By Thomas J. Denham, EdD
An internship is a short-term work experience in a professional environment where the emphasis is on learning versus earning. You will learn new skills, gain insider contacts and references as well as clarify your career goals. More and more students are realizing how these benefits enhance their college education. Even more employers are expecting it. Once you realize that you need to build your resume with more than McJobs and campus activities, follow these ten steps to finding the perfect internship:
1. Meet with Your Career CounselorPerhaps you are feeling confused and really need a coach. You can find a local career counselor in your area at the National Career Development Association website (www.NCDA.org). They will be excited to help you find the right internship, and they can even give you ideas you might have missed. They are professionals and have helped many in the past.
2. Define Your GoalsWhat exactly do you want? You want an internship, but an internship doing what? Where do you want to be doing it? How many hours a week can you devote to your internship? Will it be an established and structured internship program or something more informal that you create? Begin with self-assessment and inventory your skills, values and interests. Also, determine your career field of focus and your geographic area of preference. For example, if you want a political internship in DC, then log on to DCInternships.org on the web.
3. Start Early and Explore Your OptionsDevelop a time frame that works for you. Your internship search, will in all probability, take more time than you first expected. If you are serious, you will commit a few hours each week to your hunt. Be aware that some internships have application deadlines. You will need to send your resume and cover letter out several weeks before you actually need to start the internship. Commit your options to writing and come up with your top 3-5 internship choices.
4. Research Your Internship ProspectsYour college's career center is a great place to start. They will have books, periodicals, the yellow pages, employer literature, and internship directories for you to read and research potential targets. More and more firms list their internships directly on the company web site. You might also use a clearinghouse site such as Vault.com, MonsterTRAK.com and InternshipPrograms.com. Your career counselor will help you identify web sites and resources that meet your needs like Internships.com for example.
5. Implement Your Internship CampaignEmploy a number of strategies for a successful internship search. The number one tactic is networking, talking to friends, family, faculty, alumni and your "connections." Don't worry if your parents get you in the door. Once there you will be expected to stand on your own two feet. Other techniques you will need to consider include your career center's recruiting program and internship listings, classified ads, headhunters, career fairs, direct mailings, and the Internet. Your career center is also well connected to internship opportunities as well as other students who have trailblazed internships for you.
6. Develop Your Cover Letter and ResumeYou'll have a hard time acquiring an internship without these important documents. Need help? Your campus career center can guide you with samples of resumes and cover letters, often written by former students. Be sure you are sending your tailored letter to a specific person and not to "Dear Sir or Madam:" You will need to send out several resumes and cover letters over a period of time to produce the right number of interviews and offers.
7. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up!After having sent your resume and cover letter, it is perfectly acceptable to follow up with a phone call if they have not contacted you within a reasonable amount of time. Be sure your answering machine message sounds professional in case they respond. When you get the person on the phone, politely tell them that you are checking on the status of your resume and cover letter and you are still very interested in an internship. Your goal in this phone conversation is to convince them to schedule you for an interview. Rarely does someone obtain an internship over the phone. Typically, they will want to meet you in person to see if you are as good as you look on paper.
8. Develop Your Power Interview AbilitiesThis is often the most neglected aspect of an internship search. Once again your career center can help you better prepare with handouts listing sample interview questions. They can also provide you with a mock interview, which is a video-taped practice interview with analysis. Even though you may be thinking, "this is just an internship," the employer may take the interview very seriously since any intern is viewed as a representative of the company. Be sure to express your enthusiasm and dress professionally. After the interview ask, "What's the next step?" You will want to clarify if they require a transcript, references, application or other documents as well as when they will be getting back to you with their decision.
9. Send a Thank You NoteWithin 24-28 hours after the interview, send a sincere and tailored thank you note. Only about 10% of candidates ever do this, but it can give you that all important edge. Depending on the company it can be typed, e-mailed or handwritten. Check in with your career counselor. They can help you with your thank you note draft and advise whether it is appropriate, for example, to send a handwritten flowery card to a high powered investment bank. You'll need to invoke your patience since the internship process takes time. If the employer has not called you when they said they would, then again it is acceptable for you to contact them and reiterate your interest and see how the process is coming along.
10. Evaluate Internship OffersOh no! Now you have several offers and don't know which option is the best! Talk to your career counselor again and show them any notes you took after the interview listing the advantages and disadvantages of the company. They can help you weigh factors such as job content, training, supervision, prestige of the employer, location, credit versus non-credit, salary and benefits if any, contacts and which internship will best position you for the future.