Landing an internship while you're still in school can be crucial to ensuring a great job once you've graduated. However, it takes more than a stellar GPA and a visit to your school’s careers office to land one. You need to start your internship search early in the school year, and prepare for some competition from your peers for the prize spots.
Here’s how to stand out on the internship hunt:
Optimize Your Résumé
If your résumé doesn't showcase your best self, it’s difficult to get your foot in the proverbial door of a solid internship. Companies want interns whose experiences go beyond their academic schedules; you’re going to need to highlight your projects, interests, and anything else that presents you as well-rounded.
Stephanie Scott, a campus recruiting manager who administers an early identification and leadership program at consulting firm West Monroe Partners, is interested in candidates who are expanding their technical knowledge outside of the classroom (or have an active GitHub account). That said, she's particularly keen on interns who engage in interesting, non-tech related activities.
"If they volunteer, are active in clubs or have creative outlets like art or music, it shows me that they can juggle a lot of things," she said. “I find people with that mindset are able to smoothly navigate different scenarios."
Scott has also observed that interns who've mentored younger students often have unique attributes that set them apart. She says the patience required to encourage and teach speaks to the soft skills necessary to successfully engage with an internship.
"What are your passions, and what are you investing your time doing?" is what Jamie Campbell, founder of GoBestVPN, an educational and research organization that helps consumers protect their digital privacy, wants to know from prospective interns.
“By what you most care about, I mean your side projects,” he continued. “If you've built something physically or programmed something, and have a nice public repository, I want to be able to see it.”
Campbell and Scott have a great deal of respect for students who keep their grades up while holding down jobs. Your responsibility and work ethic shine under these circumstances. It doesn't matter what you do either; if you deliver pizza, walk dogs, etc., it’s a candidate for appearing on your résumé.
Build Your Network
While your network may include employers and guidance counselors, it should also include your professors and fellow students.
Scott notes that she's been meeting more college students who already have impressive résumés, so she uses a network of campus contacts to help with referrals. “We have employees who go back to campus as alums,” she said. “They regularly connect with their former professors to help identify potential interns. They also recommend students they know.”
If you're not sure what your professional field of concentration should be, an expansive network may lead to more than one internship, which could help you narrow your focus and gain valuable experience.
While at University of California, Berkeley, Neel Somani, a software engineer at AirBnB, interned at Google, Bain & Company and Two Sigma. He strongly advises leveraging your social media network. “Twitter is probably the best network for making connections,” he said. “People generally don't mind giving referrals there because they could get a referral bonus out of it. Don't be afraid to slide into someone's direct messages.”
If you don't think you have a large enough network, consider that everyone you know inevitably knows someone else. Giving your existing connections information about companies or career paths you're interested in, and asking them to be on the lookout for you, could lead to a key introduction.
Ready for Your Internship Interview
First, if you've never interviewed for an internship before, dress professionally. It doesn’t matter if employees at the company are never out of athleisure wear; your goal is to make an effective impression.
When speaking with potential interns, Scott looks for critical thinking and good communication skills. Those who can fluently give examples and describe navigating different circumstances are her first choices. The most articulate candidates often have a lot of interests.
Finally, be ready to pitch what you can offer. If you've loved a course or worked on a project that aligns with the business, be ready to discuss what you've learned and how it would benefit their agenda.
“If you can create and prove your value,” Campbell said, “you'll get far more than an internship.” In other words, you’ll gain more knowledge, more experience, more contacts, and eventually, substantive employment.