If you're currently a college student, you've likely heard how important it can be to get an internship while you're in school to gain real-world work experience and improve your odds of landing a job after graduation. And what you've heard is backed by research, according to a recent study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Offer rates for students with paid internships hovered at about 72 percent compared to about 44 percent for those with unpaid internships and 36 percent for those with none.

The numbers detailing why internships are key for college students are clear, but how to find that competitive internship isn't always as obvious. Here are a few tips that can give you an edge so you get an internship.

Leverage Your Existing Network

One of the most effective ways to get any position is to have a personal referral. This could include someone who works in the company, a professor who vouches for you or alumni with connections within the organization.
New York-based career coach, Vicki Aubin, suggests that you first leverage your existing network. You can start with people who are first degree connections on LinkedIn or individuals you meet at networking events.

If you do not currently have a LinkedIn profile, Aubin suggests you set one up immediately. Should you need help creating your profile, your college career center or a career coach can help you.

Don't Be Afraid to Cold Call

Internships aren't likely going to fall into your lap, which is why you should to take the initiative and directly reach out to contacts via cold call, e-mail or LinkedIn message.

"While many people hesitate at the thought of cold outreaches, when done right, they are incredibly effective and powerful," says Aubin. Most opportunities come as a result of taking initiative, not because someone got lucky.

To properly reach out to someone, Aubin suggests you keep your call or e-mail courteous, concise and to the point.

"Students should introduce themselves briefly, state the career they are about to launch and ask if the person has time for a brief informational interview to learn about their career path," she says.

For bonus points, Aubin suggests you pay extra attention to LinkedIn notifications to see if the person you are trying to contact had a recent milestone like a promotion or a new job. If so, a congratulatory note can be a good way to break the ice.

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.

The reason these are so effective is because most people are flattered if someone asks them about their career. As a result, they will likely agree to answer a few questions.

Most people, especially alumni, are also usually happy to help upcoming generations. If you play your cards right during the interview, then you've also made a connection who can put in a good word for you somewhere.

Aubin notes how these informational interviews can be as brief as a quick phone conversation or chatting over coffee. The point is they aren't typically formal and they don't need to take up much time for either party. This makes them fairly easy to fit into busy schedules.

Aubin recommends that you also use these interviews as an opportunity to ask about other people you might talk to or resources you can use to find great internship leads.

Don't Give Up

The last thing you need to know about getting an internship is that you shouldn't give up if you don't get the first one. Just like finding a job, it can take time. And if you really want to increase your chances of getting an internship, you'll want to apply to several. But, if you're diligent, you'll likely land an internship sooner rather than later.

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