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How to Get Internships That Work

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Ask college students about past internships and you’ll get a wide range of answers. Some students found they were a stepping stone to their first jobs and others just felt like coffee jockeys for the paid help.

A well-chosen internship can be a great opportunity to learn more about how the real world operates. Before you venture out into the real world, it’s a good idea to give some thought and planning to the process.

Start by Setting Your Goals

One of the most important parts of an internship is planning. There are several questions to ask yourself.

  • What do you want in an internship? Do you want to be able to dig in and actually do work or would you rather observe or shadow different people in the organization? The college you attend may set preferences for this. If you’re expected to write a report summarizing what you did, you’ll probably need to do more than observe.
  • What fields do you really want to explore? A degree can take you in many directions. So, give some thought to what you’d really like to learn.
  • What companies or organizations do the type of work that you’re interested in? Not-for-profit organizations often need the help and you might get to have a more hands-on internship there.
  • Is your goal to intern with a company that’s likely to hire you when you graduate? Then, you need to research those companies and customize your efforts to improve your chances.

Prepare the Right Materials

Regardless of what you hope to gain from an internship, you need to prepare a solid resume and portfolio if you’re in a field of study that requires one. Resumes are difficult when you don’t have a lot of experience, so you need to look at the work experience you do have, whether it’s paid or unpaid.

  • Whatever part time work you’ve done, look for a common thread that makes it relevant to the internship you want. Even working in the local grocery store requires punctuality, good communication skills and team work. These are valuable skills in many fields.
  • Have you held leadership positions in college organizations? Many college organizations do profession-related work as well as charitable work. Again, these are valuable skills that also reflect character.
  • A work portfolio will vary based on the field you plan to enter. If you’re looking for graphic design internships or architectural opportunities, pull together your best in-class work, organize it in a professional portfolio and use that.

I’m Ready, Now What? Hint: Network!

Getting an internship is similar to getting a job in that you have to network, network, network. Start with your advisor and if you have a college career center, head there, too. Do you know alumni from your school? They can be a great resource.

Use social media in a professional way – ask if anyone knows of an internship in your field or how to get an internship with a particular company. Find contact information for the companies and organizations you’re interested in and contact them to learn more about internship possibilities. Social media like LinkedIn make it easy to find names and contact information.

As you move to the next step of interviewing for internships, remember to dress professionally (it’s better to err on the side of being conservative) and listen as much as you speak. Stress your positive enthusiasm but keep it real. People know when you’re bragging or making it up.

Finally, as you head out, best of luck and always remember that even if your number one preference doesn’t pan out, something else will!