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  • College internships can help you gain real-life work experience and secure a job after graduation.
  • Finding an internship isn’t always easy, so it’s important to be proactive.
  • Leveraging your network and taking advantage of campus resources can go a long way.

As a college student, an internship can be a powerful way to gain real-world work experience and improve your odds of landing a job after graduation. Over two-thirds of interns eventually work for the company they interned with, according to career site Zippia. If you’re researching how to get an internship but aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are some helpful tips for finding your next college internship.

1. Begin your search early

It’s best to start looking for internships sooner rather than later. Space may be limited, and many internship positions are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. One rule of thumb is to send out applications at the beginning of semester prior to the internship, but even that might be cutting it close. Gather some intel in your area of study and desired industry—and give yourself plenty of time. In some cases, you may need to apply two semesters before the internship begins.

2. Leverage your network

Personal references can be a game changer when it comes to finding college internships. Someone you know could make an important introduction or recommend you for an internship program. Start by tapping your network. Do you have any family members or friends who are working in your desired industry? Or perhaps you’ve connected with alumni or industry professionals through a campus organization related to your field. It’s time to put the word out that you’re searching for an internship. That way you’ll be top of mind if they hear of any opportunities.

3. Optimize your résumé

This is the first thing companies see when considering you for an internship. A strong résumé could be what sets you apart from other candidates, so be sure to tailor it for each application. A professor or career counselor on campus can provide extra guidance. The job site Indeed offers the following tips:

  • Put your experience in reverse-chronological order.
  • Spotlight relevant skills and achievements.
  • Include keywords from the job description (it can help applicant tracking systems find you).
  • Keep your résumé clean and organized. 
  • Proofread your résumé before submitting it.

4. Attend internship fairs at your school

If your campus offers any internship fairs, make it a point to attend. You could learn about new opportunities or meet someone who ends up connecting you to an internship down the line. The same goes for career fairs. Even though you’re looking for an internship, not a job, it’s still a chance to meet decision-makers in your desired industry. Don’t be afraid to strike up conversations and ask about internship programs.

5. Create a LinkedIn® profile and search online

If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, there’s no time like the present to create one. It’s a great way to stay connected with your professional contacts and expand your network. You can also direct companies to your LinkedIn page for an easy-to-digest summary of your skills and experience. Once that’s done, and your résumé is in good shape, you can use the job search feature on LinkedIn or turn to Google to find available internships. You can also make a list of companies you’re interested in, then research the application process for each one.

6. Connect with upperclassman

Older students within your program could be a valuable resource, especially if they’ve been through the internship process before. These may be students you’ve had classes with or know through a campus organization. You can also reach out to like-minded students in your dorm, clubs or Greek organizations, or extracurricular you participate in. Ask them where they interned and see if they’re willing to share advice about how to get your foot in the door.

7. Take advantage of campus resources

By paying tuition, you likely have access to a campus career center. Check it out if you haven’t already done so. You might be able to meet one on one with a counselor or get plugged into upcoming internship events and career resources. Your professors can also be helpful, especially those who have work experience outside of academia. Chances are they’re still connected to the industry.

8. Set up informational interviews

Informational interviews are meetings where you pick the brain of someone who works in your desired field. Rather than being interviewed for a job, you're interviewing the other person about what they currently do and how they got there. Informational interviews usually aren’t formal—they can be a quick phone call or a chat over coffee—and shouldn’t take up much time for either person. Most people are happy to share their experience with a student, and it might result in an internship lead. 

9. Don't be afraid to cold call

Being proactive could help you find your next college internship. Let’s say there’s a friend of a friend who works for a company you’d like to intern with. You can send a brief email to introduce yourself and express your interest in interning. They may say yes to an informational interview or offer to forward your email to the right person. You’ll never know unless you ask.

10. Prepare for every interview

If you’ve been selected to interview for an internship, that means the recruiters liked your résumé and want to learn more about you. Here are a few simple steps to help you prepare:

  • Research the company beforehand so you have a clear understanding of who they are and what they do. That includes their mission, values, and culture. That can help demonstrate your interest in the company—and the conversation will likely feel more genuine if your values are aligned.
  • Prep for the conversation. Come prepared with questions of your own, along with responses to common questions you may be asked. Practicing with a friend can be helpful.
  • Dress appropriately and put your best foot forward.
  • Be sure to send a personalized thank-you note afterwards.

Once you’ve secured an internship, doing your best work could lead to a full-time job after graduation. No matter where you are on your internship journey, don’t forget to thank the people who help you along the way. It might inspire you to help younger students who come up after you.

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