How to Get an Internship in College: Ultimate Start-to-Finish Guide

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Buckle up! This post is going to be a long one, but I’ll walk you through the entire process of getting an internship, from beginning to end.

Getting that first college internship is a major milestone on the path to your career. Once you get that first one, the second and third internships become much easier to get.

Securing an internship is a chicken and the egg type of thing. Every company you apply for wants previous experience, but how do you get that experience if no one will hire you as an intern?!

I feel your pain. I was once in your shoes.

But there are things you can do to maximize your chances of success and that’s what we will walk through.

Prerequisites

There are a few things you need to do before you begin pursuing internship opportunities.

You have to check some boxes to make yourself marketable as a candidate.

Find out what career path you want to take

The first step in your journey of landing an internship is to find out what career path you want to take.

  • What are your interests?
  • What do you see yourself doing for the next several years?
  • What lights you up?
  • What type of company and culture do you want to be a part of?

Do some reflection and find the answers to these questions.  Once you know what career path you want to take, work backwards on how you can get there.

For example, if you wanted to become an investment banker, you should look at the typical career paths of most investment bankers in college.

It probably looked something like this:

  • Excelled in their college coursework
  • Joined clubs and took leadership positions
  • Networked and carried themselves as a professional
  • Got as many internships as possible in finance and banking

Find the end result (investment banker) and work backwards, identifying the steps you need to take to become the professional you want to become.

Complementary coursework

For your coursework, enroll in classes that will be complementary to the career path you want to take. Outside of your mandatory business classes, you likely have options to take electives within your major.

Don’t take the easy way out. Take the classes that will look good on your resume and give you experience you can transfer over into the workplace.

For example, I took these electives within the Finance major and my university:

  • Advanced Excel for Finance 
  • Financial Modeling
  • Hedge Funds and Private Equity
  • Real Estate Principles

The top two on Excel and Financial Modeling were the best classes I could have taken to help me out with landing an interview.

I usually listed those two classes under the “Related Coursework” section of my resume.

Most internships want to know you can work in Excel or other programs related to the career you looking to break into.

Make smart decisions in structuring your coursework and choose classes that will help your career.

Decent grades

Grades are important but are not the be-all and end-allSure, you should strive to achieve the highest GPA possible, but a 4.0 is not necessary.

Just have a respectable GPA, at least above a 3.0. If your GPA is on the lower end of the scale between 3.0 and 4.0, you’ll have to impress in other areas such as your experience and extracurriculars.

Gain work experience

If you are going to get an offer for an internship, one prerequisite you must have is work experience, preferably work experience related to the career path you want to take.

This requirement drives college students crazy.

“Every internship requires relevant experience, but how do I get relevant experience without the internship?!”

I understand your pain. It is hard to gain experience in the field you want when you don’t have any current experience in that field.

The best you can do is start small. Get those typical college jobs in retail and the restaurant industry.

Work there for a little and apply to a different job, more closely related to your industry. You’ll gradually move into more relevant positions that will put you in a marketable position to apply for internships.

Here are some other things you can do to gain enough experience to be marketable to employers:

  • Work in a job within the school of business
  • Become a teaching assistant for a class
  • Tutor students in subjects related to your career
  • Take electives closely related to the internship position you want
  • Start your own hobby or side hustle that is complementary to your profession

Join clubs and organizations

Aside from your work experience, companies want to see a well-rounded candidate that showcases leadership qualities, initiative, willingness to grow and learn, and ability to manage time and tasks.

A great way to do this is to join clubs and organizations on your campus.  Get involved. Go out there and join any club you can that would help build your resume.

On top of building your resume, you will grow tremendously as a person and a professional by joining clubs and taking leadership positions in them.

I attribute most of the success of me landing internships and full-time positions to the experiences gained through my extracurriculars.

Examples of clubs you can join include:

  • Student government
  • Greek life
  • Honors societies
  • Finance clubs
  • Clubs for causes you believe in

Adding bullets to your resume is one thing, but the much larger benefit from this is the experiences you go through and the people you meet.

Finding Internship Opportunities

Become familiar with your school’s career services center

I’d imagine that every college has some sort of career services center in their school of business.

