Though they’re both intimidating and competitive, internships are a perfect way to break into a field and gain professional work
experience. The period between winter and spring break is crucial for the summer internship application process, but with a bit of preparation, the process doesn’t have to be too difficult or overwhelming. To help demystify the process and make it more manageable, I’ve compiled a guide for all the things to consider before, during, and after applying for an internship.
Step One: Start Early
The most important thing to do is start early. Nothing’s worse than finding a perfect opportunity only to realize there’s too little time left to prepare an application. The sooner you prepare, the better chance there is of finding open internship positions in your area of interest. If you haven’t already started the process and are looking to get an internship this summer, do begin as soon as possible.
Step Two: Start with Yourself
The next step is often overlooked, but before even looking for an internship, first consider personal evaluation. This step is crucial for those unsure of what type of internship they want. No employer will be eager to hire a student who doesn’t know what their goals are. Before approaching potential employers, consider what you can bring to an internship and what you hope to gain from it. Making a list of goals, skills, hobbies, interests, and future plans can help narrow the possibilities. Also, remember that not all internships are paid and that the time commitment required of them varies. Be sure to make clear decisions regarding these issues before going any further in the process.
Step Three: Complete a Résumé and Cover Letter
To simplify the process later, be sure to have a completed résumé and working cover letter before starting. There are many formats for résumés, only some of which will be appropriate for you individually. Depending on the type of internship in which you’re interested and the experience you have, it’s fairly easy to tailor a standard résumé format to highlight your best attributes. BU’s Career Center has some particularly useful resources on their website to help you get started, as does Purdue’s Online Writing Lab. To ensure perfection, go to the Career Center to have résumés reviewed and critiqued by a career counselor. Don’t forget to double check for accuracy and be sure to print them on plain, high-quality paper. Even though cover letters aren’t always mentioned in the application requirements, they are definitely important. Cover letters help to highlight particularly relevant experience and should be tailored to include why you’re a good fit for the company to which you’re applying.
Step Four: The Search Begins
If you’ve done your preparation, this step shouldn’t be too difficult. BU’s Career Center has an entire page of helpful websites to search, or try sites like Indeed for general internships or Idealist for non-profit work. Even try searching Craigslist. If all else fails, you might be surprised by the results of a straightforward Google search.
This is also the time to start networking. Ask family, friends, current employers, or academic advisers whether they know of anyone looking for an intern. Also check with your academic advisor to see if your department has an internship mailing list, as many do. There’s even great networking opportunities available online. An anonymous career advisor at the Career Center recommends all students create an online profile, like those available on LinkedIn, that allows them to network with working professionals from around the world. He also advises all students to activate their Career Link profile to take full advantage of BU’s network, as well as looking into BU’s Career Advisory Network to find alumni contacts willing to advise students.
It’s also important to network in person by going to recruitment meetings or career fairs. The Career Center holds one each semester filled with potential employers (and there’s even one coming up next week). If you are particularly interested in a particular company, don’t be afraid to call and ask if they are looking for an intern. The career advisor I spoke with also recommends spending no more than 40% of your time looking at online internship listings, as the majority should be spent networking with people in person. It may seem daunting to search for internships, but with the vast network at Boston University, the Career Center, and the power of Google, you’re likely to find a variety of opportunities.
Step Five: Submit Your Applications
By now, résumés and cover letters should be completed and you should have a list of potential internships. If you have done the work up until this point, this step should be quite easy. There’s still a few key things to consider, however. Remember that some internship applications require letters of recommendation, so be sure to ask professors or advisers for these letters as far in advance as possible. If the application has a short answer or essay section, be sure to thoroughly answer the questions asked, without wasting words on non-essential information. Most importantly, make sure that all materials are complete, accurate, and submitted on time.
Step Six: The Interview
If selected for further consideration, you can expect an interview. This is the opportunity to stand out, so make sure to prepare. Try rehearsing with a friend or making an appointment at the Career Center for a mock-interview. Coming to the interview with relevant questions about the company shows potential employers that you are both prepared and interested in them, so do your research. Be sure to bring copies of your résumé and a list of references, as well as any other relevant portfolios. It’s also important to dress professionally. While this definition varies greatly, if you’d wear something to Monday morning class (jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, etc), it’s probably not appropriate. Look neat, clean, and put-together. When in doubt, play it safe and dress in conservative business attire. Finally, be punctual; arriving late or rushed is unacceptable. After the interview, regardless of whether it went perfectly, Forbes recommends sending a follow-up email that addresses what the hiring company is looking for as quickly as possible. Taking the initiative and showing persistence can only help your chances.
Step Seven: Maintain a Relationship
If you do manage to get the internship of your dreams, the work isn’t over once you accept the offer. In their internship workshops, the Career Center recommends that students be sure to stay in close contact with their supervisor during the internship. Internships are also a perfect time to continue networking, so talk to as many people within the company as you can. Even after the internship ends, send hand written thank-you notes to supervisors and continue the relationship with the company. Making the effort to stay in touch with will pay off later when you need recommendation letters or references.
Applying for a summer internship position isn’t impossible. It takes planning, time, and certainly hard work, but once you understand the steps involved, the process is rather straight forward. Follow these steps (and follow them now) to get started on applying for an internship that could make this summer your best one yet.