Are you a college student who’s ready to be able to answer the question, “What is an internship?” with a personalized answer?

You want to be able to say, “So, this one summer, I dissected mice in a lab,” or “I spent all summer editing for a website…” or “I engineered farm equipment last semester…” or whatever your interests may be!

Did you know that grit is often more important to success than IQ? In other words, no matter how many tries it takes you to be able to answer the question, “What is an internship?” with firsthand experience, keep persevering. It’ll help you later on.

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What is an internship? 

An internship is work experience offered by an employer to give you exposure to a particular industry related to your field of study. Internships can be as short (a week!) or long (12 months or more!).

What an internship can do for you 

You probably don’t have gobs of experience in your chosen field and this is the only way to get it. (Unless, of course, you have another connection — maybe your mom’s an accountant with her own practice and you’re majoring in accounting.)

Here are five ways an internship can do a lot for you.

1. You’ll understand the roles in a particular job or your chosen field.

Internships are a way to see and experience the different roles that people play so you know exactly what it’s like to work in that industry.

You also understand how teamwork happens. You’ll be able to ask a lot of questions, too! You might learn about:

  • How people work together on projects
  • The roles people play in a work setting
  • The way a job day-to-day activities function
  • Characteristics it takes for people to be successful in a particular career

2. You can put a lot of skills into practice.

You’re not officially “on the job,” so you have a lot of freedom to try new things when you’re an intern. Internships are a time to maybe make a tiny mistake or two. Your supervisor knows you won’t be perfect. Still, your supervisor probably expect you to learn something from it and get better on other tasks before the end of your internship. Once you’ve landed a real job, you’ll have learned a lot about what to do (and what not to do) and can take that knowledge with you.

3. That confidence thing!

Whether you give a presentation or need to get over your fear of speaking up during meetings, an internship will build your confidence. Be confident, but remember that successfully completing an internship doesn’t make you king of the world. Nobody likes an arrogant colleague or fellow student.

You’ll also feel more confident communicating with different individuals. You might even feel a rush of confidence if you’re ever given the opportunity to interact with a CEO or other VIP.

6. You’ll get exposure to different industries.

The company you intern for might offer exposure to a few different fields, like sales and marketing. You might be able to find out if you can get a feel for both. This is a great option if you’re totally not sure which career path you want to take. It can also help you stick a few more skills on your resume.

5. It can help you get a job.

This one is a no-brainer. Obviously, the point of an internship is to get experience so you can prove to a hiring manager that you have what it takes to do the job someday.

You’ll develop all sorts of working relationships when you have an internship. These people will write your letters of recommendation someday. That’s why you need to be as professional as possible with everyone you work with during an internship.

Oh, and one more thing — a paid internship can help you make money in college. You may even be able to save money in college if you’re really motivated.

How to get an internship 

There are lots of ways to get an internship, and one of the easiest is to have a connection with someone ahead of time. For example, maybe your uncle’s a financial advisor and he lets you work in his firm for the summer. Or maybe you get an internship through someone who graduated from the college you attend. Alumni are great connections. They usually always want to help young people from their alma mater.

So let’s dive in. Here are the steps you can take to get an internship.

Step 1: Visit your college’s career center.

Your career center is the best place to visit to start looking for the perfect internship for you. Sure, you can take advantage of its online job listings, but actually have a conversation with the people in the career center. They’re experts! They may have job openings that major job boards don’t because of their abundance of area connections. Remember, in their spare time, they usually meet with employers during campus job fairs and make connections for their students.

A career center advisor will sit down and meet with you when you arrive at the career center.

Step 2: Clarify your interests and identify some of the skills you hope gain from an internship.

When you sit down with an advisor at the career center, here’s one of the first questions they may ask you: “What are your interests?” The second may be, “What do you want to learn?”

Take some time to think about what you really want out of an internship because it will help the career center staff direct you to the right potential internship.

Your college’s career center can direct you to a few jobs, offer some connections and help you get your resume in order. Note: Career center personnel won’t do all of this for you. You have to get that resume pasted together — career center staff can help you tweak it.

Categorize any relevant work experiences on a Google doc. Include the dates you completed this work and give editing permission to career center staff. Ask the individual to do suggested edits so you can see what he or she has done to help you. You may not agree with everything, so that’s why suggested edits are a smart idea. When you’re putting together your resume:

  • Format it effectively
  • Identify accomplishments
  • Write in a way that appeals to the industry
  • Include all experience, especially relevant skills you have
  • Put all experience in date order
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Step 3: Check online resources and network.

Make your search successful by using all the resources available to you: online postings, company websites, online classified ads and more. Check out Internships.com. Talk with everyone in your network. You may think you’ve tapped out your network, but think about other people you may not have considered:

  • Older students who have completed the internship you’re after
  • Professors
  • Family and family friends and their business associates
  • Those alumni we mentioned? Yeah, it’s time to network with them!
  • Neighbors
  • Teachers from high school
  • Professionals you know at businesses you or your parents already frequent (financial advisor, photography studio, utility company, vet clinic — whatever!)

Kind of like writing a scholarship thank you letter, write a thank-you note when you meet with these people or whenever else it’s appropriate.

Step 4: Don’t wait to apply!

Pay close attention to application deadlines, and if you see a position you’re interested in, apply right away. It’s really easy to say, “I’ll keep it on my radar and go after my top choice instead.” What happens if your top choice gets picked up by someone else and this second choice gets snapped up, too?

Kind of like applying for admission to college (what is rolling admission, anyway?!), you want to make sure you apply way before the deadline.

Step 5: Create your own internship.

Don’t be afraid to reach out directly to an organization you admire and ask about internship opportunities that may be available.  This is especially true with smaller organizations and nonprofits. They may not even have internships on their radar, but you may spark their interest! You may not find the highest-paying internship this way but you never know.

Get the best internship for you 

Did you know that the best internship might do exactly the opposite of helping you find out what you want to do with your life? It might show you what you don’t want to do forever! Yeah! That’s considered a total win.

In other words, all of this can help you avoid a career path that’s not a fit. Wouldn’t you rather know that now, rather than later? It’s true that you can change career paths, but why not nip it in the bud with an internship?

So, do two things:

  • Think about what you want.
  • Head to your college’s career center and have a great discussion.

Both will help you get an internship so you can identify your career path or help you decide what you don’t want to do with your life. It’s not a guarantee because you still have to put in some hard work. But these are two great steps in the right direction.

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