How to Find Your Dream Internship

internship with interns

How to Find Your Dream Internship

An internship is a a genuine career path alternative that can really get you started in your dream career. Successfully completing an internship will help you achieve greater career and job-search success upon graduation. It will also provide you with industry-relevant academic credentials, essential job skills and an income.

With most employers requiring college grads to have real world experience, signing up to an internship program is the best way forward for most undergrads.

However, competition has never been so fierce for internships. In fact, for every internship in the most popular sectors such as IT, marketing and business, you could be competing against hundreds and in some cases, thousands of applicants. Furthermore, many potential intern roles never get publicly advertised.

Usually, when looking for an internship, it is typical to use job search sites and career services. The problem is, so does everyone. If you want to successfully land your dream internship in your target industry, you will need to be entrepreneurial and proactive. You cannot continue to do what everybody else is doing. To stand out, you need to think outside the box and approach your internship search strategy differently.

Here’s the process you need to follow to land your dream internship:

Step One: Establish Your Internship Goals

The first step in creating a successful internship search strategy is to define the personal and professional goals and objectives you are trying to get from an internship. What are you specifically trying to accomplish?

In everyday language, a goal acknowledges what you want to accomplish. It is important to set clear and measurable right at the beginning of your job search and adjust them as things begin to happen so you’re not in any doubt as to what you are planning to achieve. If you are very clear on your goals, you stand a much better chance of achieving them. It is hard to achieve something if you are not clear about exactly what you want.

Set your goals early on so that, over time, you can evaluate and measure your progress towards attaining those goals. Without setting or understanding your goals and objectives from the outset, you will not have an effective way of knowing whether your job search strategy is working or requires tweaking.

Consider the following questions when defining your internship goals:

What are you long-term goals for getting an internship?

What are you hoping to gain? Is it to bolster your resume with relevant work experience? To learn specific skills? To establish your career and gain experience in a specific field?

Clarify your career goals.

An internship can help you further refine your goals. For example, if you’re a digital marketing major but are not sure whether you want to focus on search engine optimization (SEO), paid search or social media marketing, you may want to consider getting internships in all of these areas to help you decide which area of digital marketing you would like to focus on.

What type of organization are you interested in?

Are you targeting internship in a Fortune 500 company, small start-up with 50-300 employees, not-for-profit organization or government department?

What industry would be best suited for your long-term career goals?

It is important to establish what type of industry you’re best suited to. For example, if you’re interested in digital marketing, you have the option of working in-house for a specific organization or for a digital marketing agency in which case you will working on the accounts of several companies.

Geographic location

It is important to consider your geographic location when considering your options. How far are you willing to travel? If there are no industry-relevant internship options close to where you live, how will this affect your decision? Are you willing to work in an industry that is not relevant to your long-term career goals?

Will you consider unpaid and paid internships?

Although there are some paid internships, the reality is that most internships in all industries are unpaid. How does this affect your decision? Can you afford not to get paid during your internship? Are you happy just to gain the valued work-experience as long as it is relevant to your long-term goals and objectives?

Do you want college credit for the internship?

Most universities award credit toward your degree for eligible internships. However there are specific internships that are not eligible for college credit. You need to establish whether this will be a major deciding factor for you. If so, this may restrict the type and amount of work you can do, depending on the program guidelines.

Step Two: Identify Your Professional or Workplace Strengths and Passions or Interests

Once you have determined your goals, your next step is to identify your workplace or professional strengths. A strength is defined as the ability to provide consistent performance in a given activity. Everyone is blessed with their own unique set of personal attributes that come naturally to them and make certain tasks a lot easier to perform.

Your workplace or professional strengths are a blend of your personal strengths, job skills, competencies, passions and personality. They are those work-related traits and qualities that you have cultivated over the course of several years of coursework and life experiences. Essentially, they are based on personal attributes that come naturally to you.

For example, “an engaging sense of humor used to bring out the best in everyone” is an example of a strong personal strength. Your strengths are your unique value. They are what differentiate you from your peers and help you stand out in a pool of similarly qualified candidates.

It is very important to realize that your personal strengths are different from your job skills. Your skills are those generic competencies that enable you perform specific tasks. An administrative assistant, for example, needs the following skills to perform the role: “proficiency in MS office”, “ability to type 60 words per minute”, “accurate reporting”, etc. These are job skills and competencies that can be acquired in a very short period of time. Your passions or interests are those things you love and are passionate about doing.

