Summer internships attract hundreds of thousands of students from across the globe each year. Competing for the best internships are college students, recent college graduates, and even some high school students. Making yourself stand out from the other applicants takes time and effort, but it is worth it to get the internship you want to get your career started on the right foot.
Before applying for internships, you need to make sure you have all the necessary materials together and that you have prioritized your top targets.
- Create a dream list: Include company names, company contact information, required materials, deadlines, and follow-up dates.
- Gather materials: Print out your resume and a basic template for your cover letters for your own reference. Circle anything that needs to be updated and note changes you'll need to make for each application. (Cover letters and resumes should be specific for each application, though each will be similar.)
- Make a list of professional contacts: Note the professional contacts already in your network who might be helpful or connected to the process.
Do Your Research
It's not enough to want an internship with a particular company or organization. You need to know specifically what they are seeking and strategize how you are going to sell yourself to them as exactly that.
- Visit your career center: Nearly every school has a career center. Make an appointment to discuss your interests and potential internship opportunities that match. The career center can advise you according to your major or any other interests you mention. When a local company wants to start an internship program, the career center often is their first call.
- Go directly to company websites: Go down your dream list and look up each company on your dream list. Go to the company website and click on their career section. If they don’t have one, see if they have an About Us section or a Contact Us form or email address. If the company doesn’t list any internship information, start making cold calls and asking how to apply. Take notes on everything you find.
- Visit internship websites: Several sites list internships but when it comes to websites that only list internships, consider InternQueen.com, LookSharp.com (formerly InternMatch.com), Internships.com, and WayUp.com. Also consider checking out standard job websites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, CollegeRecruiter.com, Indeed.com, SimplyHired.com, and TheMuse.com.
Prioritize and Plan
Now that you've done your homework, you can think about the best way to approach your search.
- Go back to the dream list: Pull out the list you made and add anything else you came across during your research.
- Give yourself a deadline: Put together a timeline for yourself. When will you block out time to apply for internships? You’ll need a few hours for every 5-10 internships you apply for, especially at the beginning when you might not have all of your materials ready. When should all of your applications be in by? What deadline are you giving yourself? Make sure you write down these goal dates in your planner or on your calendar.
- Don’t put your eggs in one basket: Don’t apply for just 10 internships. If 10 days pass and you haven’t heard back from anyone, you are going to apply for more—remember that!
Revise Your Materials
You need to make sure your resume and cover letter are up to date, and you'll need to be prepared to make alterations to each depending on the internships you are seeking. You'll need other materials as well to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Your resume: Your school's career center can help you put together a competitive document. When putting together your resume, read the job or internship posting carefully and make sure you include items that relate to what the company is looking for. For example, if they want someone with social media experience, you should emphasize your social experience on your resume.
- Your cover letter: The cover letter gives you a chance to personally convey why the company should hire you. Make sure you clearly state the position that you are applying for, the semester, and where you’ll be over the summer. Like the resume, the cover letter should be tailored to the specific internship it is for. You can use a boilerplate as your starting point, but the message should be at least slightly different for each opportunity.
- Letters of reference: It’s always a good idea to have three strong letters of recommendation (or reference) on hand at all times. A professional letter from a previous employer or internship coordinator, a personal reference from a friend (preferably someone with a strong title/position/workplace), and an academic letter from a professor or adviser are good options. If you always have newly updated letters, you won’t have to fuss about this when asked for one.
- Online portfolio: If you are applying to a position within the writing, editorial, advertising, public relations, or graphic design industries, you might be asked for examples of your work. Keep an online portfolio of your work to easily access relevant projects to send to employers.
Apply and Follow Up
The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to actually submit the applications since you'll have everything you need gathered together already.
- Push out applications: Once you have all of your materials together and customized for each specific position, it’s time to send them out. Send them out as close to one another as possible to better track them, but don't try to do too much at once. Send out a handful each day as time allows, but be disciplined and don't miss days.
- Follow up on applications: One week after submitting an application, follow up to make sure it was received.
- Apply for more: Continue applying for more opportunities as long as you still haven’t landed anything. Be persistent and make sure to put your materials in front of as many people as possible.
When you get an interview, this is your chance to really impress the employer.
- Print materials: Print out a handful of copies of your resume and cover letter for each meeting that you have.
- Buy thank you notes: After the interview, you’re going to send a handwritten thank you card, go ahead and purchase them before you have the interview so you can send it immediately after.
- Get your wardrobe together: For your interview, you should wear a business suit—a blazer and a pant or a skirt. You also could wear a dress as long as it’s not sleeveless or a skirt and top with a cardigan or blazer. Remember, the key is to look professional.
- Practice questions: Your career center should have a list of practice interview questions for you. Go grab a copy of the list and make yourself practice as much as possible. You also can schedule a mock interview with the career center. This way they can point out any areas of improvement.
- Research, again: It’s time to research again. Go to the company website every day leading up to the interview, see if anything has changed since your original research phase.
- Create a list of questions: It’s crucial that you ask questions at the end of the interview. Create a list of five questions to ask at the end of the interview. This shows that you've done your homework and are genuinely interested in the opportunity.
Follow Up Post Interview
When the interview is over, you still are not finished. You want to make sure the employer knows you appreciate the opportunity and remain interested in the internship.
- Email: Send a thank you email right after the interview thanking the company for taking the time to sit down with you.
- Send your thank you card: Put your thank you card in the mail. This only needs to be a few sentences thanking the employer for their time, referencing something you spoke about, and reiterating your interest in the position.
Repeat this cycle of researching, revising your materials, prepping for interviews, and following up until you land the perfect summer internship. Good luck!