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11 Ways to Get an Internship and Thrive

A comprehensive guide to landing your dream internship and gaining invaluable experiences.
College student at computer

You're often told that getting an internship is an essential step toward getting a job after college. Many students face barriers such as juggling work schedules, a lack of a network, or not having guidance on where to start.

Emily White, partner at Collective Entertainment, professor, activist, and author of Interning 101, recently shared tips on how to get the internship and how to be a memorable intern. She was speaking at a virtual Teach For America event, Interning 101, as part of our ongoing Evolve series, which is designed to help you master the skills needed to land the job or internship of your dreams, align your career to your core values, and create a career pathway that is purposeful and centered in equity.

As a successful businesswoman in the entertainment industry, White has employed and mentored countless interns and taught students how to pave the path towards a fulfilling career. The following tips are drawn from White’s Evolve event.

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1. Get Your Resume Ready

Here are a few simple pointers to ensure your resume gets noticed for the right reasons.

Keep It to One Page

Remove flowery language and save space by excluding unnecessary information, like your home mailing address. If you don’t have a lot of professional experience yet, that’s okay and expected. Employers understand the value in jobs like caretaking, restaurant service positions, camp counselor, etc.

Use Standard Fonts

Keep your fonts and formatting simple. Unless you are majoring in graphic design use standard fonts—Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri—so it remains easy to read.

Save as a PDF

Saving and submitting your resume in PDF format removes any risk of the format shifting and becoming illegible, and it’s easier to read.

Check out our Resume Toolkit for more tips on drafting your resume, and if a position you are applying to requires a cover letter, here is a great resource for drafting one.

2. Cast a Wide Net

We encourage you to dream big and start learning about types of work and industries that interest you. “It's just as important to figure out what you don't want to do as it is to figure out what you want to do,” White said. Start by applying to 15 internships and see what kind of response you get. There are many places to look for internship opportunities—local organizations, university career services, virtual fellowships, and job boards. 

It’s also a good idea to apply for an internship even if it’s not posted. Some organizations and companies have busy seasons and overlook how helpful interns can be. Don’t hesitate to shoot your shot and pitch to them the benefits of hiring you as an intern. Start by drafting an email noting your most relevant experience, skills, and overall value you can bring to the internship, attach your resume, and press send. 

Interested in a paid, part-time, virtual tutoring fellowship? Check out the Ignite Fellowship.

3. Communication Is Key

Sending professional emails is key for any application. To ensure that your email is opened and your resume viewed, it’s important to keep emails short and to the point, send at optimum times, and mindfully follow-up. What does this look like in practice? 

  • It’s a good idea to open an email account not affiliated with your university. At some point you will lose access to your university account, and you want to ensure that employers or your burgeoning professional network can always get in touch with you. 
  • Succinctly share how you can fit into the organization or company’s work and add value. Save the personal anecdotes about why you love the company for the interview. 
  • White also suggests sending your email and resume on Mondays or Tuesdays in the late morning. It’s best to land at the top of your future employer’s inbox when they are feeling energized and productive in the beginning of the week. 
  • If you haven’t received a response from your resume submission, it’s okay to follow-up a week later to ensure they received your email. After two weeks, just send a short message along the lines of:  “Hello, I just wanted to check-in and make sure you received my email showing interest in an internship with your organization.”

4. Do Your Research

Before interviewing, you’ll want to do some research on the company. “It’s important to educate yourself on the basics of what the company or program you’re applying to is publicly sharing so that you’re on the same page,” said White. Spend some time reviewing their website, social media platforms, and press releases so that you can implement what you learn in your conversation with your interviewer. 

5. Practice Interviewing

Interviews can be nerve-racking, whether you are a novice or seasoned interviewee. But like most things, practice goes a long way. Whether your interview is in-person, virtual, or over the phone, take time to rehearse questions and responses with friends, classmates, parents, or an advisor. Or, you can practice aloud on your own. 

During an interview, it’s very common to be in your own head, questioning your every response throughout. Try to quiet your mind and focus on being a mindful listener. Never interrupt your interviewer and allow them to complete their thought or question. However, it is okay to ask them to repeat the question. 