The combination of your personal strengths, job skills, competencies and passions are your workplace or professional strengths.

Step Three: Establish Your Internship Search Strategy

An internship search strategy is really nothing more than a detailed plan to guide your actions when executing your internship search campaign. This plan should clearly articulate the vision of exactly what type of internship you are planning to get based on your strengths and goals, the industries and organizations that are a good fit for your workplace strengths and the specific actions and tactics you plan to utilize in the process.

Focus on well-established small and medium-sized businesses. When you find a company you like, sign up to their newsletter and research them further.

Performing Company Research

The quickest way to research organizations in your niche industry is to use Google. Search for blogs using industry-related keywords. E.g. if you are interested in accountancy, you would search for the keywords “accountancy blogs” or “accountancy news”.

You can also use LinkedIn to search for industries and companies. LinkedIn’s advanced search tool allows you to explore the LinkedIn database to search for exactly the right people and companies to connect with in order to pursue relevant opportunities. The tool also provides numerous fields to search in. With a free account, you are able to search by keywords, relationship, groups, location and industry.

Step Four: Get a Referral through Your Social Network

Social networking is important not only for helping to land your dream internship but for accomplishing your long-term career goals. It is estimated that 80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking. Networking is just as important for landing an internship as it is for jobs.

Your network includes your family, friends, neighbors, fellow students, acquaintances, your university careers office and your connections on LinkedIn. With a large enough network, you can develop the reach you need to help you get your dream internship. The fact of the matter is that most potential intern roles never get publicly advertised. In this situation, you need your LinkedIn network to land an internship.

Getting a Referral through Your Network

If you don’t know anyone that works in the organization you’re interested in, you’ll need to leverage your LinkedIn network to establish a connection with a company employee prior to submitting your internship application. Note that this strategy will require you to reach out to a complete stranger via a LinkedIn message or email, followed by a phone call from you. If you handle this well, you’ll be able to include a reference to the contact in your application, and ask him or her to pass on your application.

Step Five: Apply Speculatively

As already mentioned, many internship roles are never advertised publicly, and the only way to find these roles is to apply speculatively to companies and industries you have identified in step three. Use LinkedIn to find the right person to address your application to. What you should be looking for are resourcing managers and project managers who might need resources for projects they are working on.

Step Six: Optimize Your Resume & Cover Letter

When applying for an internship, you need to sell yourself using your cover letter or email and resume. Start by introducing yourself and what school or university you attend.  Explain what you’re looking for and how you came across their details during your search. Your main objective is to get into the company at this stage, so don’t be too specific. Explain the area in which you are interested in developing your skills rather than mentioning a specific role.

It is important to note that your cover letter or email is the first thing a prospective employer sees in your job application, making it the most critical components for getting noticed. This is why a well-crafted cover letter that is engaging and specifically tailored to the role you’re applying for is absolutely crucial to your chances of getting invited for an interview.

Equally, your résumé must immediately captivate the attention of the reader and showcase the passion you have for your professional career and emphasize your unique value. This will differentiate you from the competition and depict you as a strong and attractive prospect with a lot of potential that can offer real value to the company.

Step Seven: Identify a Problem and Create Your Own Internship

If you can’t find an internship that suits your personality, interests, and other needs, you need to make your own. You would do this by identifying a problem and explaining how you can fix it for the organization.

For example, if you are interested in an internship as a search engine optimization specialist with a particular organization, perform an audit of their website and identify specific problems in their SEO strategy. Approach the organization with a detailed plan for an internship. Share your findings with the company, and how you would fix it for them.

If you already blog about SEO, create a blog that discusses the issue and use this route to share your ideas. You could also create a short five minute video introducing you, your abilities, passions and ideas.

Present your skill set and interests as benefitting the organization instead of just asking for college credit and a job. Demonstrate how you can help the organization succeed and your interest in learning more about the particular role you want to fill or the industry as a whole. This could result in the organization creating a role just for you.

Step Seven: Prepare for Interviews

Now that you’ve impressed the prospective employer enough to get invited for an interview, you’re just one step away from landing your internship. The internship interview is without a doubt, the toughest stage of the hiring process. Although interviews are generally nerve racking and can cause you some anxiety and stress, they actually present the perfect opportunity to back up all of the assertions and statements you’ve made in your cover letter or email and resume, but you need to be prepared.

Click here for interview tips.