In a rough economy and an ultra-competitive job market, one of the best ways to gain experience and make connections in your dream industry is to start with an internship. Because interns are unpaid or paid a nominal sum, internships are a great way to get your foot in the door even when companies or entire industries are on a virtual hiring freeze. They’re also a great way to kick-start your career even while you’re still in school.
Although employers don’t usually pay interns, the company still absorbs a significant cost in recruiting, training, and managing interns. This means that – although companies don’t usually pay their interns – the hunt for coveted internship positions is still extremely competitive. If you want to land the internship of your dreams, here are 5 tips that will help you stand out from the rest of the applicants.
1. Build A Well-Rounded Resume
It goes without saying that you should build up a well-rounded resume, but it’s surprising how many students aren’t willing to put in the extra time and effort necessary to build up a resume they can be proud of. Take the time to work summer jobs and even part-time jobs if your schedule permits. Choose positions that are as relevant to your field as you can – working as a bank teller may be far removed from investment banking, but it’s sure a lot more relevant than working at Six Flags or the arcade.
Drop into your professor’s office hours to say hi or to ask questions and lay the groundwork for when you need a recommendation letter. Participate in extra-curricular activities that you find interesting, and of course, spend the time necessary to achieve a respectable (if not outstanding) GPA.
2. Tap Into Your Existing Network
While you can certainly apply for internships through the usual channels online and through the career counseling office, one of the best ways to gain an edge on other applicants is to tap into your existing network. Because interns are unpaid positions where you’re not expected to have any experience or specialized skills, one of the key deciding factors could come down to who you know, who they know, and what they have to say about you.
Make an effort to reach out and tap into your existing network. Talk to professors and express your interest in the field and in getting experience – they may have colleagues that are looking for extra help. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from your parents and their friends either – many successful professionals got their start through a family reference. Your parents are much more likely to have hiring contacts in big companies than your peers. That being said, don’t underestimate the power of tapping into your peer group as well – one of them might land a summer position at a firm that you’re interested in, or their parents might be an executive at a company you admire.
3. Do Community Service
Doing community service not only lets you give back to your community, but it also gives you a chance to meet community organizers who are well-respected in the community. Community organizers often do work with businesses both large and small, and they may be able to make helpful introductions. And of course, having community service on your resume shows that you’re a well-rounded candidate who can work well with other people.
4. Go To Career Fairs
Career fairs aren’t just about looking for jobs after graduation, they’re also a great opportunity to network and find companies that may be actively looking for interns. In some cases, companies will do internship interviews right there at the career fair, so come prepared. Take your time to do research beforehand and find out what companies are attending and bring along copies of your resume. If you’re interested in working for any of the companies in attendance, take the time to do your research and preparation beforehand – even if they don’t interview on the spot, an ability to talk knowledgably about the company with recruiters and ask insightful questions will help you stand out.
5. Be Pro-active
Some of the best internships can be the ones you manage to create for yourself. If there’s a specific company, professor, doctor, lawyer, author etc. whom you admire, write a letter letting them know why you admire their work. Don’t go overboard with praise – just be straightforward and honest. At the end of the letter, you can mention that you would love an opportunity to work with them if they ever need an intern to help with any projects.
This strategy works better with smaller companies or solo professionals who can make decisions on their own without having to jump through a gauntlet of human resources and managerial hoops, but it’s worth a shot even if you’re interested in a larger company. Simply address the letter to a hiring manager – use the company website or LinkedIn to find the right people. If you can craft a letter that shows you’re bright, capable and motivated, you might be surprised at the opportunities you can create for yourself.
Nate is a freelance writer. His areas of focus include careers, marketing ,and technology.