When is the best time for a college student to land an internship?
Anytime they can get one!
The tougher question, however, is how should the student go about finding an internship. Many students rely on their college career center, which may be fine for those attending a large university where internship opportunities abound. But most students will need to extend themselves beyond the offerings of the career center.
Students looking for an internship must first decide on a goal for the internship. Do you want an internship in a Spanish-speaking country? Are you looking for exposure to forensic accounting? Will you go anyplace that will pay a high salary? Or maybe you will go anyplace that will hire you for free, just to acquire specific experience and get college credits.
Once you know the kind of internship you want, create a resume that focuses your experience, skills and interests directly to that. A resume that is targeted to a specific kind of internship will attract more attention, and if you use one of the many job-posting sites dedicated to internships, your resume will stand out.
Attending professional association meetings can be exceptionally fruitful. I recently talked with a young woman who attended a single meeting of a local chapter of a professional association for her field of study. She was poised and able to network, so she walked out of there with a handful of business cards of professionals who wanted to help her. She soon had multiple opportunities for internships.
Search the Internet for employers who are in line with your career aspirations. Reach out directly via email or hard-copy letter. A personal email or letter is hard to ignore. Even if they don’t have an internship opening, they might suggest other employers or give you a contact name.
Prepare yourself for interviews by rehearsing your answers out loud. You can expect to be asked why you are interested in doing this internship, why you are interested in this employer, how you behave on the job, what is one thing you are working to improve, what differentiates you from other candidates. Giving a thoughtful and sincere explanation of how you differ from other candidates will score big with interviewers. Your answer should relate directly to what they need, such as:
• You need someone who has technical know-how, and I was the only student in my Systems Architecture class to get an “A.”
• You indicated you want someone who can learn fast. In my part-time job on campus, which I started in my freshman year, my supervisor had open heart surgery my first week on the job, so I had to learn a lot and fast. When he returned to work, he thanked me for working well on my own and said he hoped he could keep me on board all four years.
• This is an internship that requires working with people in a variety of disciplines. That takes tact and diplomacy. I’ve learned those skills from my parents, both of whom work in international relations jobs for the federal government.
Above all, articulate why you are excited about the internship and employer. Employers want to hire people who are as enthusiastic about them as they are about you.
For a summer internship, start the job-search process right now, as it usually takes a few months to land an internship. And if for any reason you don’t land an internship, use these same tactics to land a summer job. You won’t get college credits, but if you want, you can still learn a lot on any job.