Four diverse young interns holding white folders walking in glass-windowed hall

How to Find Business Internships and Land the Position

Internships can help you gain experience and learn about your career preferences and interests. Check out these expert tips on landing business gigs.

So, you're studying Business and trying to figure out what you want to do after college. Maybe you'll apply to graduate school, go on to professional school, or start full-time work. In any case, getting at least one internship in college can be incredibly helpful in making those decisions because it allows you to learn about your career preferences. Of course, internships can also give you the experience you need to get into graduate school or get that first job out of college. But we're not here for long-term career advice—let’s talk about how to get an internship as a Business or related major.

Skills needed for business internships

The most important skill in the business world is the ability to critically analyze problems with quantitative and qualitative methods. In fact, to succeed in most fields, you need to be able to look at an issue and analyze it using mathematical and statistical (quantitative) metrics together with subjective (qualitative) criteria to arrive at decisions. These are also often referred to as "hard" and "soft" skills.

Hard skills

Hard skills tend to provide a solid foundation in business and are sometimes measured by aptitude tests, quizzes, brainteasers, etc. Internship employers may also look for evidence of these skills in your college coursework. Even if it’s not your major, picking up electives in Accounting, Economics, Finance, Mathematics, and Statistics will help you develop these skills for related jobs.

Soft skills

Soft skills tend to be handier if you advance to be a leader of a team, part of management, or an entrepreneur. However, these skills are harder to test in an interview setting or through an exam. They’re also more difficult to learn through classes or books, which is why employers may look at extracurricular activities for things like serving in a leadership position in a club. Soft skills help you with careers in communications, human resources, marketing, sales, and more.

Broad skill sets

Developing a broad set of these skills is one of the best things you can do to ensure you're a strong candidate for many positions. You’ll find that many business internships (and subsequent jobs) require a strong balance of quantitative and qualitative skills. Beyond these, you’ll likely need to be familiar with common software like Microsoft Office Suite or Google Drive. The more programs and technology you're familiar with, the better prepared you'll be for any internships—and the better your résumé will look to future employers. Engage in any tech you have access to in school and look for opportunities to learn about other skills or topics that interest you, whether you learn to code or follow some online lectures. After all, much of business happens on the cutting edge of technology, so that's where you want to be.

Related: Infographic: Skills to Put on a Résumé to Land the Job

Types of business internships

Before I dive into some tips for the hunt, what kind of opportunities are there? Below are some of the common types of business internships, and while every internship ever doesn’t necessarily fall into one of these categories, most college-level internships fit somewhere into these types of organizations. Experience in any of these will play a key role in securing a job after graduation.

Formal corporate internships

Most traditional internships involve working in corporate offices doing accounting, finance, marketing, product research, etc. for large corporations. These internships provide valuable formal training and the chance to see how big—maybe even Fortune 500—companies work. These internships will either be specific to one area of the business or generalist internships that expose you to the workings of the whole company.

If you're not sure what to do with your business major or you’re just toying with the idea of a future in business, you’ll want to get a generalist internship to sample many facets of a company. But if you are in a major like Accounting, you’ll be better served by a specific internship, because a generalist internship won't help you grow your accounting skills much. In either case, corporate companies provide you with a solid brand name on your résumé, and you'll learn a lot about how large organizations work.

Related: Internships: Your Dream Job Diving Board

Internships at start-ups and innovative small firms

You learn everything working as an intern at a start-up company, because it's a microcosm containing almost all aspects of business: teamwork, strategic management, how to develop an idea into a product, marketing, sales, operations, and human resources. It’s exciting to see how the same person can take charge of customer service, marketing, and sales at once. On the other hand, if you can’t step up to the challenge interning at a start-up may provide little value to you. Start-ups typically don’t have formal internship or training programs either; you'll be expected to learn as you go by making mistakes and taking chances. If you decide to go for a full-time position at a more established company later, explain why you want to make such a dramatic shift. Good reasons include more direction, formal training, stability, structure, etc.

Asset management, investment banking, and strategy consulting internships

These types of consulting organizations are the big internship players that mainly recruit at the nation’s top universities, usually offer the highest salaries and long hours, and lead to full-time jobs and careers. Some firms that fit into these categories include Boston Consulting Group, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and more. They're the closest to what the real job would be like because these companies are often vetting for new hires.

