Careers

Search Tips for Finding a Summer Internship

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If you spent your winter break clarifying your personal brand, polishing your resume and cover letter, and establishing specific career resolutions, you are already well on your way to exploring opportunities for further professional growth and development. One such option is the summer internship -- and below, I’ve listed six tips to help you find one.

Take the First Step


Summer internships are popular with both employers and college students, so they are plentiful -- but that also makes them competitive -- and to secure one, you want to start searching as early as possible. Since we cannot travel back in time, today is a perfect day to take the first step. “If you want to get an internship this summer, I suggest you first clarify what experience you are looking for,” advises Caitlin Magidson, counselor and career coach at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and in private practice. “I work with a lot of students who want an internship but don’t know what skill gap they would like to fill or what industry they want more exposure to.”

If you have no idea where to start, you may want to focus on what you are doing right now. Think about the courses you’ve taken and the events you attended. When were you most engaged and inspired -- and why? That could be a starting point for discovery of what opportunities may be exciting and meaningful to you.

Engage With Your Career Center

If you haven’t already done so, it’s high time you visit your career office on campus. The internship search can be frustrating but you don’t have to go through it alone. Career development staff won’t hand you an internship, but they will be by your side every step of the way so that you not only secure a position but also gain skills to help you take charge of your own professional development. Career counselors and coaches guide you through the exploration stage, the application stage and the interview stage and offer feedback for improvement in the long run. Career development is a lifelong process and the earlier you gain the skills to manage it, the more successful you’ll be in your career journey.

Talk to Family, Friends, Professors, Industry Experts

When you are actively searching for opportunities, tell everyone you know. Make your goals known to your family and friends and inquire if they may have someone in mind you should reach out to. Talk to inspiring professors for advice on possible employers, functions and resources to check out. Professors can also write letters of recommendations when you need them, and it will be easier for them to do so if they know you well. Depending on your choice of location, conduct research to find out who in the area does the work you’d like to be involved in. “Make a target list of companies and organizations that inspire you and search for similar companies in your geographic area,” says Magidson. “Find someone on LinkedIn who works for the company and meet up for coffee or have a phone call to tell them about yourself and make a connection.”

Be Intentional

When embarking on your summer internship search, embrace the mindset of intentionality. An internship could potentially turn into a full-time offer and you want to be strategic about what you choose. You are not simply looking for an internship because that’s what college students do in the summer; you are beginning your professional journey and everything you do needs to align with your goals and desires at this point of time. It’s not good enough to do an internship, add it to your resume and hope for the best. You want to make sure the internship adds value to your professional portfolio. Are there skills and experiences you’d like to have but currently don’t? You can pursue opportunities that will help you gain those skills. This way, instead of limiting yourself to one industry, you focus on the value the opportunity can bring, which can help you discover a lot more options you may have not considered otherwise.

Use Existing Platforms -- But Don’t Rely on Them Exclusively

Plenty of websites (Indeed, Idealist, WayUp, LinkedIn, InternQueen) post hundreds of internships on a regular basis and you want to peruse them and set up alerts. Your institution most likely has its own job and internship search platform, so take advantage. In addition to looking for opportunities in all the obvious places, however, embrace the happenstance learning theory. The theory posits that chance events and unpredictable social factors can and do lead to meaningful career opportunities; all you need is open-mindedness. Read books and blogs on a variety of topics, follow influencers, listen to podcasts and take note of anything interesting you read or hear about. You never know where a great opportunity -- or an idea for a great opportunity -- can come from. No one can see the future and predict what position will be the best option for you. In fact, your best fit may not even exist yet! What you can do, however, is embrace both planned and unplanned opportunities and pay attention to what seems exciting, meaningful and valuable to you.

Have the Right Attitude

“Is a positive mindset necessary?” Magidson asks. “Yes!” Although students tell us that they don’t approach an opportunity by voicing the concerns they bring up in coaching sessions, if that’s what you are feeling on the inside, it will show up on the outside. “Having a positive attitude about the process means you believe good results will come (at some point!)” Magidson emphasizes. “The job search can be an emotional rollercoaster at moments and that’s ok; just remember to keep taking steps towards your goal and don’t give up until you get there.” Magidson further reminds internship seekers that having moments of doubt or frustration is normal, and resilience in moments of setback or uncertainty is crucial to success.

In addition to the six tips listed above, keep these two practical considerations in mind to make your life easier during the internship search process:

- Create a spreadsheet to keep track of all the work you do: Include companies and organizations on your radar; positions you’ve identified and applied for; contacts you reached out to; dates when you met and notes on what you learned during the conversations. If you are invited for an interview or need to follow up on an idea/resource, you can easily refresh your memory by referring to the spreadsheet.

- Many internships are unpaid, so know how you will support yourself. Check possible options for financial support at your institution or consider complementing the internship with a part-time paid job (in food services or retail, for example). Both will eventually add value to your professional growth and development.