Internship guide for students

Internship guide for students was originally published on College Recruiter.

Internships are a quintessential part of the college experience. They offer college students a chance to integrate their classroom knowledge in a professional setting. Internships provide students with insight about their prospective careers and show what it takes to be successful in their chosen industry. In addition to gaining valuable experience in a career field, internships give students a chance to test out a future career to see if it’s a good fit for them. They typically last a few months so it’s critical for students to make the most out of this short time. Keep reading this internship guide to discover the dos and don’ts of internships and some advice on how to make the most out of your experience.

College Recruiter believes that every student and recent graduate deserves a great career. One of our core values is to provide thought leadership, which includes blog articles like this which we hope will help students who are seeking internships.

Why should college students get internships?

Whether you are interning for a major corporation or a small business, an internship is a valuable professional experience that can set you apart from other candidates. In fact, 68% of former interns believe their internship experience was more valuable for their career compared to their college education. Internships are important, as they give students an opportunity to test drive a future career in a low-stakes environment. They allow students to get a snapshot of what it’s like to work in a certain industry so they can decide if they are interested in pursuing the career further.

Employers looking for interns are under the impression that most applicants do not have previous work experience. This creates a level playing field for all students applying for internships. From an employer’s perspective, an entry-level candidate with internship experience has a competitive advantage over their peers. Having an internship on your resume tells employers that they won’t have to spend as much time or use many resources in order to thoroughly train you, as you will already have some industry knowledge.

Before your internship starts

Before you apply to your internship of choice, don’t forget to clean up your online presence. Do a simple google search of your name and see what pops up. Is this something that enhances your professional brand? If not, consider deleting posts or tagged photos that don’t align with the message you are trying to send to future employers.

Finding the right internship means knowing where to look for them. College Recruiter offers thousands of remote and in-person internships for college students. A simple search on our website for internships + the industry you are interested in, will reveal many great opportunities in your city. Another resource available for college students is the campus career center. The staff in the career center can assist with any internship related questions that you might have and help you find additional information about available internship openings.

First generation college students are those whose parents did not attend college. Navigating internships without support or advice from family can be challenging. Don’t be afraid to ask your academic advisor for help. Academic advisors have insight into the best internships for your field of study and will help you in finding one that is the right fit for you.

Paid versus unpaid internships

There are two different types of internships: ones that are paid and ones that are not. College Recruiter has published a number of articles on how unpaid internships are illegal, unless the employer is a governmental or non-profit entity. Unfortunately, some companies are still offering unpaid internships. A study completed by NACE, showed that having an unpaid internship negatively impacts employability. The study showed that 66% of graduates with a paid internship received a job offer and only 44% of unpaid interns were offered a job post-graduation.

While paid internships are best for the college student and for the employer, sometimes a paid internship is not an available option. In these instances, an unpaid internship can still be a wonderful opportunity for students to get valuable professional experience. Studies have shown that having an internship in general, a paid or unpaid, correlates with a higher chance of receiving more job offers compared to peers who did not complete an internship.

Getting the most out of your internship experience

While many students apply to internships in order to beef up their resumes, internships offer a unique opportunity to gain skills, learn more about your prospective career/industry, and to network. It’s easy to think of your internship as a stepping stone to get to your career instead of a meaningful experience. Try to make the most out of your internship. A simple mindset change will transform your internship from something you must endure so you can graduate, into the start of your professional journey. Making the most out of your internship might even help you turn your internship into an entry level job offer.

The time spent in your internship should be used to set personal and professional goals. Setting goals and monitoring your progress allows you to gain meaning from your internship experience. In addition, this time should be used to learn more about your company and the industry you are interested in. By investing more time into learning about your chosen career path, you can ensure that this industry is the one that you want to continue working in after graduation.

It can be difficult to stand out as intern when you’re only working with the company for a few months. Make a good impression by treating your internship as if it’s your actual job. Take your role at the company seriously and show your manager that you are there to work. Showing up to your internship with the same amount of determination, as you would for a paid job, will help you stand out among other interns.

