Finding and landing your first internship

Life after college can be scary, and in an economy that seems to only get more volatile, the post-grad job search can easily begin to feel like a bunch of futile attempts at adulthood. 

However, there’s no need to lament over untapped potential just yet. Internships offer an excellent opportunity to establish industry experience, granting you a head start over your peers by the time you graduate.

As an intern, you have the opportunity to expand your network, enhance your resume with valuable experiences and skills– and hopefully—earn a glowing reference from a reputable company. Before you head over to LinkedIn, here are three tips on how to land your very first internship.

Searching for internships

Sifting through thousands of potential internships can feel overwhelming. Consider narrowing your focus and taking advantage of resources that help filter and highlight standout opportunities. Here are a few different places to start your search:

  • College career centers
  • Opportunity pages on your major’s website
  • Your school’s alumni base — with whom you can quickly locate and connect through LinkedIn
  • Handshake

The internships on the front pages of job posting websites are typically highly competitive, with hundreds or thousands of applicants. Focusing on organizations with established relationships with your school or leveraging your connection to an alumnus can help ensure you will be a competitive candidate.

Another way to narrow your search is to zero in on cities that make the most sense for you – financially or geographically, for instance. Use specific keywords to find opportunities that match. My first internship was during the academic year, so I looked for opportunities in Charlottesville where I attend school. I wanted to live with my family in Richmond this summer, so I focused my internship search on Richmond-based companies. I also considered virtual options and internships guaranteeing free or low-priced housing.

Rather than using keywords like “communications” or “marketing,” I concentrated on specializations best suited to my background and goals. Searching for public relations, copywriting and content marketing internships within agency settings made it easy to build a concise list of programs I was interested in and qualified for.

Putting together a strong application

Marketing yourself is everything when you’re building your resume. How can you best communicate your talents, experiences and impacts? Do not discount the extracurricular activities, part-time jobs and volunteer work that may not initially seem relevant. Your unique combination of experiences makes you who you are, and every experience has transferable skills!

I include my service experience on my resume with clear, specific evidence of how waitressing strengthened my multitasking and communication skills. Always submit a polished cover letter specific to the opportunity you are applying for, even if a note is supposedly optional. Particularly in communications fields, cover letters are essential — they mark you as a highly motivated and interested candidate and showcase your writing skills. Multiple interviewers commented on the personalized, carefully edited cover letters I sent.

Conquering interview anxiety

Personally, interviews are the most nerve-racking step in the application process. I find myself constantly overthinking — I worry about whether I am saying the right things and overanalyze interviewers’ reactions to try and gauge their perceptions. Decision processes are complicated and largely out of your hands. I have left some conversations discouraged because I read the interviewers as uninterested or unimpressed, only to receive an offer later. Other interviews went flawlessly in my eyes yet did not result in an offer.

You will likely never know the circumstances or conversations that led to a particular decision. Accepting that my performance in an interview was only one factor gave me peace of mind. Once I began approaching interviews prepared yet relaxed and confident that the right company would recognize me as a fit, the process became much more bearable.

Hunting for your first internship can be nerve-racking, but with the right plan, preparation and mindset, you will find the perfect match to kickstart a fruitful career.

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