Their function is to help their students by molding them into working professionals to land interviews and get hired for internships and full-time positions.

They should be your first resource for finding internship opportunities.

They usually know which companies are hiring, when they hire, and can give helpful insight on what their process might be like.

Search online

Your next best bet is to search online. Google random things like “Accounting internships in Los Angeles” or “Summer marketing internships 2020” or “Top investment banking internships.”

After the googling, you can utilize resources such as LinkedIn, Internships.com, Indeed, and other resources where companies post employment opportunities.

Go to career fairs

Career fairs can be a great place to find internships, learn more about a company, and network with the people there working the booths.

Dress sharp and walk around and talk to those that interest you. The people operating the booths are usually current employees of the company.

Be friendly, get to know them, and ask about their experience at the company.

Get their business card, remember their name, and ask for any tips you can on the application process.

Ask professors and faculty within the business school

The faculty within the business school are usually successful and well-connected professionals and academics that now teach.

If you have a great relationship with anyone working in the school of business, reach out and ask if they know of any opportunities.

You would be surprised on how willing they are to help students with their careers.

Reach out to companies directly

Take some initiative and kindly reach out to companies that appeal to you and ask if they have any sort of internship program.

I’d recommend you find an email on the “Contact Us” page and ask to be directed to Human Resources or to someone within the area of the company you want to intern for.

The worst that could happen is that they say no or direct you to their Careers Page, but shoot your shot anyways!

Ask upperclassmen, alumni, and mentors

Sometimes the best way to shortcut this process is to ask those who have been there already. Upperclassmen, alumni, and mentors have been in your position before and they know the ins and outs of navigating the beginning of one’s career.

If you have any contacts you can think of, reach out to them for their advice. They can give you tips from their wisdom and add clarity to your path for an internship.

Start the search early

Now that you know where to look, it’s important to note that you should begin this search as early as possible while in school.

Internship programs hire at all times of the year. For a summer internship, some might interview in March and others might interview in September of the previous year.

If you aren’t on top of things, you can miss out on great opportunities.

Getting the Internship Interview

Now you know what internships are offered and what you want to pursue.

It’s time to put in the work to get an interview!

Network

The overarching theme of the next few tips below is to network.

Meeting people within the industry and having them know who you are will go a long way through this process.

Practice your networking skills and get out there. Come off as someone who is sincere, with genuine interest, that can add value to a company. Don’t be phony and don’t be a stiff.

Be sure to remember names and grab business cards if you can.

Attend info sessions and events

You should attend any info session or event held by a company. You can usually find these events through your career services center or on the company’s website.

At these events, they’ll have current employees attend and speak about the company, the internship program, or anything else really.

It is imperative to attend to show your face around, meet people, and gather business cards and information.

Some of the attendees at the info session from the company can be your actual interviewers. Showing up and being engaged will show them that you are proactive and eager to work for them.

Be professional, but also human

While you are networking your way into an interview, remember to be human and have a personality.

The people at these companies can see right through the BS and won’t be impressed when you ask them about the reason revenues were down 10% in the third quarter of 2014.

No one likes these “try-hards.”

Keep it conversational and ask these professionals about their personal time with the company. Ask them about their interests and show you are competent, but not a corporate robot that is all about work.

These people want to make work as pleasant as possible, so being someone they could see themselves being around will increase your chances of them wanting to bring you on.

Go into these events with topics of conversation to bring up. You want to find out information on what you can do to get the interview and you want to show how eager you are to pursue the opportunity.

Tailor your resume and cover letter

Once it’s about that time to submit your resume and cover letter online, you’ll want to read the job description of the internship and tailor your resume and cover letter for the position.

You tailor them by reading the job description and identifying what they are looking for in their candidates. Then you incorporate that into the content on your resume and cover letter.

If one bullet says “Exceptional Excel skills and financial modeling,” you can add a bullet on your resume talking about the Advanced Excel elective you took or your data entry job that had you often working in Excel.

The idea is to make yourself the ideal image of what they are looking for.

This post can help you with drafting your resume: The Financial Analyst Resume: Detailed 2020 Guide

Have your resume and cover letter critiqued

After you have tailored these two items, you will need to have someone else review it. Your Career Services center should offer some type of resume review service there. Start with that.

