Junior year of college is seen as the critical time for getting the much sought internship. While some of your peers may already have scored an internship, if you’ve waited until Junior year, time is up. You need to score an internship now. Why? Because having an internship on your resume will make you much more marketable as an entry level hire. Two reasons: 1) if you do well in your internship, you may be offered a position after graduation, locking in an absolute floor of having one job offer in hand as you begin your Senior year; and 2) having an internship gives you not only resume content, but interview content as well. Instead of answering interview questions: “In my college project…” you can answer questions: “In my internship…” Employers highly value practical work experience. And you will gain an understanding of your profession that cannot be found in books and classrooms.
So put aside the sports, partying and yes, even classes, for a moment and get ready to begin your job search.
Job search? Really? I need to do a job search? Now? Yep, now. Because finding an internship is a job search. And developing this life skill which will pay back dividends throughout your career.
Here are the 9 things you need to be doing now to find an internship:
1. Narrow your focus
It’s time to finally face and answer that eternal question: “What do you plan to do for work after graduation?” It doesn’t mean that you need to have an exact answer, but you do need to narrow your focus. If your answer is “What can I do for work with a _____ major?” then you probably have planned your career backwards. You should have been planning your chosen career first, then selecting the major which would best prepare you for that chosen career. But, in reality, you’re not alone—most college students choose their major first, then career almost as an afterthought. If you haven’t yet started your career planning, now is the time do so. Visit Career Services on campus. Take the testing available there (aptitude, personality, interests and values) to align with potential careers and then get the counseling you need to help you understand the results. Do your research on your job type and industry to make sure you have the necessary baseline education and skills for internships in the field. Then narrow your focus by job type, industry and/or geography to be targeted. That will become your resume Objective in the next step.
2. Write your resume
Now that you have your focus narrowed, your resume will be much easier to write. If you are looking for a top-notch (and free) format to use, check out the Quickstart Resume Templates at CollegeGrad.com, with resumes for more than 50 different majors from Accounting to Zoology. Simply drop in your objective, then drop in your content for education and experience. And it’s not too late to gain more work experience during the school year to enhance your resume. If you have gaps between where you are and where you need to be at graduation, now is the time to begin filling in those gaps.
3. Get registered
Find out how the internship campus events and campus interviews are managed on your campus, then get registered. It may be through the Career Services office or through your major. You typically will need to have your completed resume in hand, which you should have already completed in the prior step. Make sure you are registered to receive all of the notifications for upcoming campus events and interviews.
4. Mock interview
Before you attend any internship campus events or interviews, get prepped for the internship interview. While an internship interview can often be a shorter or more abbreviated interview than the more comprehensive interviews you will be seeing for entry level hiring, the basis of the questions is usually the same. Take time to review standard interview questions to be prepped for the questions that you will be facing. But it’s not enough to do this as a mental-only exercise. You need to actually practice interviewing, ideally with a video of your answers for later review. You may be able to find this option on campus through the Career Services office or through your major or through the student chapter of a professional association.
5. Attend internship campus events
Employers will be coming for internship events in preparation for on-campus internship interviews later in the year. These can include employer talks as well as forums and presentations on a variety of topics, usually related to your major. Some of these events will be open only to Seniors, but most are open to all, although they may be restricted by major. Attend as many of these events as possible. And remember that each encounter with an employer representative is an interview, no matter how long or how short. They are assessing you. You are making an impression, good or bad. So prep in advance for each employer to make sure you are well versed on the employer and can ask appropriate questions.
6. Expand your horizons
Go above and beyond your school to tap the full internship market, not just those employers who are coming to campus. Review internship postings at CollegeGrad.com (by clicking the Internship checkbox) to find internships which match your needs, but whose employers may not visit your campus. Take a look at the Top Intern Employers section at CollegeGrad.com for the largest employers of interns. Be willing to expand your geographic horizons. Don’t tie yourself to your campus, home and/or living with Mom and Dad. Then network, network, network. Tap into your professional and personal network. Why? Because employee referrals are typically the #1 source of hiring at most employers. If you are connected to someone at a target employer, they can refer you internally, which provides you with a better introduction than the typical cursory resume review. And this is great prep for making work connections when you are ready to look for work after graduation.
This includes both on-campus internship interviews and company-site interviews. Some employers will make their decisions based solely on the on-campus interview, while others require a second (or third, etc.) interview at the company site. If you have made direct contact with an intern employer which is not coming to your campus, your first interview will be company-site. Make sure you understand how to behaviorally interview, presenting your answers in STAR format. Use examples giving the Situation or Task, the Action you took and the Results achieved. Make sure you know how to bridge from standard interview questions to highlight key areas of your education and work experience.
If you are doing well in your interviewing, you may end up with multiple internship employers vying to hire you. Internship pay is pretty standard and set among employers, leaving you with little to negotiate on the pay side. So what can you negotiate? Usually the key internship negotiating point is which team you will be working with at the employer. For larger intern employers with multiple internships in multiple departments, there may be options. Remember, your preferred internship and department is likely the same for others, so being willing to accept early may give you the inside track for your preferred internship. For intern employers with multiple locations, you may be able to negotiate your preferred location.
If you do have multiple offers and intern pay is truly the stumbling block in accepting one internship over the other, let them know. Can they do something? For large employers, probably not, but small to medium employers can have more flexibility. Don’t be afraid to play one offer off another to get the best final offer terms.
9. Accept the internship offer
I know what you’re thinking, this step seems easy, right? Actually, if you have multiple internship offers, it can be one of the most difficult steps. And even if you only have one internship offer, you are accepting against the potential opportunity of other offers which may not have been made yet (which may or may not be made in the future). So now it sounds a little bit more like a game of chance, right? It doesn’t have to be. Make a simple T chart, listing all of the positives on the left and the negatives on the right for each potential offer, if you have multiples. Do independent research to find out how current employees view the employer. Don’t just take the recruiter’s sales pitch wholesale. Do your homework. Consider not only the employer reputation, but also the content of the actual internship. And if you have only one offer, now is the time to call in all other pending opportunities. Try to get them to make a decision one way or another before your first offer expires. If that’s not possible, it’s always permissible to ask for an extension on the time to respond to the offer. And, in the end, make your commitment and stick with it. On to the next, unnumbered step—yes, now you can party.
If you follow through on all of the 9 steps above, you will be well on your way toward building the foundation for your entry level job search your Senior year of college. Scoring a great internship is the most important thing you can do to prepare for your career and life after college. For help with any of the steps above, please review the career and job search information available to you for free at CollegeGrad.com. Happy hunting!