A Guide to Internships Finding Hands-On Experience Locally & Abroad
Meet the Expert
Dana Manciagli is a career expert, speaker, and private coach. She has spent more than 30 years as a Fortune 500 sales and marketing executive, now retired after over a decade’s tenure at Microsoft. Dana is the author of the book, Cut the Crap, Get a Job! and a prolific blogger. A recognized career, networking, and business thought leader, she is a sought-after speaker and a regular contributor to print and online publications, including her own weekly “Career Mojo” column in all of the Business Journals nationwide. She was named among Seattle’s Women of Influence, sits on the worldwide board of Junior Achievement and received her MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
A good internship may be the deciding factor for employers looking to hire recent graduates. The professional experience acquired in an internship could mean the candidate is more likely to provide value from day one. Find out the ways an internship can boost a career, what type of internship is the right fit and tips for getting your dream internship locally and abroad.
How Internships Benefit Careers
From hands-on experience to networking, internships offer students experiences they often will not find in the classroom. The following list includes some of the reasons why internships are beneficial to students, and a great way to get a head start on a career path.
The importance of obtaining real-world work experience through an internship cannot be understated. While classroom learning is weighed heavily by employers, when recent graduates come to the table with practical, industry experience, it makes them even more attractive candidates. By completing an internship in the field they want to work in, students get a glimpse of the day-to-day duties they will be expected to do when they land a job. In addition, internships give students the opportunity to apply what they learned in the classroom to the real world.
Since most job positions are not advertised, professional networking plays a huge role in any successful job search. As an intern, students meet people who can become part of their professional network, which may help them find a job after graduation. Even if there isn’t a position available in the organization they interned for, the contacts students make can lead to a job somewhere else.
The classroom can only do so much in terms of educating students about a specific career. By participating in an internship, students learn about the realities of their field of interest, getting a clear picture of what their work life will be like after graduation. The time spent in an internship can either reinforce their decision to enter a certain field, or let students know that a profession is not the right fit for them.
Professional references are an important tool in any job search arsenal. Completing an internship successfully will help recent graduates stand out because they’ll have someone in their field who can vouch for their job performance and work ethic.
A foot in the door
When students are interested in working for a specific company, getting an internship there is the best way to get their foot in the door. Learning as much as possible about a company and meeting people during an internship will help students get a head start in the hiring process when a full-time position opens up at that company.
Students who complete internships may also meet other college students, or recent graduates, who share their same goals and interests. Having a steady stream of support from people who are in the same boat allows students to vent their frustrations, find solutions to problems, and build lifelong connections.
Internship Advice Resources
Searching for and starting an internship can be intimidating. The list below offers students advice on how to find the right internship and be successful once they start.
This site has a number of articles about how to land, and be successful in, an internship.
Offers articles to help find internships.
UC Berkeley offers students tips for making their internships a successful experience.
Listed as Mashable’s "Top 5 Online Communities for Starting Your Career," the site offers internship seekers tips for their search and how to be successful. The also post internship opportunities for students.
What Internship Works for You?
Internships can be classified in a number of ways. The following explains the different kinds of internships that are available.
Internships at private companies or large organizations are more likely to be paid. Payment can be salary or an hour wage and in some cases, students may receive a lump sum.
While summer internships tend to be the most popular time to complete an internship, students can choose to work during a semester or even winter break.
Schools often give students the opportunity to earn credits from completing an internship. Check your school’s requirements to make sure you are in compliance.
Externships, also known as job shadowing, are much shorter than other internships—lasting only a few days to a few weeks.
Students work at a community organization with specific goals they are expected to meet during their time there. At the end, students may present a paper or presentation detailing their experiences.
How to Get Your Dream Internship
Finding a dream job takes a lot of hard work—and finding that dream internship is no different. Despite being a short-term arrangement that may not yield any money, the search for an internship should be taken no less seriously than finding a regular job. The following tips can help students increase their odds of finding an internship they will love.
