Young blonde women in glasses and suit jacket talking on cell phone in office

7 Insider Tips for Finding a Great Internship

Internships are like long-term job interviews: doing well in one could land you a great job after graduation. You know you need one, so here's how to find one.

Your college may not require an internship for you to graduate, but nowadays, they are anything but optional if you want to land a good job after graduation. Try thinking about internships as a three-month-long job interview. A friend of mine who owns a business said that recently, and I have to agree. You should adopt this mindset too as you tenaciously seek out internship opportunities. These tips can help you find one (or more!) to put on your résumé. 

1. Don’t depend on traditional routes

If you want to compete with dozens or even hundreds of others clamoring for an internship, job search sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster will suffice. (Your college’s internal internship/job boards will be pretty popular too.) However, to significantly improve your chances of scoring an internship, think about the people you know. Tap into your own networks, which include professors, family, friends, past employers, neighbors, and LinkedIn connections. This is no time to be shy.

Related: 8 Essential College Internship Search and Interview Tips 

2. Identify your dream internship

Take time and think in vivid detail where you would like to intern, the tasks you want to perform daily, the skills you want to learn, and what your ideal day on the job will look like. Paint a clear picture in your mind, all the way through to a glowing reference letter from your boss. Then write down your “dream” and think about it every day. This will help you take it from dream to reality. 

3. But be flexible

While it’s great to know what you want to do before graduation, flexibility is important. You may not find your dream internship right away, and the exact position you want may not pan out—but there’s plenty to learn with every opportunity. You always want to be open to new ideas, even if they don't match up with the dream list you wrote out. There are countless stories of people who started in the mailroom and worked their way up to the executive suite. 

4. Keep your radar on 24/7

Yes, you're crazy busy and swamped with exams, deadlines, work, family, relationships, and more. Your college experience is basically as a full-time job (with lots of overtime); it is your utmost priority. Well, the hunt for a wonderful internship is another part of that job. Opportunities and connections may present themselves when you are on a weekend trip, at the movies, in the airport, or at a holiday dinner. So pay attention!

Related: How Do I Start the Internship Search and Who Can Help?

5. Create a road map and timeline

Look at a calendar and highlight the date you want to begin your internship, then work backwards. For example, if you want to start on April 10, 2016, circle that date then go back in time. Before the spring semester gets underway, make a detailed and specific list of companies, names, and contact information you wish to approach. Complete the list by January 15, but remember you can add to it during the semester. Before reaching out to prospects, plan to update your résumé and portfolio. Target February 1 for your résumé and February 15 for your portfolio. (Tackle these tasks over the holiday break if possible so you don’t have to scramble.) Then circle February 20 on your calendar and schedule at least one hour a day for calling and emailing potential employers from your contact list. This is your road map.

6. Stay positive

Don’t mope around when someone asks if you have an internship and your response is no. Negativity will poison your conversations and mindset. Simply smile and reply, “Not yet, but I know I’ll find one.” Then gently change the subject. Regardless of what the naysayers share, stay upbeat and stick with your plan. Good things in your career usually don't happen overnight—they take time and dedication.

7. Ask good questions

If an internship opportunity doesn’t pan out, try and get quality information to help move you forward. For instance, if an employer hires someone else, ask if there was something specific they were looking for that you didn’t provide. Maybe it’s a particular skill or a gap in your availability. Maybe your demeanor wasn’t a good fit. Ask them what the issue was (if there even was one), and don’t guess what may have gone wrong. Learn from the facts. Also, if a potential employer says there are no positions, ask if they would be willing to email you two or three contacts who may be hiring. Recommendations and referrals often open doors.

Related: Our Best Advice on How to Find and Rock Internships 

Every internship you find may not be your dream job, and every one won't result in a full-time job, but you can gain valuable skills and experience from any position. Take this search as seriously as your future job search, and try to learn and help as much as you can in whatever gig you land. You never know which short-term internship could turn into a full-time job!

Maybe grad school is your next step before a full-time job. Explore our featured graduate programs with our Grad School Search tool. 

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo

$10,000

Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Abhishek Kumar

Abhishek Kumar

High School Class of 2022

As a high schooler, I know how hard it is to plan for college. You have to consider a lot of factors: SAT/ACT scores, college searches, scholarships, and more. CollegeXpress has been a helpful resource that solves all these problems. One can easily create a free account and search away. They help you search for scholarships and colleges, they have graduate program search, they have lists and rankings, and so much more. CX also has a lot of articles and advice to read—whether it’s financial aid, test prep, campus visits, internships/careers, or anything. Not only that, CX gives out free scholarship money to students who sign up and create a free CX account. I love CX and will continue to use it! Thank you CollegeXpress for making my college journey easier!

Nazira Abdelkhalek

Nazira Abdelkhalek

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2014

I am very honored to be this year’s recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship! This scholarship is vital to helping me achieve and fulfill my dreams, and gives me confidence and motivation as I begin my college career. The CollegeXpress website has been invaluable over the past year as I planned my educational and professional goals. I highly recommend it to all students as they begin to focus on their college and career interests. The website is a wonderful guide to schools and scholarships.

Rana Slosberg

Rana Slosberg

Slosberg College Solutions LLC

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is the 800+ lists which have all kinds of hard-to-find information. These lists are helpful when I’m creating college lists, and I also use them to give students a feel for a particular college or university.

Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro

Counselor

For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.

Elizabeth Stafford

Elizabeth Stafford

High School Class of 2021

As a UK student moving to California due to my dad's job in the military, when I first signed up for CollegeXpress a few months ago, the college process ahead seemed daunting and incredibly stressful. That all changed after I started to explore what this website had to offer. Not only was I helped by the vast array of resources available to me, but through being a CollegeXpress member, there have been so many more benefits. There have been emails with college tips—all of which I found incredibly helpful—as well as invitations to events and notifications of scholarships that'll make college possible for me. Overall, I'm very grateful to CollegeXpress for all of these things and more. Not only have they helped me grow my understanding of the college process, but they've also helped me to grow as a person, giving me new skills that I can take with me through life.

College Matches