Many college students turn to internships to gain work experience in the field they’re interested in while still in school. And internships aren’t just a summer gig; they’re something you should be considering all year long. Interning at a company can show you what the work you want to do is actually like, can introduce you to mentors, and can even be a good way to earn money if the internship is paid.
In competitive fields, it’s not so much about having internships on your resume, but having the right ones. To get some advice on how to land internships that will stand out, we asked five job recruiters and career professionals to share their tips, and this is what they had to say.
“[Start looking] as early as possible, especially for undecided majors. Oftentimes internships help students focus their academic trajectory. Contrastingly, an internship might also show them exactly what they don't want to do. In both situations, it's best to know earlier rather than later.
Students often have more experience than what they think they have. It's all about how they write about it. A student can make any experience relevant if they take a minute to think. These experiences may include a summer job waitressing, school projects or even work as a volunteer. When describing these experiences on their resumes, students should pick out the transferable skills and relate them to their desired internship. Waitressing = customer service and experience, school projects = ability to work on a team or with other cultures... etc.
We look for something called ‘learnability.’ An intern that is eager to learn and can pick things up quickly is the most beneficial to an organization. We know that we will need to train an intern regardless, so we need the skills that cannot be taught.”
“Early on, students should join on- and off-campus associations, meet professionals in the field, find a mentor, and cultivate those relationships. If they do this consistently, they will have an easier time landing internships when they want one. Often the internships will even find them.
I look for people who are sharp. Internships are very temporary, so interns need to pick things up quickly. Most internships during the school year are part-time. Even if you think about 3-month full-time summer internships, that's barely a new hire's probation period. So being sharp is critical. Internships are an opportunity to show that you'd be a valuable addition to the team. When you leave, you want to be missed.”
“It's never too early to start looking! We start building relationships with prospective interns as early as high school. If a student is interested in an internship with a company, but doesn't necessarily meet certain requirements just yet, a great way to be proactive is to reach out for an informational interview. Not only can you start to build a relationship with the company and its key players, but you can learn steps to take to make yourself more marketable for the position once you are eligible.
Candidates should be sure to include any on-campus activities [on their resume] (clubs, organizations, volunteering) they're involved in as that shows they are able to balance school with their personal lives. It also paints a picture of what interests the candidate and shows they are building a personal network (very valuable to most businesses these days!). Candidates should also make descriptions of their professional and leadership experience less about their duties and more about their contributions to that position - and QUANTIFY anything and everything you can!”
- Sarah Taylor, Employee Engagement and Recruiting Manager at Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer CPAs and Advisors
“Students must leverage every relevant asset they possess in developing their resume. If they have limited internship experience in a specific field, they need to list every course they took that is related to that field. They need to highlight any project they completed in a course that is relevant to that field. They need to feature any club or organization they belong to that is relevant to that field. Too many students don’t think beyond the internship experience in developing their resume and include other relevant items.”
- Mark Beal, author of “101 Lessons They Never Taught You in College”
“Ideally, once you are in the final semester of your sophomore year, about to become a junior, you want to start looking into internships. As a freshman or sophomore, you can start researching the industries of interest, the employers you’d like to work for, and see what internship opportunities are available and their requirements. You might find you need a certain skill set under your belt before applying, or you need to have successfully passed a particular level of courses in your major in order to be qualified.
From what I’ve learned from most recruiters is that they want interns who are willing to learn. After all, an internship is all about learning that career field. Not only learning that particular role, but reaching out to others, asking questions, offering to help on projects, and expanding your skill set.”
- Lori Cleymans, Career Specialist and Internship Coordinator at the University of North Georgia