Internships: Everything You Should Know
By: Stephanie Lass
Why You Should Get an Internship
An internship prepares you for the future. Many full-time jobs—including entry level ones—look for candidates with applicable experience. Gaining this experience through an internship is one way that you can get started on your career.
An internship allows you to explore your career options. Perhaps you aren't sure of your career path yet. Perhaps you can't decide between two or three different career paths. Internships give you the opportunity to explore your interests to see if a certain career field is a good fit for you.
Gaining job experience is one of the most important aspects of an internship. You will perform tasks in an internship that you will have to do once you are hired in a full-time position. This experience can go directly into your resume and cover letter once you start applying for positions that specifically ask for those qualifications.
Similar to gaining job experience, you will also gain valuable skills while working at your internship. These skills are not necessarily specific to the career field; rather, these are transferrable to positions in different fields as well as to your life. Examples include written communication, time management, and organization.
At an internship, you will meet people who you are able to contact and reference throughout your career. It's important to have connections in your field because these connections can help you find positions and can be listed as references. An internship is your first step to making these connections, giving you the opportunity to meet professionals in this field for the first time.
Internships are wonderful experiences for a number of reasons. You can meet new people who share your passions and maintain lasting connections with them. You can also learn about yourself, like how you react to new situations, what your strengths and weaknesses are, the type of environment you like to work in. Just by having an internship, you gain so much that you are able to apply to multiple areas of your life.
The Application/Hiring Process
The Application Process
Before you can begin working somewhere as an intern, here is what you need to do first:
- Discover internships that interest you and will advance your career goals
- Brush up your resume
- Write your cover letter
- Find reliable references
- Gather additional application materials (see below)
Other Application Materials
Some internships will ask you for other applications materials such as a writing sample of a professional portfolio.
A writing sample shows a potential employer your ability to write clearly, concisely, and professionally. Try to choose a writing sample that not only accurately reflects your abilities but is also relevant to the type of internship.
A professional portfolio is a collection of documents and other materials that shows your knowledge and skills. Your portfolio will often be tailored to a specific field (graphic design, journalism, etc.). You will most likely be asked to submit a digital portfolio of your work.
There are three main timeframes for when internships are available (summer, fall, and spring), although some companies hire whenever it's most convenient for them. To plan ahead for when you want to intern, here are some deadlines to follow:
For a summer internship, start to look over winter break or in January. For more prestigious internships—such as ones with the government—you might have to begin looking and applying in August or September. Many application deadlines are in April, so apply for summer internships starting in February through the given deadline. Some deadlines may be as late as May. Whatever the case, apply as early as possible and don't wait until the last minute.
For a fall internship, start to look near the end of spring. Deadlines can begin in July. Just as with summer internships, apply as early as possible. Make sure that you will be able to handle your fall internship with your course load for that term.
For a spring internship, start to look over fall break at the latest. Deadlines are usually in December or January, but some are as late as February. As always, apply as early as possible and make sure that the internship will fit into your schedule.
The key to being successful in finding an internship is to start early and search often. Openings depend on when the company needs interns, so there will be a wide variety of deadlines that you might have to keep track of. If you have your resume prepared ahead of time, you will already have a head start to applying as early as you can to the internship of your dreams.
The Hiring Process
Once you have all your application materials, it's time to apply! The hiring process will involve a few more steps before you can start interning:
- The Waiting Game and Follow Up
- Additional Steps
- Accepting/Declining an Offer
The Waiting Game and Following Up
After you have submitted your application, you will probably play the waiting game. Depending on the position, the company might be looking at numerous applications as they come in, or the company might wait until after the deadline. Whatever the case, you're going to have to follow up to make sure that your application is being seen.
You should follow up one week after you submit your application either through phone or e-mail. You can ask about if your application has been reviewed, the next steps in the hiring process, when the company plans on scheduling interviews, etc. Depending on the response, you might be given an approximate date of when applicants will be contacted to schedule interviews. If you have followed up three times without a response, or if you receive a rejection, it's time to focus on following up with your other applications or continue looking for other opportunities.
If everything goes according to plan, you'll receive a call or e-mail asking to schedule an interview. Once you have it scheduled, it's time to prepare for it.
You'll find the following interviewing resources in the Internship and Job Search section of eResources:
- Guide to Interviewing for an Internship or Job
- Guide to Professional Attire
- Guide to Thank You Notes
Be sure to research the company and industry before your interview. You want to be able to know what they do and be able to express your interest in it. You'll also want to practice for your interview, which you can do using the Mock Interviewing module in Gorlok Career Link, our online career management database.
