The Art of Getting a Summer Internship
May 9, 2017
How to Get an Internship: The Ultimate Guide
So you’re at a great school, and you’ve been breaking your back to get perfect grades. Just as you’ve gotten into a rhythm, and things are starting to feel a bit easier, the career services office at your university starts blasting out emails left-and-right about “summer internships” and “resume workshops” and “on campus recruiting.” Naturally, your first instinct is to panic about how to get an internship.
In your mind, you are probably thinking: “Everyone is ahead of me. They know what they are doing and are working diligently towards it, and I’m going to be left behind like a fool.”
99% of the time, the truth is that basically no one - yourself and your peers included - has any idea what they are doing in the internship and recruiting process. There are several reasons for that, including:
1) Different employers go through different recruitment channels, so opportunities may be scattered left-and-right (imagine, if you can, if rather than having the Common Application for colleges, each school instead had totally different applications, deadlines, essays, etc. - that is what you’re dealing with here); and
2) You and your peers have never done this before, so it’s all pretty much guesswork.
Thus, this guide should equip you with the tools you need to succesfully understand how to get an internship regardless of the industry you are interested in.
Step 1: Your Resumé Should Be Beautiful
There is much to be said about writing great resumés, but suffice to say that it should look extremely professional. During hiring season, I read tens, sometimes hundreds of resumés a day, and I can tell you firsthand that I barely look at resumes that don’t look completely professional.
When you are writing and submitting your resumé, assume you are submitting them to someone who has ~30 seconds to skim. Don’t put too much text, keep items separated by more than just font size, bold, or italics (i.e., put spaces between separate line-items), and keep formatting completely consistent throughout. Don’t have one line with 1” indentation and another with 1.25” indentation. A good, clean resumé is key to knowing how to get an internship.
Step 2: The Formal Market of Internships - Your School
Many internship opportunities are presented to you through your school, and don’t necessarily need to be sought out. Finding these opportunities is relatively easy. Here’s how you do it:
- Set up an appointment with your career services office, and tell them that you would like to come in to speak about the various internship listings that your school has to offer. Normally, this will include one online platform (usually “Symplicity,” “Hired,” or “Handshake”), an informal email listserv where they will occasionally send out opportunities that your peers are likely to miss, and some personal suggestions based on students in the past.
- Once you have gotten access to all of these resources from your career services office, you just need to submit cover letters and resumes for any interesting opportunities, and you’re done until they call you in for interviews.
This is the most simple step when learning how to get an internship. While you may feel like your job is done, remember that almost all of your peers (with whom you are competing) are probably doing this as well.
Thus, if you are truly invested in getting a worthwhile internship, you need to go several steps further.
Step 3: The Formal Market of Internships - Online Resources
Once you’ve exhausted opportunities at your school, it is time wade through the enormous number of internship listings posted online. While there are many more opportunities on the world wide web, they are generally of lower quality, and many of the listings are for companies you will not be interested in working for. Nonetheless, they are worth checking. Here are the best resources for internship listings:
General Listings Worth a One-Time Search: The platforms below are applicable for any industry, but are generally lower quality opportunities. In part, this is because they do not charge employers to post a job, and therefore there are a lot of extraneous postings that may have expired or aren’t really available. Still, take the time to search these at least once.
- Indeed.com. This is a general listing for any industry, and allows you to search by location.
- SimplyHired.com. Simply Hired is a general tool much like Indeed, which aggregates job listings from a range of sources, and allows you to search by keyword and location.
- Google. Google is a must-use when searching for internships. Just type in [Job Function] + Internship + [Location] and you’ll be good to go. For example, I typed in “Financial Analyst in New York City” and came up with this. Many of those websites are ones in this list, but there are several (e.g., “LookSharp” and “Internships.com”) which I haven’t used before. Definitely worth the time to look.
More Targeted Searching: these platforms are still general - they apply to any industry - but tend to be a higher quality. Employers may spend considerable money posting on these platforms, and typically the best opportunities will be companies that do not have the resources to recruit at numerous campuses, so instead they pay for individual job posts on websites like these.
- Linkedin. If you don’t have a Linkedin yet, you should get one immediately. Read this and this article on building a great LinkedIn profile. Make sure you’ve filled it out entirely, and have invited as many contacts as possible (normally it will ask you if you wish to invite your email contacts, and generally the answer is “yes”). Once you have an all-star profile built, you can search for internships by clicking on the “jobs” tab at the top - like this.
- Glassdoor. Glassdoor is primarily a website wherein employees can rank their employers, and share information such as salary, benefits, etc. It is also a place where many companies will post jobs/internships, and it even does some job/internship aggregation of its own, through partnerships with various organizations. Search for locations and keywords, like this.
- Careershift.com. This website aggregates job and internship listings from a wide range of sources, and is usually only available through your school. Ask your career services offices if they subscribe to this service - it’s very valuable.
