Like most jobs, the key to getting an internship is hard work and persistence. It may be frustrating at times, and you may feel like you’ve sent out a hundred résumés and applications with nothing to show for yourself. Combined with a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance, the following tips may help you land the internship of your dreams.


Apply early.

The earlier you start looking for opportunities, the more opportunities you will find and the less likely you will be to miss any application deadlines. The 2016 National Association of College and Employers survey found that recruitment for interns begins an average of eight months before the position begins, so the earlier you get your name in the game, the better. If you’re looking for a summer internship, you should start your search no later than October or November of the previous year.

Perfect your résumé.

If your résumé has typos and the information is out of date, no one will want to hire you. Generally, college résumés should be one page long, list your education and relevant coursework, and list your work experiences in reverse chronological order. You may also choose to include extracurricular activities, volunteer experience, professional memberships, professional presentations, and any publications that you’ve completed.

Depending on the internship you are applying for, you may want to tailor your résumé so that it highlights courses and experiences that are relevant to the job. You may end up submitting several different subtly different résumés to different companies; this isn’t a problem. You want to highlight your strengths with respect to each prospective internship. This blog post offers advice on keywords to include in your résumé, and you can check out a sample here.

Learn how to write a tailored cover letter.

Like your résumé, your cover letter should be specific to the job for which you are applying. You wouldn’t want to talk up your customer service skills for an internship that would mostly involve computer programming or vice versa. A cover letter should let you introduce yourself; explain what you bring to the position and why you are interested; and generally persuade a recruiter to look further into your résumé and call you for an interview. A cover letter should be personable, yet formal, and no longer than one page in length. You don’t want to bore potential employers before they’ve even met you!

While it is okay to begin your cover letter with “to whom it may concern,” it is always better if you can find the name of the hiring manager or the director of the program to which you are applying and address your letter that way. It’s much more personable to begin with “Dear Ms. Smith” than with a more generic opening. This may not always be possible, especially for online job postings that may not share any specific details about who is doing the hiring. Tailor your greeting to the situation. You can read a sample cover letter here.

Visit the campus career center.

In addition to learning about job fairs and recruitment events (below), you can talk to a career counselor about how to go about finding internship options, write the perfect résumé, or make your cover letter stand out. The counselors who work at your school are going to have the inside scoop on which companies are likely to hire students and when applications are due. They are often able to access internship opportunities that aren’t normally posted online and can tell you where previous students have had luck finding internships. Making an appointment is well worth your time.

Go to job fairs and recruitment events.

Colleges often host career fairs or have access to local career events. Your campus career center will advertise when these are happening and tell you how to sign up, as space may be limited. Attending these fairs and events is a great way to get your foot in the door, and you’ll be made aware of opportunities without having to resort to the internet. When you attend a job fair or a recruitment event, dress the part and be assertive. If you see a representative from a company that interests you, go introduce yourself and ask about open positions. You want to make a good impression on the people you talk to so that they can put a name to a face (and maybe put your application closer to the top of the pile) later on.

Ask professors in your (prospective) department for leads.

Your professors are closer to their industries than the career center is, and they are likely to have friends all around the country who work for a variety of companies related to the department. Professors are an invaluable resource, and you should take advantage of what they have to offer outside of the classroom. Even if they don’t have any ideas of internships that might be suitable, they may know of summer jobs and research positions, they may know faculty at other colleges or research facilities that are hiring, or they may even be able to hire you themselves. Experience is experience, no matter where it comes from.

Practice interviewing.

An interview can make or break a job offer, so practice until you could make a good impression in your sleep. When it comes time for the real thing, dress to impress, arrive at least five minutes early, and refresh yourself on your résumé and cover letter. Greet your interviewer with an outstretched arm (try to give a firm handshake) and a smile. Once you’re in the interview, try to relax! It’s hard when you feel like you’re being grilled about your life’s history and your qualifications, but the more relaxed you are, the more naturally your answers are going to come. From there, you just need to focus on honesty and professionalism. This blog post will help you prepare for an interview.

Network.

LinkedIn is your friend, as is your college’s alumni network. As a student, you should be able to access a list of alumni broken down by where they live now, what their degrees were in, and their current occupations. Take an hour or two to browse through a list of all graduates who had the same major as you; maybe you’ll find someone working for a company that you’re interested in. It doesn’t hurt to reach out, and alums are typically pretty easy going. It’s much easier to write an email to someone you’ve never met when at least you have an institution in common. LinkedIn is a little bit trickier since you may be reaching out to people you’ve never met. Typically, though, you’ll have at least one connection in common, so use that as your in! Learn how to create a great LinkedIn profile here. Don’t forget, too, about family, family friends, and neighbors. While reaching out to your mom may feel like a cop out, she probably knows someone who knows someone. LendEDU found that over 40% of students with summer internships found their position through family connections.

Use the internet.

If you’re not having any luck elsewhere, it’s okay to turn to the internet to search for internship possibilities. If you know what industry you’re interested in, search for your industry and the word “internships” or “summer internships.” If you’re more interested in a location than a certain position, search for “internships in Virginia” or “internships in Dallas, TX.” Internships.com allows you to search for certain industries in certain locations, as does Indeed.com (though Indeed also posts standard jobs as well). You could also consider searching for open positions on the following websites:

Make cold calls.

Making cold calls is a terrifying prospect, but it’s one that could pay off. If you’re not having luck finding internships in your preferred field or for any companies that you’re interested in working for, make a list of companies that interest you. Then, call the human resources department and ask if there are any internship positions available that may not be advertised. The worst that can happen is you’ll be told “no.” On the other hand, you may be asked to submit a résumé.

Check out federal options.

Students who are interested in pursuing a federal career should check out the Internship Program and the Recent Graduates Program. Both provide internship and career development opportunities that can lead to full-time job offers. To be eligible to apply, you must be enrolled in an accredited educational program (ranging from high school to graduate school) and find an internship that is related to your major or career goals or have completed your postsecondary education within the past two years. If you are a veteran, you may be eligible if you completed your education within the past six years. You can search for internships or recent graduate positions here.

Follow up with your application.

After you’ve submitted your application, it is okay to follow up with the company, either via email or phone call, to ensure that it’s hiring manager has received your materials and to offer to answer any questions that they may have. If you interviewed, send a personalized thank-you note afterwards, graciously thanking the interviewer(s) for their time and the chance to elaborate on your application. However, you don’t want to go overboard with contact to the point that you are nagging them for a response; this is no longer a professional way to ensure that your application is viewed, but a surefire way to ensure that your application is tossed out.

Page last updated: 09/2017