Other options for a resume review include:

  • Asking faculty in the business school
  • Asking upperclassmen, alumni, or mentors
  • Asking a friend to check over errors
  • Purchasing a resume review online

Follow the guidelines on the application

When you are submitting your internship application, ensure you have followed all the guidelines to the application process.

Read the directions and adhere to them.

  • Did they require a cover letter? Write one
  • Did they ask you to write a 300-word reply to a question and you wrote 500? Cut it down.

Doing this is respectful to the company and straying from guidelines to an application may give the impression that you would stray from guidelines if they hired you on as an intern.

Optimize your LinkedIn Profile

When you submit your application, it is likely that these companies will view your LinkedIn profile. These reviewers may come from the team that you want to work for or someone from HR will look your profile over.

Here are the things you’ll want to do to optimize your profile:

  • Have a professional profile picture
  • List your work experience with detailed bullets on what you did and accomplished
  • List your education and extracurriculars
  • Follow the company

It’s that simple. It is basically an extension of your resume and it doesn’t need to be over the top. Just have a clean photo and a professional page.

Preparing for the Interview

Okay, you got the interview! This is a huge milestone and you’re almost to the offer already. Now it’s time to prepare.

Search online for info

The first thing you need to do is gather information you can on how the interview process works and see if you can find the type of questions the company asks.

Start by googling online and searching websites such as Glassdoor.

You can google “Goldman Sachs summer analyst interview questions” or “What is the interviewing process for Microsoft like?”

Search around and take notes on the process and questions they might ask.

Ask around

Following your online search, ask around. Find people you know or could reach out to that have gone through the same internship you are trying to go through or have at least worked for that company.

They’ll give you direct insight on the process, what is typically asked, what you should do to prepare, and what you can do during the interview to be hired.

Once you have gathered data on the process and what questions could be asked, it’s time to start practicing.

Attend mock interviews

Your career services may offer mock interviews to put you in a similar setting as the real interview. You’ll brief your mock interviewer on what position and company you are applying for and they will ask you typical interview questions to help you prepare.

Mock interviews are as close as the real thing as you can get and the more interviews you can do, the better.

Study with a buddy and quiz each other

Some internship programs hire dozens of students.

You probably have some friends from your clubs or classes that are also trying to get an internship. Partner up and study together.

With both of you pursuing the same opportunity, you can bounce ideas and questions off each other. You’ll also receive helpful feedback that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to get from someone else who doesn’t have an interest in the interview you are preparing for.

Interview for other internships and companies

One way I liked to practice for interviews was to apply and interview for other positions as well, even if I had no interest in working for them.

The process of learning to apply with these companies and interviewing with them honed my skills, increased my confidence, and took the nerves away once I got to the interview of the main position I wanted.

You should always be applying and interviewing for positions.

Interviewing is a skill and must be practiced. Mock interviews can only go so far in simulating the real pressure of speaking with actual employees from a company.

Self-practice

Self-practice is where I spent most of my time in preparing for an internship interview.

Here are some things I did to prepare:

Collected Info – Gathered information on potential questions that company could ask including technical, fit, behavioral, industry, and company-specific questions.

Flashcards – I then turned those questions into flashcards on Quizlet. My decks on Quizlet could get up to 300 cards for one interview. I thought “always better safe than sorry” when deciding which potential questions to practice.

Varied Practice – I practiced these questions at a desk in silence, walking around speaking aloud, in front of the mirror to myself, and while driving in my car. I didn’t want my brain to only be accustomed to recalling information in one setting or method. I tried to quiz myself in different locations while doing different tasks so the answers really stuck in my head.

Learned up on the company – Memorized all important and relevant information on the company’s website including their values, mission statements, business segments, history, notable executives, etc. Interviewers may ask questions on these things and knowing them shows your interest in the company.

Read up on current events

In interviews, especially within business, you may receive a question like:

  • Tell me about a piece of news you saw that interested you and why.
  • What can you tell us about our industry right now?

These questions are to test your knowledge and interest in the industry and being stumped on these questions will hurt your chances of being hired.

