For those of you panicking about not having a summer internship yet, relax! You have time to find one. Finding an internship can be divided into these steps: figuring out what type of placement is best for you, the application process, and the interview process.
Create a quick list of things that are important to you. Do you need to get paid? Do you want to see a new city? Do you want to work in a group or on your own? How important is prestige to you? How much free time do you want to have? What skills do you want to learn, and want do you want your day-to-day work life to look like?
These questions are much more important than the ones you might first think of: What’s going to look good on my resume? What career do I want to have?
Here’s why. Down the road, most employers will care less about the specific internships you had than the fact that you worked steadily. Many creative or unusual internships in different fields are a positive. If you are a rising senior in college or a graduate student, you may have to worry much more about whether your internship might lead to a job, but for high schoolers and early college students, try something you might not be used to. Focusing on what skills you want to learn (research, writing, leadership, etc.) will be better for you in the long run than what job you learn them in.
Use your college’s resources and Google to find jobs that let you do those things. There are, in general, three types of internships: government (it might be a bit late for those), the private sector, and nonprofits. List companies that seem cool, even if they are out of your reach for an internship, and nonprofits in areas that interest you. Interested in journalism? Create a list of journalists you admire and the companies they work for. Want to work with kids in Africa? Google “paid internships in Africa.”
Think out of the box. Maybe you can’t work with Doctors Without Borders, but scoring an internship as a summer analyst at Goldman Sachs in the Middle East may give you free time to also travel and volunteer.
Reach out to people who have the jobs you want and ask them how they got there. This is why the previous step is so important: You have to know what you are talking about when you talk to them. Don’t be afraid to reach out to big shots; it’s remarkably easy to contact people who are successful in their fields. Before I became a columnist, I talked to big names in the news media, the editors of major newspapers, and public figures who wrote weekly columns. As long as you are asking for information and not a job, they’ll help you out.
Want to work at Apple? Look on LinkedIn for a manager at Apple and ask them for 15 minutes of their time. They’ll tell you what types of internships will help you get the skills you need to be a competitive applicant — and many will even connect you to friends looking for interns, if they can.
Start applying for jobs. Once you have a list of places to look at and have a few mentors who can advise you, apply. Clean up your resume, write personalized cover-letters to every job, and follow up. Don’t miss deadlines by including due dates and “E-mail [contact] at [company]” in your calendar.
If you are rejected, always thank them for their time and ask if they have advice on how to make yourself more competitive. Ninety percent of the time, you won’t get a response, but the few times you do, you will get great advice on how to improve your resume.
Prepare for the interviews. When interviewing and in your application, explain why this job is so important to you and will add value to your career goals and life plans. This is why the first step was so important. If done right, you will be very persuasive about the skills, contacts, and summer experience you hope to gain from this job in particular, and you will care about more than just the resume boost. Always show interest in the ethics, values, and goals of the institution.
Treat the interview more like meeting a mentor than an interview. Answer questions they have about you clearly and concisely. Figure out three things you want to share about yourself that are tied to what the company looks for and make sure you convey them. Take the time to ask about how they got their jobs, what internships they had, and advice they have for their career. If you feel up to it, end the interview by asking, “If there is anything I can clarify about my resume or my experiences that would make me a better candidate, what would they be?” It’s a risky question, but usually interviewers will be honest and you have one final opportunity to convince them you have the skills for the job.
Good luck finding an internship for the summer! And here are some tips on how to do your best once you’re there!