The work that students do in school can go a long way toward getting an organization’s attention. In order to increase the chances of landing a great internship, students should make an effort to get experience that is related to the position they want. By participating in relevant extracurricular activities, students can learn some skills that may pave the way for an internship, as well as display their interest and passion for the field. Participating in volunteer activities is also a way to augment classroom learning and show a real interest in a specific profession.
Although experience outside of the classroom will be sure to impress hiring managers, students should also take advantage of opportunities inside of the classroom to boost their resume. When students participate in projects related to their major and future career, it further demonstrates their willingness to learn and passion for their field.
An internship resume should be targeted to the kind of position students are looking for. While it should include information on past work experience, the internship resume should really showcase the skills and knowledge students have about their industry—especially if they don’t yet have work experience in that area. Including information about school projects, extracurricular activities, and volunteering related to the field they’re interested in will be sure to catch a hiring manager’s attention.
Similar to the resume, the internship cover letter should be targeted toward the industry students want to enter. In addition, they should use this space as an opportunity to really sell themselves, and demonstrate knowledge of their industry and interest in a specific organization. To that end, it’s best to do research on each company and tailor a cover letter accordingly. A generic cover letter will not be enough to land an interview; in order to stand out from other applicants, students should be as industry and company specific as possible.
By building a professional network, students make contacts that can help them land their dream internship. Ideal places for making these connections include professional events geared toward a specific industry, as well as school-sponsored alumni activities. In addition, students can connect with graduates from their school on LinkedIn, as well as other professionals in their field, which will give them the opportunity to immerse themselves in a community of people who can give them leads on internship opportunities.
Landing an interview is only half the battle of getting that dream internship. In order to ensure that they get the position they want, students need to practice their interviewing skills. First, they should research the company they’re meeting with and incorporate what they learned into the conversation to show the hiring manager they’re serious about interning there. In addition, it’s important for students to prepare answers for the most common interview questions and practice their delivery. Interview help is available from a school’s career center, as well as a number of online resources that give sample interview questions and answers. For example, Glassdoor.com has interview questions that are commonly asked by specific companies.
With online activity becoming increasingly important to employers, students can differentiate themselves from other applicants by branding on social media sites. Showing off expertise through Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook posts related to their major is a great way for students to create a personal brand that augments their resume.
Internship Search Resources
From corporate internships to green to government to nonprofit, the websites below can help students seeking pre-professional experience find the right fit.
Includes internships posted directly from employers.
Lists part- and full-time internships and entry level jobs. Also has a blog with internship advice.
Includes internship opportunities posted directly by employers.
Students can search for internships by major and location. Also includes tips on interviews, cover letters, and resumes.
Users can browse internships in a number of sectors.
Includes information on how to apply to internships at the federal government.
Internships for those interested in green careers.
This site includes internships and volunteer opportunities in the nonprofit sector.
Allows users to search internships by company, location, and industry.
Allows users to search for internships by keywords and location. Also includes career advice and news.
Includes internship listings and advice for students.
Lists internships by company, city, and industry. In addition, there are a number of articles outlining internship basics.
The site partners with colleges, universities, and small businesses to provide internship listings to students.
Allows users to browse internship listings.
Students can search for internships by major.
Allows students to create a profile and apply for internships on the site. Also includes a blog and internship resources.
Lists internships in broadcasting.
Powered by Monster.com, this site allows students to search internships and entry-level jobs.
How to Find International Internships
With business becoming an increasingly global affair, more and more students are enjoying the career benefits of studying abroad—which allows them to immerse themselves in a new culture as they develop skills that can make them more marketable in the global economy. Similarly, students are also participating in international internship programs to make them more attractive to employers when they graduate.
Although there are more logistics involved in finding an international internship, the following tips are a good place for students to start.
Students who are already planning to study abroad may be able to find internship opportunities from the academic advisors in the foreign host school or through their college at home. In some cases, an internship will be part of a study abroad program, so the school makes arrangements to place international interns in local organizations. In addition, college career centers may be able to offer guidance on the best places to find opportunities.
AIESEC is a non-profit organization run by college students that provides assistance with cross-cultural volunteer and internship placement. When students become a member of the organization, they receive help finding and securing an international internship, as well as making arrangements for the trip. In addition, AIESEC provides a mentor in the city where students are interning, allowing them to get help with things like VISAs and housing.
