Even with a degree in hand, glowing recommendation letters and a killer resume, without an internship, it can be challenging to land a job after graduation. Why is an internship so important? Because it demonstrates that you’re able to apply your academic knowledge to real-world experiences. More often than not, companies seek out candidates with prior experience in their field.
How to start your internship search
Most internship opportunities are available after sophomore or junior year. The idea is that the more academic experience you have, the more you’ll be able to contribute. Spend time deciding on the career path that you want to pursue, and then do some self-evaluation on the types of companies and corporate cultures that suit you best. Don’t focus only on whether the internship is paid. Only about a third of internships are paid, and paid positions get about four times as many applicants as unpaid. Remember, just because it’s a “hot” internship, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. Your college’s career development office is a great place to start, and don’t be afraid to tap alumni connections either. There are several websites to help your search, too. http://www.internships.com is a comprehensive database, and if you’re looking for a nonprofit internship, http://www.idealist.org is an excellent resource.
Write a winning application
Write a resume and cover letter for the internship, even if it’s not required. It’s good practice and shows them that you’re ready to join the ranks of professionals. It’s fine if you don’t have much job experience; in your resume highlight your leadership roles—whether in volunteer positions, college organizations or summer jobs. Explain in your cover letter why you’re the ideal candidate for the internship and what relevant experience and skills you can bring to the organization. After you send your resume and cover letter, if you don’t hear from them, it’s okay to reach out once more and underscore why you’re such a great fit for the internship.
What you’ll do and what you’ll gain
Ultimately, an internship is about gaining hands-on experience within one’s field of interest. Sure, you’ll probably also be called upon to do administrative tasks, but you’ll also have the opportunity to make real contributions to the company or organization—through research, projects, creating support materials and other activities. You’ll learn what a typical day on the job might look like, find out about the workload and the responsibility that is expected of employees. And, beyond the first-hand glimpse into your chosen profession, internships are invaluable for several reasons. You’ll make industry connections, forge mentor relationships, gain new skills, and get the chance to “test-drive” your career. Are you a good fit for the corporate culture? Do you love working in a lab, or would you rather be on the business-side of science? You may finish your internship and decide that this is right career for you, or you may decide that your passions are elsewhere. Either way, your internship will be an invaluable experience to help you shape your future career path.