Land a Great Internship

To make it ahead in the world you have to start somewhere. The problem is that many reputable places are less likely to hire new graduates without real work experience. This seems like an unsolvable problem: you can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job.

How do people do it? What does it take to make it in the business world? While there are as many different answers to these questions as there are rats in the race, getting an internship in a good company is the common denominator for many successful people today.

Let’s start with the good news. Getting an internship means:

  1. A business chose you among many other applicants (as you will soon find out, there will be many other applicants for any internship position you apply for). That means you must have been qualified or you managed to impress them with your attitude or appearance. Companies’ criteria for selecting an intern can range considerably.
  2. You will get some real-world work experience. True, the tasks your temporary employer gives you most likely will not be complicated or require a lot of responsibility on your part, but hey - it’s a start.
  3. Credibility. You can say you were helping trade futures in a major investment company during your internship there even if you were bringing the traders their morning coffee. Technically it’s not an untrue statement. As you probably already know stretching the truth a bit is a fundamental skill in resume building.
  4. References. Once you successfully complete your internship program you can request a letter of reference from the company. It may not be signed by the CEO but it will carry their logo on company letterhead and it will confirm that you come recommended from someone who has a logo and a letterhead.
  5. Connections. There’s a good chance that you will make some connections in the industry. It may be company workers or business partners, but if you’re an outgoing person with a positive personality you can use the social factor to your advantage. Once they know you (and hopefully like you) there’s a much bigger chance that they will be willing to help you one way or another in your budding career.

Now the bad part:

  1. You will most likely not get paid. The major downside to most internships is that as you’re not an experienced professional yet, the company is aware that they have something to offer you, and less sure that you have much to offer them. There are some paid internships out there, and those are worth researching, but from a strictly financial point of view, most internships will leave you empty-handed in the immediate future. Try to remember that you’re working for free right now with the expectation that you will be repaid with interest in the future.
  2. Internships are hard to get. Even if it’s an unpaid internship, there will be many other applicants with skill sets and qualifications similar to yours. Without some notable combination of luck and skill, you will have to stave off discouragement as you continue to search and apply for new opportunities. This is a real challenge, and when things are at their worst your best course is to focus on health and building up from small to big accomplishments.
  3. Internships are difficult to find. Very rarely a big company will pay money to post an ad for an internship in a major newspaper. Often they will go through a recruiter that has a working relationship with universities. Keep your eyes and ears open if you’re considering an internship at a reputable company. It’s often worth cold calling or emailing a number of companies you may be interested in just to inquire if they offer any internships at this time. This will show initiative, but it must be carefully planned: you have to do a little homework on the company beforehand. After all, you want to have a good answer to the question “Why are you interested in working with our company?”. A little flattery here may go a long way.
  4. Your superiors at the company may have short memories. Realize that your internship is a relatively short period of time in which to make a big impression. When you do impress, ask for references sooner rather than later and request them in multiple copies if possible.

Don’t expect miracles, think of this as the starting point of a very long road. Stay positive, check your ego and remember that doing a little extra is not an unreasonable task to convince future employers of your value as a worker.