Getting an internship can be a little scary—at least for me it was. It meant leaving the comfort of the classroom and branching out into the real world. However, I got over my fear and found the perfect internship for me. In this post, I'm sharing some tips that helped me out. I'll include how to find internships, handling internships that are paid and unpaid, and preparing to use all that newly gained knowledge in school and your future career.
"As a college student, 'internship' might sound like a scary word, but it doesn't have to be."
Some questions college students face when looking into internships for the first time include:
Will I be paid?
Am I compensated for travel?
What if I don’t like it?
Does this mean every job will be the same?
These are all valid questions (that I'll be answering) and definitely not questions you need to stress over. Internships are actually one of the best things a college student can be a part of. In fact, sometimes even high school students or post-graduates can get internships. There's no age limit to worry about if you're considering how to find internships. Let's get into it:
How to find internships that suit you:
1. Put your name on your school's job email list
I did this by going to my university's “Career Services” office. Every campus has a similar office, be it student services, career services or advisory services. This office helps you learn how to find internships. I put my email on the important mailing lists that applied to my major and received countless job listings every week (and still do).
Employers usually post their internship openings to nearby colleges all the time—they’re always looking. This is how I found all my past internships.
2. Create a profile on the popular job board sites
How to find internships using the Internet? Try job sites like Monster.com, Indeed.com, and LinkedIn.com (Be sure to fill out your profile completely and switch your settings to let job recruiters know you’re actively looking).
It doesn’t matter what type of job you’re looking for; it's important to keep your social media and job search profiles updated. Showcasing your past work such as portfolios or writing samples (even something done for a school assignment) can make you more marketable.
Next, you need to network. Most jobs won't fall into your lap—especially if you want your dream job and want to be properly compensated. Making a connection can many times simply happen over social media or via job fairs.
Start by identifying your target company and an employee you can relate to. This could be an alum of your school or someone with mutual friends. LinkedIn connects you with your school’s alums and displays what company they work for.
Then, you can reach out via email. Start slowly with questions inquiring how they like the company and their position. Then, state your interest and make it known that you are looking for some mentoring or going into the same line of work. You can also request a face-to-face meeting so they get to know you better.
Doing all of this can help you get your foot in the door. After all, many companies hire internally or based off of recommendations. This will also give you insight as to whether this job and position are right for you. Not only that, it'll help your resume stand out from other applicants in the internship pool.
What if it isn’t paid?
Unpaid internships are very common. Companies save thousands of dollars a year by offering these internship positions. However, don’t think of an unpaid internship as free work.
Internships are meant to educate and to prove your worth to a company. The goal is to ensure that by the end of the internship, the company considers you a valuable asset and wants to keep you.
Yes, there are thousands of paid internships—whether they compensate you for travel, give you an hourly wage or a yearly/seasonal salary, but in some cases, it may be best to suck it up and take an unpaid internship.
In my experience, employers are generally aware of the sacrifice college students make by working as unpaid interns. Often, that includes working a paid job in addition to their new role as an intern. I’ve done this with all my previous internships and my employers have been extremely understanding of the circumstances. So there's hope!
When it comes to juggling responsibilities, be upfront with your employer about the financial strains. Many employers will be able to work with you.
The point of an internship isn’t the money, but the hands-on learning you will get. If your dream company is offering you an uncompensated role at their company, take it! You'll learn first-hand if this really is your dream company after all. Don't let the fear of not making money dissuade you from taking a great opportunity to learn and grow in your professional work. You can even try new roles and responsibilities with each internship—that's something money cannot give you!
How to find internships to help your future
Internships aren’t always required in college. Some colleges might offer full college credit for internships, while others may not. Either way, I highly recommend you try interning for at least two different companies. The reason for this is the experience.
By being on the inside of more than one company and performing different tasks for each one, you will quickly realize your niche. You realize what you do and don’t want to do and what job suits you best. You may even realize that you’re in the wrong field or major and your true calling is somewhere else—and that’s totally fine!
Internships are supposed to help you learn and realize your passion. Without testing the waters first, you may never know if there’s something else out there for you.
Once you're in an internship, you're more likely to get hired over an outside applicant. Securing the internship is half the battle, and proving you're a reliable and hardworking asset to their team is the other half. Fueling your career and starting early is the best way to secure a future at a company of your dreams.
Interning might seem like a huge first step into the working world—but it's something that should absolutely be embraced. It will lead you to a career that is best for you, and you will enter your newfound job prepared and well trained.
Keep an open mind and make the best out of your sneak peek into the working world as a student. Good luck!