The University Network

How To Get An Internship: What Every College Student Needs to Know

Often used as the golden ticket to landing a job right after college, internships are probably in every undergraduate’s mind. Especially as we draw closer to the end of the semester, many will start visiting their career development centers for guidance.

When I was in school, I thought I needed to get an internship for several reasons like securing a job right after college, writing down another line under experience in my resume, or just to be like everyone else.

If getting an internship is a journey, every journey has a better direction and results with the right motivation. So, let’s look at exactly why we should get an internship in the first place.

Why you want an internship

Whatever my reasons were, one thing was true. Internship is one of the best ways to getting hired right after graduation.

According to High Fliers Research, more than one-third of recruiters are unlikely to employ a graduate with no work experience.

Most firms use internships as their talent pipeline to find and hire good candidates later on.

For example, Deloitte, one of the big four consulting firms, hires 60 percent of its undergraduate interns into full-time roles.

But after experiencing multiple internships, the most important reason for internships — one I often overlooked when I was in school — was that internships help filter out career interests in a very realistic and practical way.

Nothing you learn in school or watch or hear others tell you about their jobs will match with actually experiencing the life of a producer, data asset manager, or a UX designer.

Jonathan Jones, the head of Investment Talent Development at Point72 Asset Management, seems to agree.

“An internship is not only an opportunity for a potential employer to evaluate you. It’s also a crucial opportunity for you to evaluate them. Not just the organization, its people and its culture, but the industry itself,” he wrote on Forbes (emphasis in original).

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It’s not only experts, but students who testify to that.

According to one study, 81.1 percent of graduates reported that their internships helped them shift their career directions either significantly (34.8 percent) or slightly (46.3 percent) by changing the focus of classes or majors.

You’re getting the experience of what it would be like if you were to sign on a binding contract with a company without actually having to sign that contract.

I am not, in any way, trying to disregard responsibilities an intern has at work. But, whatever those are, they would probably be less than that of a contract that comes with 401(k) and workload of 40 hour or more per week.

Spread a wide net

When looking for an internship, especially early on in your college career, having an open mind for different opportunities is very important.

Even if you have a dream company or know for sure what you want to do in life, it’s never smart to apply to just a few big names. Not only are the chances of getting an internship much slimmer, but also you just never know what you’re going to end up enjoying.

I was once told by an individual working at a college career center that I should take only paid internships because everything else is a waste of time. After a few years, I found out that it wasn’t true.

Of course, getting paid while gaining experience is ideal. But, any internship, meaning any experience, is better than no internship.

In addition, most unpaid internships can turn into college credits. So even in practical terms, your experience at any internship does not go to waste.

Plus, a study found that taking an unpaid internship now doesn’t affect your future salary in any significant way.

The research results showed that compared to graduates with paid internships, graduates who completed unpaid internships are just as likely to advance in their salary levels five years after graduation.

Make use of career fairs

As undergraduates, the easiest way to network is at campus career fairs.

Here, students are given the opportunity to meet and connect personally with representatives from many companies, who are already interested in hiring students from that particular school they visited. So, making use of these events are crucial.

Before you attend, read this quick guide to scoring your best at career fairs, written by Joanna Durso, a senior career counselor from Stony Brook University’s Career Center.

Apart from career fairs, one of the most helpful resources are the very people on campus. Professors, alumni, friends with similar interests, and older classmates with a few internship experiences already under their belt are all helpful contacts.

What you need to apply

While different industries require candidates to submit different documents and tests, most industries require a resume and cover letter.

  • Resume

Your resume should impart concise and self-explanatory facts about what you did, more than who you are, that will help you make that first-cut line. You tell recruiters what you did and they will infer what kind of person you are.

If you’re thinking you don’t have much to put on your resume because you’re only in your first or second year in college, think about including any volunteering experiences, class projects, blogs or social media accounts that show your career-related ideas or performance (NOT your personal life!), or even a list of classes where you learned the skills required by the internship position.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to leave some white spaces in your resume.

