Six ways to jump-start your summer internship search

Don’t let summer sneak up on you. Take steps now to prepare for a summer internship.

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Winter is prime time to start preparing for spring and summer internships. After all, you’ll need some time to brush up your resume, connect with references, collect portfolio samples (depending on your major), and possibly even do some informational interviews, suggests Michael Hampton, a senior career development advisor at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.

Many companies formally start accepting internship applications later in the year. However, competitive firms may open internship applications as early as September, says Hampton. It’s important to visit your college’s career services office as soon as you can, so you can start researching internship opportunities.

Here are some specific things you can do right now to plan your college internship strategy, and increase your chances of landing your ideal summer internship.

  1. Plan to complete up to three internships. “Employers today expect most of their new hires to complete at least one — or up to three — professional internships while they’re in college,” says Hampton.
  2. Connect with people, not just databases. “If you just apply for any relevant internship you find online, your chances of getting an interview are about one in 350, according to our research,” says Hampton. “But if you apply for an internship where you’ve done an informational interview or have an alumni, family, or friend connection, your chances of getting an interview increase significantly — to around one in 12.”
  3. Update your resume. Your school’s career services staff can help you figure out how to best highlight your work and academic skills. Did you work at a fast-food restaurant last summer? Then you learned how to work in a fast-paced environment and practiced customer service skills. That experience belongs on your resume. Did you run a charity event for your sorority? Perfect: Your resume can highlight your event-planning and marketing experience.
  4. Upgrade your wardrobe. Post-holiday sales are a great opportunity to add a few professional pieces to your closet — nice button-down shirts, suits, blazers, and dress pants. You don’t have to spend a lot: Keep an eye out for sales and check thrift stores for quality pre-worn items.
  5. Schedule appointments during school breaks. Hoping to land a summer internship back in your hometown? If so, try to arrange informational interviews with companies back home over the winter holidays, President’s Day weekend, or spring break. Personal meetings with fellow alums or human resources representatives at companies that interest you may increase your chances of getting your resume noticed, says Hampton. They can also give you insights about the company that you can use during your internship interview process.
  6. Plan your finances. Internships can be paid or unpaid positions. If you think you may take an unpaid internship, start saving your money. Any money you earn and keep between now and the summer will come in handy if you won’t be generating income from your internship. Also, learn a bit about the federal rules for unpaid positions. You’ll want to protect yourself so employers don’t take advantage of you.

Of course, the internship application process will be a bit different depending on your career field. For example, the process for engineering and accounting internships is very strictly structured and applications open very early in the fall. On the other hand, internships for students interested in photography or marketing careers could be quite different. You may even have a chance to create your own internship through a current employer or other company.

For more tips on getting ready for summer internships, make an appointment with your college’s career services office and your faculty advisor.

Want more career advice? Check out the Beyond College webinar series.