Illustration of things you need for internships

The Ultimate Guide to Grabbing Great Summer Internships

Even as a first-year student, you can find opportunities — if you can navigate the world of resumes, interviews and recommendations.
January 29, 2020
9 mins read

Even though the spring semester is just getting into gear for the majority of us, it’s time to start thinking about summer plans already. While I would love nothing more than to be a couch potato after a stressful school year, nearly four months of summer vacation is too long of a time to be vegetating, even for me. Internships can be a great way to gain professional experience in the field you are looking to pursue. If you have no idea what you want to do with your career, internships are the perfect way to try out something new and discover what you are looking for in a job. However, the process — from initial applications to final interviews — is incredibly daunting, especially for someone without experience. Where do you begin?

Make a list of internships that you want to apply to

First, you have to find programs to apply to, which honestly, might be the most exhausting part of the process. My college’s career center had a fellowship directory, which gave me a list of scholarships to summer programs. While not exactly the same as internships, programs like the Fulbright Summer Institute and the Critical Language Scholarship are amazing opportunities to study abroad over the summer on a scholarship. However, my main source of internships came from my school’s Handshake website, which has over 12,000 job postings. Check with your school to see what resources are available for you to use.

While a self-directed search can help you hand pick which opportunities you would like to apply to, don’t forget about the value of networking. A major way that students find summer internships is through talking to fellow peers who have similar interests or simply taking the initiative to ask professors if they know of any opportunities. Use your connections, as 10 people are bound to know of more opportunities than any single person can.

Writing, writing and more writing: resumes, cover letters and essays!

After having a list of internships that sound interesting, you will probably have three main types of documents to provide any potential employers: resumes, cover letters and essays.

A resume is a summary of your work and volunteer experience as well as your education. A quick Google search will yield many templates and guides on how to make a resume. College career centers usually offer resume assistance, and your professors and classmates also have experience to help you out.

Next, a cover letter is a concise explanation of why you are interested in the internship and how your experience and skills are valuable to the position. These letters are often quite formulaic: “I am writing to apply for [insert position]. I heard about this opportunity through [insert how]. I am a first-year student interested in majoring in [insert what]. I am interested in this position because [insert reason].” The body paragraphs connect your experience and skills to illuminate why you are a good fit for this internship before a short, respectful conclusion, reiterating your interest.

Finally, some applications will require a few short essays, often asking for how the internship will add to your career goals and what qualities and skills you would bring to the job. These essays are very similar to those on college applications, and employers are looking to get to know you better and determine if you are a good fit for the organization.

Ask your references for recommendations at least two weeks in advance

Many internships will ask for references or letters of recommendation, usually from professors, former employers or other people who have seen you in a professional capacity. The idea is to corroborate what you’ve already demonstrated on your application and get a sense of previous job performance and personal qualities. Ask the people who know you the best; if you have multiple people to choose from, pick the person who can write about skills most closely related to the position that you are applying for.

Some internships might choose to call your reference, but others will require a written letter of recommendation. For both types, ensure that your reference is aware that you put down their contact information. For the written recommendation, the general rule of thumb is to give your reference at least two weeks notice. After all, they also have busy lives. At the end of the process, it’s always nice to update your references on the result, especially if it is a positive one.

Prepare but don’t overprepare for interviews

Ah, now it’s time for the dreaded interview. I am always extremely anxious about interviews, because while I can control exactly what I write on my application, I can’t control what my interviewer thinks of me. So, the biggest tip that I learned is to accept that fact. I can only prepare as much as I can on my side, but then it’s up to fate whether my interviewer and I get along. Of course, I can follow the usual advice — make eye contact, smile and speak clearly. There are also a few questions that are almost guaranteed, such as “why are you interested in this position” or “tell me about yourself” that you can script beforehand. It’s a smart idea to look up other people’s interview experiences with the company as well.

In addition, it’s important to read up on the position’s specific responsibilities as well as the mission of the organization; you don’t want to come off like you don’t even know what you’re applying for. However, in the end, you just need to relax and as cheesy as it is, be yourself (but in a professional manner). Finally, don’t forget to send a short thank-you email after the interview. It can only help demonstrate that you are truly committed to the position.

Play the waiting game

Once you’ve gone through the application and the interview, it can take a few weeks for a decision to be made. Luckily, the life of a college student offers many distractions from the waiting game. Offers are usually made by either email or phone call, so be prepared to check both platforms. If accepted, take into consideration your interests in addition to logistical factors such as housing and income. Not all positions are paid, and certainly not all internships provide housing. However, it never hurts to ask your college for a stipend to pursue an otherwise amazing unpaid opportunity. Once you’ve officially secured your internship after the whirlwind of it all, you can finally relax — at least until next summer.

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