If you decide not to stay with a company after graduation, having their name on your résumé is practically a guaranteed boost. Make sure to stay in touch with the connections you acquire and recruiters too. When you interview for a new position, detail how you were genuinely interested in the job; don’t just slap that company on your résumé because they might feel you only cared for the prestige of the name, not the experience.

Local office jobs

Local office internships are found all over the place. Even if all you actually do is get your boss coffee, order lunch from local restaurants for the whole office, and organize a baseball game outing, figure out what you learned from the experience. Those are the skills you can use to sell yourself on your résumé and in your interview for your next internship or job. Try to learn what office politics are about. What does the company you interned with do? Who are their competitors? What do they do well and what do they do poorly? Glean whatever you can.

How to find internship opportunities

Now that you know a little bit more about the business opportunities out there, you should have a better idea of where your skills, interests, and goals fit into them. This is the stage of the game where you think about what you want—and then go after it. As for finding these positions, the process for internships is pretty much the same across the board:

  • You can research companies directly and inquire about their internship openings.
  • You can search through your college's internship database (if they have one) or visit your school's career office for help. Formal business internships are often formally connected with colleges, making it easier for students to secure positions.
  • ·       You can use other internship search and recruiting sites like Idealist, LinkedIn, Indeed, and InternMatch.
  • You can ask your family, friends, professors, and mentors if they know of any opportunities.
  • You can do a straight-up Google search for "business internships in [insert your town]" or "internships for [insert your business major specialization]."

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

How to apply and interview

Once you have some roles in mind, it's time to apply—get ready to sell yourself. Whether it's on paper or in person, the best way to convince an employer they should hire you is to showcase how you would be an asset to their company and your enthusiasm to work there. Here’s how to master the materials you need to apply and interview for those internships you so carefully collected:

Your résumé

A résumé isn’t as intimidating as it seems. It’s simply a one-page review of your major accomplishments and experiences in your academic, work, and personal life. If you’re not sure what to put on it, these are some key things to include:

  • Your GPA: Keep in mind that many prestigious investment banks and strategy consulting firms will not interview anyone with a GPA below 3.5—so get to studying!
  • Your major and classes: Make sure to list your major and any relevant courses that will resonate with the specific position.
  • Work experience: You can frame the skills/experiences from virtually any job so they apply to the position you're going after. 
  • Extracurricular activities: Leadership experience is nice to have on a résumé, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. Focus on one or two activities to show your dedication to certain interests.
  • Skills: Are you fluent in other languages? What about computer languages? Are you good with MS Excel and PowerPoint? List these!

Related: How to Write a Great Résumé That Will Get You Noticed

Your cover letter

Your cover letter shouldn’t be a rehash of everything on your résumé: You need to tell a story. Explain why you deserve this internship in particular. Here’s an example of someone interviewing for an investment banking internship:

“I have always been interested in investing. When I was 12, my mother got me the Stein Roe Young Investor game, and I learned about the differences between different types of investment vehicles. When I was 16, my parents gave me $2,000 to start my own online brokerage account, and I invested it in two consumer durables companies and made a 24% return in one year, but then lost all of it the next year. I learned a lot from the experience and realized I needed more than just qualitative analysis to make good investment decisions. When I got to college, I enrolled in accounting and finance to understand the meaning behind P/E and EV/EBITDA ratios and various other metrics. I feel like working for [your company] because I want to build on my skills and work with intelligent people. I believe the team-oriented atmosphere at [your company] will help me learn a lot. I hope that I will be able to add value here because I also value the tenacity, commitment to customer service, and data-backed analysis prized here.”

Your interview

Again, if you're not familiar with interviewing for jobs, a good place to start is looking for interview tips in blogs or other reading. In the context of a business internship interview, keep the same tenets of your résumé and cover letter in mind: Tell a story. Show how you're the right person for the job. Spin your past experiences so they fit the needs of the job you're applying for. And, if you do nothing else, practice responding to common interview questions!

Related: 8 Essential College Internship Search and Interview Tips

Before you apply for anything, make sure you have spent time thinking about what you want to do and how you will go about accomplishing it. From there, create a strong résumé, ask others to edit it, and go rock your interviews. Setting a path with definite goals can help you a lot through the rest of your academic career and into your lifelong career. Good luck!

We have so much more advice to help make you the best intern you can be in our Internships and Careers section. Check it out!

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