Seven Steps to Get an Internship | With Tips and Tricks From Friends

TIA HERE, just exiting the stressful world that is the internship search. If you are an American university student (or perhaps a college student elsewhere as well), then you know what is expected of you in the summer. While some start their junior year, others begin taking on summer internships as early as freshman year (holla). But how do you go from being an unemployed student with no income, to a briefly employed student with no income?

First of all, here are the basics for those who need them. (Feel free to jump to the list if you already know what's up.) An internship is, according to, "a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment, and it can be paid or unpaid. If you want to go into publishing, you might have to take an internship before you are qualified for an actual job." To summarize, it's something that typically college students do with the hope that they will gain "real world experience" or connections that will help them get a job, post-graduate. Ideally, the place you work for the summer after your junior year promises to take you in as a full-time employee after you graduate. In other situations, your internship experience will work to legitimize your resume when you start going for "real" paying jobs for the first time.

In the past, most internships were unpaid, but because of a string of incidents where unpaid interns sued the companies they worked for because they felt they were doing work that deserved pay (rather than simply learning/shadowing professionals), most internships nowadays are either stringently for academic credit or paid (with a stipend or for an actual hourly wage).

But let's get to the point. How do you get one of these highly coveted, slightly problematic roles in an industry you're interested in breaking into? Get ready to apply. A lot.

1. Don't slack off your freshman/sophomore years, if you can avoid it. Let's assume you're not already a junior or senior. Given that you can get one—and it may be hard—start vying for internships as soon as possible. Having work experience will make your resume much more impressive and help you down the line. It doesn't matter if the internship is virtual, in your city, or on the other side of the globe. If you're willing to stay home or go there and do the work, then apply. Every bit of experience helps, especially if it's in a similar industry to the one you dream of working in. Don't let empty hours go unspent.

2. Begin the search early, but don't be afraid if it runs late. Every industry is different, so start looking as early as the start of winter to see what is available. Most companies begin searching for summer interns around December/January, but some may have extensive application processes that require they start taking applications months before. Stay on your toes! If you are interested in a media-related career like marketing, advertising, publishing, film, etc., they typically don't start looking for candidates until early February to as late as April. You might notice that the people around you are getting internships while you still can't even find an application relevant to you. Don't panic! There is no standard across different industries when it comes to summer internships. One of the internships I got last summer wasn't posted until I was already in the city (it became my second internship, which I took because my first one was only three days a week).

3. Look everywhere! Internships could pop up just about anywhere. I do all of my searching online, as I presume everyone today does, but there are some different tactics you can use to find internships. The most obvious one is to look for them on internship search engines like, and CareerSushi. If you're interested in media specific jobs, I suggest MediaBistroed2010ProductionHUBFindSpark, or BookJobs—depending on what specific field you're looking to explore. Your school may have their own internship/job search site as well, so be sure to talk to career services (They may even be able to connect you with alums, so don't be afraid to reach out!). If you know what company you specifically want to work for, go straight to their website and check for a section on careers. I suggest even looking up a Wikipedia list of all the companies in the field you're interested in, if you need ideas of where to apply. Finally, don't be afraid to reach out to connections as close as your parents and as far as that one person you met that one time. You never know where the next door to opportunity will pop up, but you've gotta be rattling all those knobs to find out.

4. Be professional and flawless in your application. Make sure career services or your parents look over/help you with your resume and initial cover letter. I suggest writing one or two basic cover letters for the industries you're interested in, covering some added detail into your experiences that your resume might lack. Then, as you apply to different places, edit the cover letters in little ways so that they adhere to the specific company. Companies don't really expect you to write a fresh cover letter for every single application you do, especially if you are applying to upwards 40-50 places, but they do expect you to mention their name in the letter and not the name of one of their competitors. That would be embarrassing. Always double check, and make sure your materials and application answers are accurate, true to you, and passionate. You do want this job, don't you?

5. Prepare for your interview and always follow up afterward. Don't go into an interview not knowing who you are talking to (and what their entire biography is—LinkedIn and Google are your friends) or not knowing the company you are applying to (Who's the CEO? Who founded it? What are they known for? Are you especially familiar with any of their products?) or not knowing the industry (Who is leading the charge? What are some big names? What seems to be up and coming?). Doing your research is essential if you want to avoid embarrassment. Trust me. I've been there. Then make sure that you email your interviewer within 24 hours of the interview thanking them for meeting with you. I did that with the first place I interviewed with for this summer and she emailed back immediately offering me the job! Don't underestimate the power of a thank you message.

6. Respond promptly when you hear back. Don't make them wait around. If they haven't offered you the job, thank them again for the consideration. Be polite even if you're upset about it! If they do offer you the job, then definitely respond as quickly as you can. In the case that you need more time to make a decision (whether it's a matter of money or waiting for a better offer), just be honest and let them know. Don't leave them in the dark or they will probably take it as you being disrespectful! If you are going to reject the offer, also be prompt! In a general sense, they need to know if they can stop looking for other candidates or if they should continue. It's the right thing to do. 

7. Make sure you tidy up all loose ends with professionalism. Just because you have an internship doesn't mean you're done with everything. You may have to sign an official internship offer letter, or determine exact hours of work, or sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs)—or all of the above! Don't leave your future employer hanging on any issue and stay as professional and prepared as you can. Sometimes you have to make several good "first impressions," so never quit putting on your friendliest, most employable face for every interaction you have.

Other tips to keep in mind (from me and my friends at Cornell, Vanderbilt, and Elon):
  • Tia's advice (English): Be certain about the dates and times you are able to work! You can get in a sticky situation if you aren't clear about when you are available. While that may risk you losing the internship, it is worth it to avoid the awkwardness.
  • Thelonia's advice (English): Keeping in touch with people is a really good idea. You never know if people will get back to you or not with further opportunities. If you're choosing between internships, try to balance the "Are you being paid?" thing with the "Is this something you actually want to do?" thing. Internships are supposed to be learning opportunities where you can figure out what you like, so if you only do stuff you don't like (even if you get paid) that might not be the best use of your time. It depends on what your priorities are, and what you need to get out of an opportunity financially. 
  • Sarah's advice (Info Sci): Go to the career fair! Hand out your resume to everyone, even companies you don't think you have a chance at. Go to info sessions and try to talk to recruiters one-on-one. And always always ask recruiters if you can leave them a resume, even if you feel awkward about it—like you think they're too busy. That's their job! And you may be surprised who reaches out to you!
  • Quincie's advice (Comm & English): Reach out to your school's student professional development center (career services) because they can help connect you to alumni working in the fields you're interested in. Use them to read your resumes and cover letters. If you get interviews, research the company and be specific about why you want to work there. Send follow up emails and thank you emails afterwards. Mostly you gotta be driven, because no one hands out internships and the competition is stiff. 
  • Janabeth's advice (Strategic Comm): Once you're working at an internship, always make yourself accessible and available to do whatever people need. Be proactive about asking if people need help and get people to like you!

To those out there looking for internships, I hope some of this helps. Good luck—you got this!

For more, check out Tia's new blog!

Much love,