Summer and winter internships

A great time to enroll in internships is during the summer and winter break portions of the school year. A summer or winter internship may be less stressful as classes are not in session. This allows students to focus entirely on their internship and not have to worry about their studies. Applicants interested in summer internships must apply before the start of the season, and typically at the beginning of your spring semester. Remember to stay on top of the application due dates as summertime internships can be fairly competitive. If you feel lost about where to start finding your summer internship, check out this Q&A about summer internships with expert career counselors.

Virtual Internships

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic changing some of the ways we work and many companies going fully remote, virtual internships have gained popularity. Virtual internships allow students to get work experience all from the comfort of their own home. Remote internships have their own unique set of challenges and require different means to ensure that the experience is successful.

Before jumping into your virtual internship, it’s critical to adequately prepare. Setting up a space in which you can comfortably work from home without being distracted is essential in working virtually. In addition, it’s important to have some sort of organizational system set up, whether it be a calendar or a planner in which you can keep track of daily activities during your internship. And finally, setting up a daily routine will help you remain productive while working from home. If your manager hasn’t set up start and end times for your internship, be proactive and make a schedule for yourself. Be sure to run the schedule by your manager for their final approval, though.

Remote internships have both advantages and disadvantages that college students should consider before applying. While students get to embrace the experience of working remotely, which is likely to remain a popular style of working in the future, they also miss out on the in-person interaction that occurs within an office environment. Another advantage of interning remotely, is that you get to gain experience with remote working technologies and tools, which is useful for future job prospects.

Some interns might feel distanced from the company work culture while working remotely. Try to familiarize yourself with your company’s virtual messaging and communication platforms and take advantage of opportunities to virtually connect with your new coworkers.

Dream internships

Sometimes the internships that you want aren’t always available. In this case, it’s worth reaching out to a company directly to ask about any possible internship opportunities. Even if they don’t have any openings in their internship program, reaching out directly shows initiative and can be a great way to make some connections to further grow your professional network.

In order to secure the internship of your dreams, you’ll have to compete against other students who likely have the same amount of work experience and education as you. Be sure to highlight the things that make you stand out as a candidate so you can emerge from the pack. It’s important to include a strong cover letter and to have a few people re-read your letter to catch any mistakes.

Networking is key in the process of securing your dream internship. Create social media accounts that are solely for professional use and start interacting with companies and professionals in the industry you are interested in. By frequently engaging with these individuals not only are you building credibility to yourself and your brand, but you are making critical connections that can help facilitate job opportunities in the future.

If you didn’t land the internship of your dreams, you can still turn the experience into something positive. Perhaps you’ve realized you are no longer interested in the industry or career as you had previously thought, or maybe the position just isn’t a good fit for you. You should continue the internship until the end date and try to get as much as you possibly can out of the experience. Even though it wasn’t a good fit for you, it can still be a valuable experience. Aside from having experience to add on your resume, internships offer a chance to build the soft skills that so many hiring managers are looking for.

You finished your internship, now what?

Once you have completed your internship, it is time to update your resume. This may be your first time having to write a resume or you might be wondering how to add your internship to the resume you already have. Lucky for you, College Recruiter has several articles on crafting the best resume so you can land your first entry-level job. Remember that your resume is your sales pitch to an employer, so be sure to highlight any unique skills or abilities you have. If your internship doesn’t correlate to the position or industry you are applying for, you can provide transferable skills you acquired from this position that will be useful in your new field. While It can be overwhelming to write a resume when you lack extensive professional experience, internships can be used to help bridge this gap.

If the company you interned for offers you a position, congratulations! You have the advantage of already knowing the ropes of the company, before you even begin. If you are leaving your internship without a full-time position lined up, do not fret, College Recruiter offers a number of million part-time, seasonal, and other entry-level jobs that need 0-3 years of experience. Don’t feel discouraged if you are not offered a job post internship. You are leaving your internship experience with networking contacts, new skills, and an experience that will signify to employers that you are ready for the workforce.

By Shelby Konkel - College Recruiter
College Recruiter
College Recruiter believes that every student and recent grad deserves a great career. Each year, we help more than 3 million students and recent grads find part-time, seasonal, internship, and entry-level jobs requiring 0-3 years of experience.