Even in terms of document design, readers are more motivated to read a document that has enough white space for them to rest their eyes on than a document with chunks of texts that are hard to read.

If you need help with your resume, check here.

  • Cover letter

Know before writing that cover letters should not be a rewrite of your resume. Rather, an effective cover letter gives recruiters real life examples that show that you have the specific skill sets listed in the internship position.

Even though internship recruiters mainly focus more on a candidate’s potential, less on years of experience, avoid talking about a skill that you can’t support with an example.

Even with no experience, don’t just say, “I am a fast learner,” and then expect recruiters to believe you. Instead, support that skill with an example of how you had to learn to use a software in a few weeks for a class project. Even though your example is from school, it still validates your statement with a tangible result.

If you need help with your cover letter, check here.

Now, if you have your materials ready, check out this list of internship search resources here.

TUN also offers its own job board for students looking for not only internships, but also virtual jobs, short-term projects and brand ambassadorships. Virtual jobs and projects are great ways to build experience even while in school as full-time students.

Extra tips for international students

For international students, government documents are needed to prove their rightful status to work in the U.S.

While they cannot work off campus during their first academic year, international students can work on campus jobs, starting as early as 30 days before the start of a program of study.

While international students can’t build experience outside of campus, they can work as a teacher’s assistant, lab assistant or resident advisor, and build many work-related skills through these experiences. Experience as a teacher’s assistant, for example, shows expertise in the related subject and ability to teach and stay organized.

As a personal example, in my interview for an internship at a documentary film festival, even my time as a desk attendant for a video collection room in my school’s library was enough for me to talk about my interest in long-form storytelling.

Really, you never know how dots will connect.

After their first year, international students can work on internships and get paid legally with either a curricular practical training (CPT) or optional practical training (OPT).

Depending on when you are planning to work, you can choose between pre-completion (before graduation) or post-completion (after graduation) OPT.

While CPT is a practical training option for employment that is part of your program of study, OPT is an option for employment that is directly related to your major.

Note that you need a job offer to apply for CPT, but not for OPT.

Make use of these options wisely because the amount of time used up on CPT or OPT is capped at 12 months. For example, if you used six months of CPT to do internships during the two summers of your sophomore and junior year, you will only be left with six months of post-completion OPT after you graduate.

To apply, check with your school’s Office of International Education or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Having gone through post-completion OPT as an international student myself, once broken down, the steps are very easy and straightforward. It really shouldn’t scare anyone.

But remember you cannot start working without a CPT or OPT card and you are dealing with government documents here, which usually take a long time to get processed. So, make sure to always apply early.

If you are here on an F-1 visa, click here for details on how you can work in the U.S. while on your F-1 student visa.

M-1 visa students can click here for details on how you can work in the U.S. while on your M-1 student visa.

Get ready

Once you get called back for an interview, start studying about the company. Get familiar with their vision, previous work and future goals. Think about how you can contribute to their goals and what you want to learn from the experience.

Most times, recruiters will ask about what you already told them in resumes and cover letters in more detail. So, get familiar with your own work as well. Nothing looks worse than not being able to describe what you did in previous internships or jobs. That will instantly show how you would spend your time at this internship as well.

For more interview tips, check these 10 Steps to a Successful Interview, written by Marianna Savoca from Stony Brook University’s Career Center.

Any experience is always better

No matter what other people do or say, any internship is better than no internship.

School gives you the luxury of exploring so many different industries and positions without having to carry major responsibilities that come with a full-time job in the real world. Everyone, even your managers at internships, will expect you to be learning.

So, don’t put limits on how small or big your internship experience may look on the surface. Because, again, any experience is always better than no experience.

Hyeyeun Jeon is from South Korea and a recent graduate from Carnegie Mellon University with a double major in Professional Writing and International Relations. She is passionate about non-fiction storytelling. She loves reading, watching, writing and producing stories about extraordinary lives of everyday people.