From endless coffee runs to pitching new ideas to a company, internships beef up student resumes more than a 4.0 GPA. But how do you know which ones will count? You might scour the web or scurry toward your college’s career center in order to find the perfect internships to provide experience and get you one step closer to that post-college dream job. Some internships pay well while others pay nothing, and some turn into full-time positions while others become your living hell. Wherever you end up, internships will help you figure out your career path, giving you experience and networking opportunities along the way.
Landing the Internship
Though the pay is much smaller (or nonexistent), the application process for internships requires as much effort as job apps. Most companies will ask for a resume and cover letter, and some even want references and letters of recommendation. So head over to your friendly campus career center or reach out to a favorite professor to polish up that resume. The cover letter gets tricky, but you can ask professors or trusted friends to look at those for you too. Write about that great idea you implemented at your previous internship or in your class, and talk up your skills from leadership to writing to your Snapchat streaks (it’s useful for some!). If they want references or letters of rec, reach out to past employers, professors or mentors who know your skills and know you well.
If you land the interview, congratulations—but you still haven’t landed the position. Google classic interview questions like “Why do you want to intern here?” come up with some jaw-dropping answers (in a good way). Take some time to research the company, but avoid spewing facts at them because they don’t need a lecture about their own company. Like in class, questions show interest, so ask questions to look interested, even if you already know the answer. After the interview, send a thank you note or email to express your gratitude while also reiterating why you would be a fantastic fit for the internship.
Applying to many internships will inevitably lead to rejection at some point, unless you got into Harvard at age 10 or invented the cure for cancer (in which case you probably don’t need an internship). Losing that dream internship feels like the worst thing in the world, but keep your spirits up—you’ll land an internship somewhere. Turn that disappointment into fuel and Google away for more opportunities, reach out to any and all industry connections and keep your options open. And don’t forget to thank them for their time, because they just might reconsider.
So you’re one of the lucky ones. If you landed not one but two internships, or even more (seriously—we hate you), then you have a wonderful dilemma. You might consider juggling two internships, but ultimately you need to decide if you can give it your all at both organizations. Think about the company, if it pays, the location and the specific day-to-day tasks of the internship. If the choice isn’t obvious, ask professors or career advisors for some help, and at the end of the day, go with your gut.
Are unpaid internships worth it?
Survey says: It depends. We all dream of paid internships, but reality more often offers us an unpaid internship or two (or three). Horror stories of internships past show unpaid interns coffee running, letter mailing and paper filing, but the best cases suggest that interns get more responsibility in smaller companies that can’t pay you. Part-time jobs that earn you extra cash might be necessary for some students, and traveling for unpaid internships also quickly brings down the mood (and bank account). Paid internships sound ideal, but who knows? You might hate the paid position, despite the money and wish you’d accepted the unpaid position that you felt more passionate about.
When should I start applying?
This largely depends on your field. Future wolves of Wall Street need to start making moves for summer internships in the fall because businesses like everything in place early. If you wait too long, the big companies’ intern positions will get snatched away from you. If you’re in the creative industry, then you have more time. Internships at places like publishing companies or theaters usually don’t start accepting applications until early in the spring semester. No matter your field, prepare your apps early so you’re not calling your bestie at 2 a.m. on a Sunday to edit your cover letter.
Looking for an internship in the journalism or communication industry? Check out our internship directory.
How many internships should I have by the end of college?
Foolproof numbers don’t exist for any career path, but most college students carry a few under their belt by graduation day. Internships function as resume boosters and experience builders, so you should seek out ones that do both. If you intern at two different companies, that’s two separate networks of people who can help you get a job after graduation. More internships equal a wider range of experience, but if you only completed one internship by graduation, calm yourself. Different careers have different trajectories. As an accounting major, you might intern at a Big Four firm once and get a job offer from there, but as a poli-sci major you might work for a few state representatives and town halls before landing your dream job on a U.S. Senator’s staff.
I have no experience. What should I do?
Ah, the struggle of applying for an internship that requires previous experience. Appearance matters, so start with an impeccable resume that looks professional even if you feel far from that. Fill it up with your involvement in student government or your school’s literary magazine, your leadership positions and any classes relevant to the internship. Even throw the time you had a part-time job at Target on there. Add your GPA if it’s stellar. Then write a fantastic cover letter, talking up your qualifications along with your serious interest in the intern position.
How many internships should I apply to?
As many as possible. Many students make the mistake of only applying to a few big-name internships with Google or the New York Times or somewhere on Wall Street, and then end up disappointed when they don’t get any. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life past graduation, keep your options open and let the employers weed out the internships for you. Try your skills at sales or marketing, or maybe you really want to hone your writing. Cast a wide net and then you’ll hopefully have a few options to choose from, or might even be able to work a few at once. It’s a competitive search out there, so make sure you prepare.
Top 3 Places to Find Internships
LinkedIn seems intimidating at first, but definitely helps with the internship search. Search by industry or by company, and see if you have any connections with people who work there (Yes, even your mom’s long-lost high-school friend counts). Network your way to an internship. Even better—network online.
Indeed posts internships for students of all majors from all kinds of companies. Search by your field, then narrow it down by location, time of year, job type and salary. You can also sign up for alerts on a certain search for any new opportunities.
3. Career Centers
Sometimes the best connection to an internship sits right on campus—yes, that means showing up in person. Most colleges have their own career center with advisors who can help with resumes, cover letters, job searches and any other career-oriented question you can dream up. Did I mention some even hold mock interviews?
Top 3 Twitter Accounts for Internships
Run by Lauren Berger, a career expert, @InternQueen is dedicated to internship advice like resume tips, help with cover letters and other specifics. Berger also posts internships quite regularly with links or contact info.
This Twitter account isn’t especially exciting, but @internshipjob does post new internship positions every couple hours, which will earn it a follow from every internship seeker. It features internships in just about every field, from marketing to accounting to graphic design.
The Twitter account for the Chegg Career Center, @internships posts tips and hints about internships, as well as career advice. They also post fun articles and pictures for when you’re feeling overwhelmed.