There is typically time reserved to ask questions at the end of an interview. A great and practical question worth asking is, “How did you get your start at the company?” It’s a natural form of flattery to show an interest in your interviewer's professional story, and it could spark more conversation. 

There are a lot of great resources out there that can help you prepare for an interview. At Teach For America we suggest using the STAR Method that is mapped out in this guide.

6. Prioritize Your Health & Wellness

Don’t underestimate the importance of taking care of your mental health and wellness leading up to an interview. Prioritize sleep during the week of your interview, commit to moving your body, spend some time in the sun and fresh air, and if you practice meditation, plan on closing your eyes and focus on your breath to settle the nerves. 

It’s all going to work out exactly like it’s supposed to. Trust in the process.

Watch the full Interning 101 event.

Hear more great tips from Emily White on how to thrive in your internship.

7. Reset Your Expectations

Once you get an internship it’s important to clear your mind of the expectations you have for the type of work you will be doing. It takes time to earn trust at a new job. You want to focus on doing a great job with the tasks you are given, no matter how menial or unrelated they are to what you are interested in. 

So much of interning and the early stages of your professional career are about building your network and community. Focus on building a good rapport with your co-workers and supervisor. You never know, it could lead to a recommendation or connection to your dream job.

8. Make a Financial Plan

Accepting an unpaid or low-paying internship can place a financial strain on you when you are responsible for caring for a family member, paying rent, making a car payment, etc. Balancing this reality is not going to be easy, but it is possible. Don’t feel pressured to commit 40 hours a week to an internship when you also need to continue a part-time paid position. It’s perfectly reasonable to share with your new supervisor the responsibilities that you are juggling, and many will respect you for both the transparency and your ability to prioritize. 

You can also research grants and scholarships through your university that will subsidize your internship experience. And seeking positions that are remote can eliminate the additional costs of living expenses.

9. Set Clear & Achievable Goals

Many students get to the end of their internship and feel disappointed that they didn’t get more mentorship throughout their experience. Because internships are often completed within a semester or summer, it’s important to set clear and realistic goals. 

Let’s say there is someone specific at your internship that you’d like to learn from or build a rapport with. Seek that person out at the beginning of your internship and ask them if they’d be willing to meet you for coffee or a Zoom check-in twice a month where you can learn more about their experiences and save space for them to provide feedback on how you can grow professionally. 

In preparation for your internship it would be advantageous for you to reflect on what your career goals are or the steps you are taking to identify them. If you’re interested in doing this deep work, start with this Career Values Workbook.

10. Prepare for the Modern Office

There is often a level of professionalism expected of you when you are starting a new internship. Don’t sleep on the importance of work attire, being on time, communication, and taking good notes. 

It’s important to dress the part when you are trying to make a good first impression. You’ll want to ask what the dress code is before your first day, even if it’s a virtual role.

Show up on time to work and meetings you are joining. Arriving early is the easiest action you can take to demonstrate that this internship is important to you.

Every organization has a different communication style and culture. It’s not essential for you to understand these nuances before your first day, but it’s helpful to mentally prepare for this learning curve. For example, most industries have commonly known terminology used in the workplace. This can look like acronyms or jargon you have never heard before. Don’t be afraid to ask your supervisor or co-workers for clarification. 

You may be expected to learn new systems, softwares, and ways of working. It’s natural to be overwhelmed by an influx of information in those first weeks. You aren’t expected to learn everything all at once, so ask questions and take great notes.

11. Make Yourself Indispensable

You want your employer to feel like they can’t work without you or at the very least you make their lives easier. The formula for achieving that is really quite simple. 

Do every task to the best of your ability. White encourages her interns to never ask questions that are Googleable. Even though you aren’t feeling confident in your skillset yet, try to figure out the task. Your employer will appreciate the effort you put into finding a solution or answer without their constant guidance. This will also build trust in your working relationship. 

Have a positive attitude. Remain open, willing to learn, and welcome feedback.

Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to everyone in the office or department. Ask to sit in on meetings even if you aren’t ready to contribute. Observe the conversations and culture happening around you.

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