Office Hours: 5 Tips for Landing Your Dream Summer Internship

Written by Hetali Lodaya ’14 for the Venture for America blog. 


There are just a few months left in the school year—do you know how you’re going to make the most of your summer vacation?

If you’re hunting for summer internships, you’re not alone—almost 40 percent of college students will have at least one work experience before graduating.

Use these tips to get the best summer internship you can!

1. Ask yourself: What do you want to learn?

Ditch the stereotypes of coffee and copies. A good summer internship gives you an amazing opportunity; get away from the distractions of class, clubs and more to build skills in a focused way. To make the most of this chance to gain experience, start your search by asking yourself this basic question, so you know the purpose behind your summer internship: Do you want to build a particular skill, like coding or financial analysis? Are you interested in learning more about a particular field, like medicine, education or nonprofit work? Do you just want to see what it’s like to work full time? Tailor your search accordingly.

2. Use your networks and available resources.

Once you know what you’re looking for, talk to anyone and everyone with connections to companies or workplaces that you think you might have an interest in. Have you tried college career services, family, friends and school alumni, sorority sisters or past supervisors? Ask for email introductions, reach out on LinkedIn and talk to friends who have previously done particular internships. People who have done this before can likely also point you to resources relevant to your search. For example, many nonprofit and social entrepreneurship-related jobs and internships are listed on specialized sites like Idealist and the B Corp Jobs Board.

3. Do your research — and know employers will, too.

Before writing an application or going for an interview, make sure you do your homework on an organization — who works there, what’s the mission and vision, what do they seem to really prioritize or need? They’ll be looking you up, too — you want to make sure that your online presence, from Facebook to LinkedIn, is in a state where you’d be comfortable with a future boss seeing it. If you write articles or keep a blog around topics relevant to your desired internship, get those updated and in a central location.

4. No position description? No problem!

Some organizations, particularly startups, non-profits or small companies, may not have formal internship programs or positions listed on their websites — but that doesn’t mean you can’t work there! Set up an informational interview with someone at the organization and ask about internships, or send along a resume and cover letter explaining what you think you could contribute. You might have to hustle a little harder to get in the door, but you might end up getting even more responsibility and experience if you’re working on a small team.

This applies to both getting the internship and getting paid. If an organization offers you a substantial internship opportunity but is unable to pay you, many colleges and service organizations have stipend funds that you can apply for. You never know unless you ask!

5. Don’t be afraid to get in deep.

An internship is a great time to learn a lot about how an organization works and try different things. At the same time, don’t be shy about really digging in deep to a particular subject matter and skill and owning a project. When interviewing, ask about what the expectations are for your work — can they name one or two substantive projects that you’ll be heavily involved in? If it sounds like they have a plan for you that is more directed than flitting from department to department, that’s a good sign. You want to be able to leave your internship and point to something substantive at your company that wouldn’t have existed without you and to skills you’ve learned that you could apply right away in another work setting.

Full-time work is a great chance to focus in — take advantage of it by finding an internship that will be really meaningful. Happy hunting!

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