8 Essential College Internship Tips

by
Student, Elmhurst College

Everything you need to know about college internships could honestly be a 10-part mini-series. There's so much to keep in mind! But since they don't have binge-watchable Netflix series for job search advice, here's the next best thing: the top eight tips for finding and crushing your internships.

1. Don't be afraid to try new things

If you're searching for internships but aren’t completely sure about the career you want, don't be afraid to try different things in fields that interest you. The point of a college internship is to gain experience and professional skills, and to figure out what you enjoy and what you're good at. If you're not sure, having a different internship or job each semester might be just what you need to figure out what you want to do when you graduate! 

2. Do your research

You should be extensively researching the companies you might intern at and apply to. It's important to get an understanding of the culture of the business before sending in a résumé or heading in for an interview. It may also be helpful to read any reviews of the company, but remember to gauge where each review is coming from. Don't base everything on one superb review or one rant. 

3. Be proactive

Even if a company isn't hiring interns until March or April, you should be in contact with them as early as the beginning of February, for an example of the time frame for summer internships. Follow up on your résumé or application no later than one week after you send it (if you haven’t heard from the company already). You can follow up a couple more times too to show how interested you are in the position. You don’t want to be annoying, but persistence does pay off, and the worst thing they can say is that you're too early in applying or that your application hasn’t been reviewed yet. Plus, your consistent communication can help etch your name into the minds of those you’ve been in contact with, so you have a better chance of securing an interview when they do begin selecting applications.

4. Be organized

Have folders in your e-mail for all your correspondence with potential internships so you can save every e-mail. I'm not kidding. (I have an e-mail saved from two years ago from an employer who told me to contact her once I graduated.) This can help you remember previous conversations and spark your memory if they say to contact them at a later time. (And why not set a calendar reminder for a few months into the future while you’re at it?) In addition, keep your planner or phone calendar organized with any calls or interviews you have scheduled. Set reminders and alarms. The last thing you want to do is confirm a call in an e-mail and then completely forget about it the day of.

5. Interview etiquette and advice

You've landed an interview! Congrats. It's time to really show your stuff. Here are a few interview-specific tips:

  • Dress professionally. Even if it is a more casual company or occupation that doesn't require professional clothes, always dress a little nicer than the job entails.
  • Practice your handshake. Weak handshakes are not welcome in the professional world and you want to impress them from the beginning!
  • Bring your planner or a calendar so you can write any important dates down.
  • Bring a few copies of your résumé with you, even if you previously sent it to the employer.
  • DO NOT USE YOUR PHONE DURING THE INTERVIEW. Even if you are completely used to entering information or taking notes via your phone or tablet, just this once use paper. It's disrespectful to be on a device during an interview, because it’s impossible to know if you're paying attention or doing other things.
  • Write any questions down you may have for the interviewer, and take notes during the interview, all on the same notepad.
  • Finally, to keep everything organized, I highly suggest investing in a portfolio to bring to interviews (you can find plenty of options on Amazon or at office supply stores).

Another thing that is soooo important that people forget about is sending a thank you card after an interview. Once the interview has concluded, write (and send) a note that day to the interviewer thanking them for their time and insight about the job. You can also send an e-mail thank you that day or the next. (Here’s some good paper-vs.-e-mail thank you note advice.) This goes for phone conversations as well. Written thank you cards are not as popular anymore, so yours will definitely stand out, and it will help the employer remember who you are.

6. Be on time!!!

You want to be checking in for your interview (letting the front desk know you’re there) five minutes before your scheduled start time—no earlier, no definitely no later. I will never forget the time during one of my internships when a potential hire showed up late for their interview, and my boss surely didn't forget about that either! Even if this means showing up 40 minutes early and sitting in the parking lot to guarantee you're on time, do it. Nothing looks worse than showing up late for an interview. Plus, if you're rushing in, you’ll probably too scatterbrained and stressed to give the best interview you can. 

7. Be honest

If the interviewer is detailing the job’s responsibilities and it requires something you can’t do—such as working nights, weekends, and/or more hours in the week than you can give—tell them! It may be uncomfortable, but what's more uncomfortable is accepting a job offer you can't fulfill the duties of. It's very easy to want to appease the interviewer and say all the right things and agree to everything, but you have to be mindful of what you are capable of. If the job isn't meant to be, it isn't meant to be, but you'd be better off knowing that before working there for a week and having to quit.

8. Don't get discouraged

It's very easy to get down on yourself if you don't know what you want to do in your career, can't seem to find any internships, or have not gotten any of the jobs you applied for. It's even worse when your peers share their successes with internships while you have nothing to show for all your hard work! But don’t ever give up or get discouraged, because if you keep trying and do everything you can to meet your goals, the rest will fall into place. Researching and applying for internships is an extensive and exhausting process, especially on top of everything else you may have going on in college, but it will be rewarding when your résumé boasts excellent experiences after graduation! 

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