After your interview, you'll want to follow up with a thank you note to the interviewer. See the "Guide to Thank You Notes" linked above. Like with your application, you'll want to follow up after about a week or so. This is when you might be hired, turned down, or scheduled for the next round of interviewing.
Sometimes, you may have to do more than just go through an interview. You might have to take a test to show your competency in a certain area (such as a grammar test). You might also be grouped with other applicants and given a task to complete. Read the application thoroughly before applying, as it might indicate possible tests that you might have to pass before you're hired.
Accepting/Declining an Offer
After all of your hard work, you have been offered the internship. Depending on your situation, there are a few ways you might respond:
If you're accepting the position, let them know as soon as possible! You might do this over the phone or through an e-email. After you have formally accepted, you should stop applying for other internships and decline other offers.
If you're unsure if you want to accept the position or not, ask them for some time to think it over. They will give you a certain time that they would like to hear back from you before you start working (or before they extend the offer to someone else).
If you're declining the position, do so politely. Thank them for their time and their interest in you. Express that you have decided to decline the offer for whatever reason—such as you are accepting another offer—but that you still want to maintain contact for possible opportunities in the future.
Preparing for Your First Day
After all that searching, researching, applying, and interviewing, you have finally been hired. Congratulations! But your hard work is not over yet; it's only beginning. With your first day fast approaching, here are some ways that you should prepare so that you can start your internship off right:
Familiarize Yourself with the Industry
It's important to know the lingo as well as current trends in the industry you'll be interning in. Learning the ins and outs will give you background knowledge and allow you to quickly start on your tasks instead of going into an environment where you have no idea what's going on.
Familiarize Yourself with the Company
You should have already researched the company before you applied for the internship. Brush up on the history and mission of the company as well as any other important information before you start. If you don't know what the company is trying to accomplish, then you'll be at a loss on how to get the most out of your internship with that company.
Figure Out Your Commute
You don't want to be late on your first day (or on any day of your internship, really). Travel your route before your first day so you know what traffic patterns to expect. Also, be sure to give yourself plenty of time every day so that you can arrive to your internship on time and ready to work. Be sure you know where you're going to park so that you're not driving around looking for a spot on your first day as well.
Learn about Housing Options for Long-Distance Internships
If you're traveling far away from home for your internship, research your housing options. Internship postings might mention housing options if the company usually hires people from around the country or the world. Be sure to budget for housing if this is the case. Also, look into whether other materials or resources will provided so you know what you'll have to supply during your stay.
Research the Area
Whether your internship is down the street, on the other side of the country, or halfway across the world, be sure to research the area where you'll be. This includes places to eat and recreational activities as well as any potential safety concerns.
Brush Up on Your Computer Skills
Make sure that you re-familiarize yourself with the applications on your computer, especially the ones that you'll frequently use in your position. This will act as a refresher and also give you time to learn new techniques and applications in case you find that you have gaps in your knowledge.
Learn Office Etiquette
This might be your first time working in an office environment. To avoid awkward—and potentially internship-threatening—situations, look into common office etiquette and expectations. As you begin your internship, you will learn more about the company culture and the expectations of the position. This will help you appropriately navigate the office environment.
Know the Dress Code
Understand what is and is not appropriate for you to wear to your internship. Depending on the industry (and the company), you might be able to get away with a T-shirt and jeans, or you might have to go out and buy a new suit. Whatever the case, be sure to know what the requirements are and use common sense.
Get Your Sleep Schedule on Track
You can think of an internship as the gateway to the professional world. As such, you need to be ready for the work day to get a good start. You might have to wake up early so that you have time to commute to your internship. Being exhausted and falling asleep during the day will not only negatively impact your performance, but it will also impact what you can take away from the internship and even threaten your position in the company. Be sure to get plenty of sleep so that you're ready to go every day.
Gather Your Supplies
Know what you'll need ahead of time. Make sure you have your laptop/tablet, a notebook, folder, pens and pencils, and anything else you might need. The company might have supplies for you to use, but it's always smart to be prepared.
It's important to seem interested in the company and to be eager to learn throughout the application process. This is especially true on your first day. Prepare questions ahead of time about the workings of the company and the position. You'll think of other questions throughout the entire day, so ask those as well. By asking relevant, thoughtful questions, you're showing your supervisors that you're invested in both your internship and in them and that you want to learn as much as possible. You should write down their answers in a notebook so that you can refer back to them if need be.
Making the Most Out of Your Internship
Now that you've made it through the first day, there are some things you should keep in mind so that you can have the best experience possible:
You're most likely working at an internship to gain experience and to better yourself as a professional. Set goals for yourself that you work to accomplish throughout your experience. For example, you can set a goal for yourself to work on your written communication skills. During your internship, you can work on projects that involve a lot of writing and then ask for feedback on your progress.