On the Web
There are a number of websites—such as GoAbroad.com and transitionsabroad.com—that having listings for international internships around the globe, as well as pointers on how to land them. In addition, students can find international companies that they’re interested in and inquire about opportunities with them directly.
Location Specific Internships
Whether you want to complete an internship abroad or have a specific U.S. city in mind, here are a few resources to help you with your search.
This site is a resource for students finding and plan for international internships.
Find the right internship in your desired country through this site.
Lists internships for students who want to work in China.
Offers services to help students get placed in an internship.
Lists internships based in Washington, DC.
What to Know Before You Go
Once students have secured an international internship, it’s time to start planning for the trip. There are a number of things students must do before they leave, and it’s best to begin as soon as possible in order to ensure everything is done in time. The following list explains some items that will be on every international student’s travel checklist.
Students must have a passport that is valid through the duration of their trip, though it is advised that the expiration date be at least six months after their intended return date. It addition, students who are frequent travelers need to make sure they have enough blank pages in their passport to accommodate new stamps.
It can take up to eight weeks for a passport application to be processed, so it’s best to apply as early as possible. If this is their first time getting a passport, students can apply for one at their local post office, federal or state court, or State Department passport agency. In addition to an application, students must bring two passport-sized photos—which can be obtained from photo printing shops, Walgreens, or Kinkos—their birth certificate, a certified identification, and the required processing fee.
Depending on where they plan to intern, students may need a visa in order to travel abroad. Securing a visa can also be a lengthy process—it can take anywhere from four to twelve weeks to complete—so students should submit their application as soon as possible. Requirements to obtain a visa vary from country to country, so to ensure that they know what they need, students should visit the U.S. State Department’s website at travel.state.gov, or contact the consulate for the country where they will be interning.
Some countries require that travelers receive certain immunizations before they can enter the location. In most cases, students can get the information they need about vaccinations from their internship program, but they can also find out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even if students do not need to get immunized before arriving to their host country, it’s still a good idea to get a physical before the trip. Having an up-to-date copy of medical records is important in case of a medical emergency.
Students should check with their current health insurance provider to confirm that they are covered while abroad. If not, they can purchase temporary medical insurance for the specific country they’re going to. Some places where this type of insurance can be found include the Council on International Educational Exchange, HTH Worldwide, and Student Travel Guard.
Ordering plane tickets as early as possible will help students get the best deals. In addition, some locations require that visitors have a return ticket already purchased in order to enter the country.
FAQ About Internships
There is a lot that students should know when they consider completing an internship. The following is some basic information that prospective interns should keep in mind.
It takes time to find the right internship, so students should start doing research about two semesters before they want to start working. Also, students should remember that there is a lot of competition for internships, so it’s best to put in their applications as early as possible. For a summer internship, for example, it’s not uncommon for applications to be due in November.
Students can find internships in a variety of places. Talking to a counselor at the school’s career center, or to a faculty member, is a good place to start. Also, there are a number of online resources where students can look for positions—such as Internships.com, MonsterTRAK, and Internships USA. In addition, if there are specific companies that students are interested in working for, they can inquire about internships directly.
Payment for interns depends on the organization they are working for, the nature of their duties, and the skills and experience required for the position. Under certain conditions, federal law does mandate that interns receive pay. Students should check with their school’s career center or log on to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website for more information on intern pay guidelines.
Whether or not credit is awarded for an internship is based on a particular school’s guidelines. Students should check with their school’s career development center or their academic advisor to find out what internships qualify for credit.
Students who are receiving college credits for an internship need to follow the guidelines of their school. Colleges usually require that students work a certain number of hours during the semester in order to receive credit for the internship. In addition, the faculty internship sponsor may require that students complete additional work—such as keeping a journal or making a presentation—to successfully earn internship credits.
If students are not receiving college credits for their internship, the amount of hours they work is based on the agreement they make with their employer. Generally, in order to juggle the responsibilities of their coursework and extracurricular activities with the internship, students are advised not to work more than 20 hours per week.