Non-Profit and NGO work:
- Idealist.org. This website helps you search for opportunities at nonprofit organizations and NGOs. It consists of over 57,000 nonprofit and community organizations in over 180 countries.
- Student Conservation Association. For students interested in environmental protection, this is a great resource. The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a nonprofit organization that offers 3 – 12 month paid internship opportunities for students interested in environmental preservation. SCA focuses on providing hands-on conservation service opportunities to high school and college students who are interested in learning more about the environment.
- The Bridgespan group. The Bridgespan group runs the online Nonprofit Jobs Center, which now has about 350 positions. That includes paid part-time and full-time jobs, and internships.
- The Foundation Center. Buried on its site is the Foundation Center’s Philanthropy News Digest Jobs Board, which features openings at foundations and nonprofits.
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy. This is the leading news outlet for the nonprofit world. It also runs a job board.
Working in Government: There is really only one source for these internships:
- USAJobs.gov. If you are looking for internships in government look no further. If you want to work on a particular political campaign, just Google the name of the candidate you wish to work for, find their website, and there will usually be instructions for how to contribute.
If one of the general platforms above is not enough to sate your appetite (and they probably should be, when combined with your career services office), your next best bet is to go straight to the source - finding and emailing companies directly. We will discuss this further in the next section.
Step 3: The Informal Market of Internships - Direct Outreach
Some companies, like big banks, consulting firms, tech companies, or law firms recruit very formally. They have a certain number of seats reserved for students of varying ages, and a very specific timeline by which they will hire these interns.
However, those companies are not in the majority. Indeed, no matter what industry you are interested in, chances are very good that there are hundreds if not thousands of great companies which are not recruiting through the “formal” channels above. This might be because they are smaller, and lack the resources to recruit, hire, and train a significant population of interns, or because they simply don’t need interns most of the time.
Take, for example, this hedge fund. You probably haven’t heard of them before, have you? Their website is a single page, with no links, and probably 150 words of information. They don’t recruit on campus. In fact, with a team of fewer than 50 employees, they barely recruit at all. And yet, they are a very well-respected fund managing more than $1bn in assets.
So why am I telling you this? Because if you want to know how to get an internship with an organization like this - and trust me, you do - then you are going to need to create the opportunity for yourself. The process is relatively simple:
1) Create a list of smaller, yet still attractive companies that you would wish to intern for. Obviously, these should be companies which are not recruiting through one of the formal channels above, so exhaust those options before creating this list. You can simply Google “[type of company] and [City]” to get a basic list going. For example, “Hedge funds in Hong Kong” would eventually yield the company above.
2) Reach out to their generic “contact us” account.
3) Find whoever runs their HR department, and reach out to them as well. Sometimes that information is on their website, sometimes you have to find it on Linkedin, sometimes you can find out who it is by simply Googling “[firm name] and HR department.”
4) If you do not hear back, follow up in 3-4 days, and also send emails to other individuals in the HR department. Make them tell you no, don’t let them ignore you completely.
5) This is a numbers game. Most companies won’t respond, most of those that do will say no. However, you only need one “yes” to make this worthwhile, so until you’ve reached out to 100+ companies, don’t stop.
When you reach out to these people, try your best to customize the email to include details about each organization you contact. The more personalized, the more likely they will respond.
Step 4: The Informal Market of Internships - Network Like a Champion
Chances are pretty good that you’ve already met someone who could help you get an ideal internship, you just didn’t know it. One of the most valuable aspects of attending a selective college or graduate program is the network that you can build. This is the first time that you’ll need to use it.
First, start with your friends. Ask them if they know anyone working in your target industry. This should take no time at all. Almost certainly, one of them will have either a friend or parent working on your target industry. Ask them to connect you with that individual, and take it from there.
Second, are you part of any groups or associations at your school? Fraternities, sororities, sports teams, student clubs, etc. All of these are valuable networking opportunities. Send an email to the group(s) asking if anyone could provide any help connecting with someone in your target industry. Worst case scenario, no one responds.
Third, your professors. Go meet with your professors during office hours. Tell them your summer plans, ask them for their input and opinions, and see if they have any recommendations for how to search for jobs. Chances are, at least one of your professors will have a strong relationship with someone in your industry. For example, if you are taking a Computer Science class, there is a very good chance that your professor knows the founders of several companies that you could work for. Thus, cultivating this relationship with your professors is crucial. Don’t be too demanding of them, but also don’t be afraid to ask for help - frankly, professors are often more helpful than the career services office.
Fourth, your alumni network. Contact the alumni affairs office and see if they have a directory of alumni from your school, that you could contact. Find people in your target industry, and start emailing. Don’t ask them for an internship right off the bat, but do ask them if they have any recommendations for how to find/apply for internships within their industry. This is a great way of landing an internship.
In sum, there is much more to learning how to get an internship than meets the eye. If you are feeling nervous and overwhelmed, then you probably have good common sense. But remember that everyone else around you feels the same, and after reading this, you have a much better idea of what needs to be done than they do. Go forth and conquer.