any industry, but pharmaceutical sales is quite different from selling insurance.
- Where do you want to have your internship? If your internship is during the regular semester, you obviously need an internship close to your college campus, but during the summer months you may wish to have an internship near home so you can save on expenses (and enjoy mom or dad's cooking/laundry service/etc.) or in a location where you hope to land a full-time position when you graduate -- or just to experience a place in which you have never lived before.
- Will you consider both paid and nonpaid internships? It would be great if all internships paid, but in reality a large number do not - especially in certain industries. So, you need to decide whether you can afford to not get paid during your internship. One more thing: while it is not always the case, paid internships tend to be more professional (and you do less grunt work) because the employer wants to get its money worth from you.
- Do you want college credit for the internship? Many colleges offer at least some college credit for internships. The plus side (besides earning the credits) is that there is usually an internship program with an established list of employers and internships available to you. The down side is that there may be more restrictions on the type and amount of work you can do based on the program guidelines.
Prepare/Polish Your Job Search SkillsAs internships become more and more competitive, it becomes even more important for you to have a strong set of job-search skills.
We recommend you spend some time polishing these skills:
Find/Track Down Internship SourcesOkay. If you've gotten this far, it's now time to find that ideal internship that perfectly fits all your goals and needs. So, where do you find internships? Try these resources:
- Career Services Office. Just about all career services offices have a list of internship programs, important application dates, and other sources of internship information. This office is a great place to start your search. Some offices even have a special internship coordinator.
- Major/Minor Department. Major-specific internship programs are frequently maintained by the department office. One or more faculty members may specifically handle internships, so make sure you investigate these sources.
- Networking Sources. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a specific type of Internship; these people should include your family, your friends (at school and at home), your family's friends, your professors, past employers, alumni, etc. Just as with job-hunting, networking may be one of your best sources for internships -- especially for competitive internships. Learn more about networking.
- Internship and Career Fairs. Most colleges (or college consortiums) offer at least one career fair during the academic year, and often one focuses specifically on internships. Even if you are looking for an internship in a different geographic location, go to the fairs and network with the recruiters. Many organizations have multiple offices -- and you may later change your mind. Read our article, The Ten Keys to Success at Job and Career Fairs.
- Alumni Office. Many (if not all) colleges now ask alumni if they would be willing to sponsor current college students as interns - and these alums are a great source for internships as well as a networking source for other internships. Take advantage of this resource! This information may either be found in the career services office or the alumni office.
- Company Websites. If you have already identified a specific set of companies where you would like to intern, you should consider going straight to the source by visiting the career section of each company's Website. Try our Quintessential Directory of Company Career Centers.
- Internship Websites. There are a few general internship Websites, as well as a number of industry-specific Websites. A good resource, but internship sites have lagged behind the development of job sites, so don't depend too much on these resources. Where do you find the best internship sites? Go to our Internship Resources for College Students.
- Books and Periodicals. There are some great print sources of internships. First, there are annual directories of internships, which you can find in our College Internship Books section. The other print source is trade magazines and newspapers published for your major or career field. If you are a member of a student organization, you may already have a subscription to at least one of them. Your college library should also have subscriptions to these publications -- as should some of your professors. These publications often publish information about internship programs.
- Cold Contact. If none of these other internship sources work for you, or if you have a specific geographic location you want to target for your internship, consider using the cold calling method to find your internship. This process involves identifying a list of companies and writing them asking for an internship. Where can you get information about companies in a specific geographic location? Consider contacting that region's chamber of commerce for a list of member companies -- or just get your hands on a phone book for that area. What are some other sources? Go to our Guide for Researching Companies. And consider reading our article, Cold Calling: A Time-Tested Method of Job-Hunting.
Final Words of Advice About InternshipsAfter you've found several internship possibilities and applied to them, your work is not done. Just as with job-hunting, you must follow-up with each company. Don't call the companies every day, but be persistent. The old adage about the squeaky wheel getting the grease rings true here. Follow-up your initial contact with a phone call, follow-up your interview with a thank-you letter, and follow-up your thank you letter with a phone call.
Finally, before you start your internship make sure you read our article, Making the Most of Your Internship(s).
Still need to find an internship? Want advice for turning your internship into a job? Check out all the tools and tips we offer in our Internship Resources for College Students.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
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