Even though it is a big and exciting step into the professional work world, learning how to land an internship may seem overwhelming and intimidating. (Yes, even to the most accomplished college student.)
At Campus to Career Crossroads, we successfully assist college clients throughout the country to secure internships with admired companies. We have over twenty-five years of hiring experience and can take you behind the scenes of what hiring managers want when interviewing interns.
What should you tackle first? Should you update your résumé, craft your cover letter, perfect your interview skills, or polish your LinkedIn profile? Well check out the steps in this blog post to get your internship efforts on the right track!
Start Searching Early
One of the biggest secrets of how to land an internship: Plan in advance. Many college students do not realize this, but searching for an internship is not unlike adding another three-credit class to your schedule! Time can slip by without proper planning. Career-launching efforts should begin during your freshman fall semester to ensure the best return on your education investment.
We often receive inquiries from students in the spring looking for summer internships. That is often an unrealistic time frame and creates a lot of stress. You should start searching for internships at least one semester in advance and sometimes two semesters ahead of time, depending on the competitive nature of the internships you plan to target. Students who start their internship search too late will often settle for an internship that does not align with their career goals.
Target Companies and Desired Positions
Looking for some good news? Large companies have numerous hiring needs and internships provide a critical talent stream of future employees. As you start to determine the type of jobs you seek, you should also start to identify target companies along with internships.
Create and track an employer portfolio of target companies to ensure you have a balanced group of companies spanning diverse industry sectors (health care, higher education, nonprofit, government, etc.). Follow all target companies on their social media accounts — you will learn a ton of information about their success and company growth. You could certainly impress some recruiters with the information you find in their social media posts.
Tap into Your Network
Your connections cannot help you uncover an internship opportunity if you do not tell them you want an internship. Your connections want to help you with networking and want to see you become successful. Students often need support reaching their career goals, especially when they’re looking for early opportunities.
We recommend making a list of connections, from past professors to friend and family connections. You might be surprised at how many connections you have available to you once you make an effort to figure it out!
Next, reach out to these connections. Call, email or text, and follow up. It may seem daunting, but you need persistence when asking for time with a network connection. Check out this example networking script when reaching out to a referral connection:
Todd Jones, who worked with you at Ketchum, felt it was very important that we connect. As a junior at Fordham University, I am searching for a public relations internship.
Mr. Jones believes that your award-winning public relations campaigns for Fortune 500 energy companies and industry knowledge would benefit my internship efforts. Would you have fifteen minutes to connect with me next week?
Remember that when you ask for time to speak with networking connections, you must meet with them on their schedule, not yours!
Land an Internship with Alumni
If you need a little extra encouragement on how to land an internship, stop by the alumni office on campus. The alumni office will connect you with alumni from your college or university. Alumni love to talk about their careers and educational experience. They also have a passion for helping students and trying to connect them with internships. Alumni in your major may even help you decide the type of internships and potential companies that could be a fit.
Try to get in touch with two to three alumni connections affiliated with the type of internships you seek. They understand the importance of internships and may open up their network! Also, try to keep up with alumni newsletters and magazines. Understanding where successful alumni work or had recent career achievements can help you target additional companies.
Get Serious About Social Media
Review all of your social media accounts and ensure they project a professional image to potential employers. Recruiters can learn a ton about your posts, comments, and engagement on social media. They will likely look at your social media accounts prior to phoning you.
Strongly consider doing the following:
- Delete any questionable posts or comments
- Close any inactive social media accounts
- Consider adjusting your privacy settings from public to a private profile but still keep a pristine social media presence
Say “Hello!” to Handshake
A majority of colleges use Handshake to post internships, so it should become an integral part of your internship search. Every college has its Handshake system configured differently, so stop by your campus career center to set up your account and understand the support services available to you.
Think you might need a little extra help beyond your campus’ career services? Our one-on-one career services support students on a more personalized level than what many large universities can offer. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study, over a third of career services have experienced a reduction in staff and experiencing budget cuts while college tuition continues to increase. NACE research also shows the median number of professional staff members per student: a whopping 1,735!
Derek’s son experienced this exact situation:
Are You Branded?
What professional messaging do you strive to convey to employers? If you don’t know the answer, you may miss a huge opportunity to represent yourself well on résumés, cover letters, and your LinkedIn profile.
Branding empowers you to define your messaging, strengths, unique skills, and separates you from other applicants. It also helps you deliver consistent and important messaging from your résumé to your LinkedIn profile.
If you are looking for some branding tips that will cover you from A to Z, check out personal branding for students.