The length of an internship is flexible and can be negotiated with an employer. However, generally internships last the course of a semester. Also, students may get internships that last throughout an entire summer, or the period of their school’s winter break.
Completing more than one internship can be beneficial as it increases students’ work experience, as well as their professional network. In addition, completing multiple internships will give students access to more people who can provide letters of recommendation during their job search.
Although some people think that internships do not count because they are not regular, paying jobs, any work experience that students gain during their time in college is important for future employers to know about. Adding internship experience to their resume is an excellent way to showcase how they used their time in college wisely.
Ask the Internship Expert: Dana Manciagli
When looking for, and completing internships, there are some missteps that students can make and not even be aware that they’ve done anything wrong. Getting inside the mind of a recruiter or supervisor is not always an easy thing to do, so we spoke to career expert Dana Manciagli, author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job!, to give readers a bird’s-eye view of what they think about interns.
What are companies’ goals when they bring in an intern?
There are a variety of objectives, depending on the company. The primary one is to test drive the person, just like a car, and also to give students an opportunity because there is goodwill in developing young people. They may not have an opening now, but an internship is a great way to see how students behave, to validate skills, and to see how they learn.
Do students feel like internships shouldn’t be taken as seriously because they’re not “real jobs”?
Absolutely. My advice to students is never minimize them and their impact and value—not only for you in the short term, but in the long term. Too many job seekers dismiss their internships and even talk about them in such a way to make them sound much smaller than a “real job.” Internships are real jobs. I’ve heard candidates present themselves to me as a hiring manager, saying “that was just an unpaid internship.” They didn’t need to say that. It doesn’t matter if it’s paid or unpaid, it’s a job.
What qualities do organizations look for in interns?
Putting aside the specific skills or requirements for each job, which can vary widely, what they’re looking for is someone who has the spirit to learn, as well as energy and work ethic. Does this person seek to learn or do they come in saying they know it all and can do it all? Do they have the energy and are they putting great effort into working? Do they volunteer for more work? Do they show up to work a little early? Do they have the good, old-fashioned, hard work skills?
When someone applies for an internship, what can they do to turn a hiring manager off?
Anything that demonstrates the opposite of the important qualities I mentioned, such as if they’re late for the interview, or sloppy on their resume or with the way they’re dressed. Anything that shows disinterest is also a mistake. That could be slouching, a weak handshake, or a poor attitude—either being negative about a prior boss or their school. No one wants to hire unhappy people.
What is expected of you as an intern?
The expectations are that you’ll do what they ask you to do. You’re supposed to show up to do whatever task is asked of you—and sometimes, yes, that includes running down to Starbucks. You need to show that you’re there—they don’t want you texting, they don’t want you on the phone with your buddies setting up your golf game on Saturday. They’re always watching you—and if your manager isn’t, someone else is.
Your goal as an intern is to make the most positive impressions on as many people as possible—and that includes the administrative assistant, and people you don’t know and just bump into in the cafeteria. Any one of them can be a hiring manager, an influencer, or a naysayer. So, it’s really important to be your best self every single day of the internship.
If an intern feels as if they’re not being challenged enough, is it appropriate for them to ask for more challenging duties?
It’s not only appropriate, it is highly recommended! That’s what companies hope you will do. But the key is how you do it. You can’t just walk up to anybody and everybody and say, “Hey, I’m bored, do you have something for me?” That would shed negative light on your direct manager. And don’t ever say you’re bored because if you’re not willing to do the boring work, then you’re losing points. Instead you can say, “I think I’m learning fast, can I help you with any other projects?”
How can students parlay their internship into a full-time job after graduation?
Toward the end of their internship, they should have a meeting with the person that hired them and they should communicate their passion and the fact that they’re highly interested. Also, they need to articulate what they want to do for the company and in what time frame. They don’t know if you’re available to work 40 hours a week now or when you graduate in May, so be clear about that. Ask what the steps are to pursue employment there.
Also, ask for their feedback and listen. Do they think you’re a fit? Is there any reason why you wouldn’t be a good candidate? Really listen to your manager instead of just telling them your mission in life.