Ask Questions and Take Notes
An internship is a learning experience. You're going to learn so much that you can barely keep track of it all. Ask questions all the time about anything that you don't understand so that you know how to do it right. Take notes on everything you learn so that you can refer back to them later if you forget anything.
Learn More about the Company/Industry
This is quite possibly the industry—if not the company—that you'll end up working in. This is your time to interact with all aspects of this industry and learn its ins and outs. This is beneficial background knowledge to have as you start applying for other internships and, eventually, a job.
Have a Good Attitude
Everyone has a bad day once in a while, but it's important to go to your internship each day with a good attitude. You want to continue making a good impression on the people you work with. You will also be more productive when you are actively wanting to be there. It will sometimes be tough, but trying to be positive will benefit you more in the long run.
Focus and Be Serious
While you might be having fun at your internship and you're always in a wonderful mood, you do have to remember that a lot of people are relying on you. You have a job to do, so you need to focus on your work and always be professional. Slacking off will limit the amount of experience that you gain and will impress your supervisors.
Ask for Feedback and Meet with Your Supervisor
This is your learning experience, so you should know how you're doing and what you can do better. You can ask for feedback from anyone that you work closely with on a daily basis. Schedule meetings with your supervisor to discuss you goals, your work, and your progress. Their feedback will help you become a better intern and help you develop your professional skills.
An internship is a step toward your career. The people you're working with during your internship are possibly people that you will work with in the future as well. It's important to make professional connections with them to give you a helping hand as you start and go through your career.
After You're Done
As your internship comes to a close, there are still things you have to do. It never seems to end, but with everything winding down, you have a chance to take a break before the entire process starts over again.
Your Last Day
Ask for Feedback
Meet with your supervisor for final feedback. Discuss what you have accomplished during your internship, how you've improved, and what you still need to work on. This will give you an idea of where you can go from there.
Leave a great final impression. Thank everyone that you've worked with, including your supervisor. If you can't meet with everyone face-to-face, send them an e-mail.
Secure a Reference
Because an internship is so important in starting your career, it's important to be able to have references that can attest to your work and abilities. Ask people who you worked with and who will give you the best recommendation to be your references.
Follow the Company on Social Media
While you may already have done this, it's important to keep ties to where you interned. This shows the people that you worked with that you continue to be interested in them.
Turn Your Internship Into a Job
You might be able to walk away from your internship with a job in the company. By impressing them, keeping in touch, and staying connected, you show this company that you're invested in what they do. This could land you a job with them if they think you would be a valuable (and more permanent) addition to the team.
What to Take Away
Now that you're officially done, it's time to reflect on your internship and start planning ahead for the next step in your career.
Look back at the goals you set for yourself before you started your internship. Did you accomplish your goals? How so? What do you still need to improve on? Make a list to track the skills and experiences you gathered at your internship as well as what you haven't achieved yet. Find skills that you want to build upon or that you want to improve. Also, think about how your experiences at your internship will help you in your future career endeavors.
Update Your Resume
Once you have your thoughts sorted, it's time to update your resume. You don't need to tailor your resume to another position right away, but it's helpful to have a list of experiences that you can pull from. Updating your resume soon after completing your internship will ensure that everything is fresh in your mind.
The Next Step
With your internship over and your resume updated, you may be wondering what to do now. An internship is one of the biggest steps you will take toward your career, so where you go from there is also extremely important.
Whether you want more experience, a change in your career field, or you have a lot of time on your hands, you can apply for another internship. With your previous internship now on your resume, you can present yourself as an especially qualified candidate. You can now apply to internships that might require experience and can give you the opportunity to be more involved than before.
Perhaps you're at the time in your life when you are looking to apply for a job. This might not necessarily be a full-time position, but it's one in your career field of interest. Your internship experience has not only prepared you for this position, but it's also a valuable addition to your resume and shows employers that you're able to succeed in this position.
If you need additional assistance with locating internships, your application, or interviewing, you can schedule an appointment by contacting the Career Planning & Development Center (CPDC) in-person or by phone at 314-968-6982. You can also stop by for Walk-In Hours for a 10-15 minute appointment. Times for Walk-Ins change every semester, so contact the CPDC for current Walk-In Hours.
About the Author:
Stephanie Lass is a Student Career Advisor with the Career Planning & Development Center. A sophomore majoring in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and double minoring in Sociology and Scriptwriting, she’s working toward her certificate in Professional Writing as well. She’s also on Webster University’s women’s tennis team and has been an editor for Webster University’s The Green Fuse. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches movies and TV, plays video and board games, and eats junk food. Stephanie is excited to be studying abroad in Leiden this upcoming fall semester.
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