Résumés Still Rule
This “how to land an internship” blog post would not be complete without some résumé writing tips! Your résumé should convey your successes and demonstrate a track record of achievement. Skip the boring bullet points and incorporate successful metrics to stand out and validate your top performer persona. This means including numbers to prove your success at your past jobs such as “increased sales by 28%” or “doubled customer referrals by 50%.”
Ditch the résumé templates as well — most recruiters recognize them right away. Many templates contain outdated sections. Steer clear of:
- An objective statement
- The statement “references upon request”
- A headshot picture on your résumé (save it for LinkedIn
Leverage the Power of LinkedIn
College students serious about career launching must use LinkedIn, the only professional social media platform used by over 700 million users and 50 million registered companies.
You gain access to:
- Endless networking possibilities (industry leaders, company executives, VPs of human resources, hiring managers, alumni, etc.)
- Volumes of industry information (articles, infographics, videos)
- Company pages that reflect posts, videos, and the people who work there
- Internship and job postings
After reading your résumé, recruiters will look at LinkedIn. You need a professional profile picture (no selfies or pictures with your significant other) and make sure all sections of your profile look spectacular. Your LinkedIn profile should not be an exact copy of your résumé. LinkedIn allows more room to describe your success and personality.
Need a little LinkedIn help? Lynn McGuigan, our director of career services, is a nationally certified online profile expert through the National Résumé Writers’ Association. She can help you harness the power of LinkedIn.
Cover Letters Count
Yes, cover letters still matter! Cover letters offer a strategic opportunity to share new information beyond your résumé as to why you are the perfect candidate. However, you don’t want to miss the mark by reiterating the same information on your résumé.
Brainstorm reasons why you are applying to a position and how you can benefit the company before you start writing your cover letter. Recruiters can quickly detect commonly used phrases such as “I am impressed by your company’s growth” and “your company is an admired global brand.” Personalization and professionalism both stand out in cover letters!
Prep Like an Interview Pro
Unfortunately, many of our college clients overestimate their interview skills. Landing competitive internships requires more finessed interviewing abilities than the interview skills you need for a simple part-time job. You must be able to succinctly articulate your strengths and the value you can bring to a company, which takes thoughtful preparation and practice. Looking for an interview crash course? Check out our list of 10 interview secrets.
Effective interview skills now require the ability to excel in virtual or in-person interviews. Many companies use virtual interviews to meet candidates, which saves time and costs them less money as well.
Nervous about nailing your virtual interview? Check out these tips to set you up for success:
- Practice logging on with a video platform in advance (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.).
- Dedicate a quiet space with a professional background — avoid noisy coffee shops.
- Dress professionally with solid colors — patterns can be distracting.
- Always have the interviewer’s contact information and phone number in case of a technology issue.
Finally, never forget to send a thank you note after your interview!
Onboard Like a Professional
Once you land your internship, it’s important to shift into “internship onboarding mode” with a mindset for creating wins. After all, this internship could lead to a full-time job opportunity!
Connect with your department manager and team members in advance. You can start to build key relationships before you officially begin and more importantly, find ways to add value on day one.
Make sure you know:
- Your key priorities and responsibilities
- Each team member’s role
- The department/team’s goals
- Initiatives put in place to reach those goals
Always remember to document your internship successes so you can quickly add them to your résumé. Finally, get a LinkedIn recommendation from your manager to describe your awesome performance as you complete your internship!
Let’s Chat About How to Land an Internship
Curious about how to land an internship and keep all of these steps straight? Contact Campus to Career Crossroads to guide you each step of the way. Having a one-on-one personalized career expert can help you reach your internship goals. Each student has unique career goals that require a customized approach.
Why are internships so important?
Internships provide invaluable work experience beyond college classroom learning. You will gain a firsthand understanding of the work in a specific industry and observe how project teams perform the work. Supporting team members of all levels of experience improves workplace communication skills.
When is the best time to search for internships?
Start searching early in your undergraduate studies. Many ambitious college students start looking for internships during their sophomore year. Internship searching, similar to job searching, always takes more time than expected. Giving yourself more time makes the process less stressful and more productive.
Will my college require an internship?
Some colleges require an internship as a prerequisite for graduation but you must seek and secure the opportunity on your own. Check with your academic advisor during your freshman year. As you approach graduation, you do not want to be surprised by this prerequisite. We always recommend that our clients secure at least one internship, whether their college requires it or not.
Do I only need one internship?
One internship is great, but if you can secure multiple internships, you will reap more benefits. If you land multiple internships, you may work in numerous industries, which helps tremendously with your career launch. This will help you understand the professional jobs available to you and the entry-level jobs that can help you meet your career goals.