Here is what you can do to be caught up on current events:

  • Read the “Company News” section on the website of the company you are interviewing for.
  • Read reputable news sources such as the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, etc.
  • Listen to podcasts related to the industry.

Prepare your materials to bring for your interview day

There are a few things you should bring with you to the interview:

  • Several printouts of your resume
  • A copy of the job description
  • Notepad
  • Pen
  • Portfolio of work and projects you have done

That last bullet there, “portfolio of work and projects you have done” is very important.

What I mean by that is to bring printouts of any big assignments or projects you have worked on that you could bring up during the interview.

Do you have a huge accounting project you have completed that you are proud of?

Did you build an awesome presentation for a pitch on a company?

Gather work that you are proud of and work that showcases your skills and abilities. You can bring this out during an interview to stand out from the crowd.

Performing in the Interview

It’s showtime! The interview day is here and it’s time to secure that offer. I’ll dive into the main things needed to excel on your interview day, but view my other post on the Top 5 Ways to Succeed During an Interview.

Get proper rest and nutrition

Have your mind and body in optimal shape to go into your interview.

This includes getting enough sleep, eating foods that work with your body and nourishes it, and getting in a quick workout the day of the interview.

Doing these things will have you alert, focused, and quick on your feet to answer questions.

Dress the part

Appearances shouldn’t matter, but unfortunately they do. Interviewers will judge your appearance consciously or subconsciously so it is best to present yourself in the best light possible.

Do some research and planning and put together an outfit that is professional and neutral with the color and pattern options. You don’t want to be an eyesore.

Outside of your outfit, come into the interview well-groomed. When you get the small details correct on your appearance, interviewers will take note of it.

They will think to themselves, “This candidate is sharp and has paid attention to the small details of his or her appearance. This can mean he or she will also pay attention to small details in their work too.”

Lastly, when you intern for a company, you are representing that company. They want candidates who will present and carry themselves as respectable professionals to represent them.

Arrive early

It’s best to plan to arrive earlier than you would need to. Life gets in the way sometimes and the last thing you would want is to arrive late to your interview.

So plan accordingly and show up early. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have more time to brush up on your study questions.

Alright, time for the interview!

Shake the nerves off

Nerves are natural and everyone feels them.

Before you walk in for your interview, take some deep breaths to slow your heart rate down, have positive thoughts, and envision yourself going into your interview an killing it!

Be engaging and lively

As you are going through your interview, make sure you aren’t dull and boring. This is a quick way to lose the interest from your interviewers and be lost in the crowd of average candidates.

These interviewers might have already been interviewing for 5 hours before you walked in.

You want to be a breath of fresh air to them. Focus on being yourself in an engaging and lively way. Don’t overdo it and come off with fake excitement. The interviewers will see right through this.

Emit confident and relaxed body language

A majority of the communication to your interviewers will be through your body language and voice.

Though your actions, you can communicate that you are confident and relaxed, which are attractive traits in a candidate. This behavior shows the interviewers that you are confident and feel like you are comfortable belonging in the company.

Here are some tips for your body language:

  • Have upright posture with your shoulders held back
  • Use appropriate hand gestures and stay loose while speaking
  • Make contact with your interviewers, but be sure to appropriately break eye contact occasionally
  • Lean inwards a little to show you are interested in what your interviewers are saying
  • Speak with some “umph” in your voice
  • Don’t speak too fast or too slow. In fact, change up your pace of speech and your tonality to emphasize certain points while you are talking
  • Be mindful and eliminate any nervous ticks such as bouncing your foot on the ground or swaying back and forth

Express how your experience relates to the position

When you are interviewing, you may straight up receive the question “How does your experience relate to the position?” 

If you don’t, it is important to incorporate this in your interview another way.

In other questions asked, focus on fitting in how your prior experience relates to the internship you are interviewing for.

This will show your interviewers that you have some competence, experience, and are capable of performing the job.

Express how you can be valuable to the company

When you are applying for an internship, all the company cares about is if you are going to bring value to the firm. It is a business and the business needs assets to the company.

As you answer questions, sprinkle in how you will be valuable to the firm. Highlight what you have done, what you look to achieve, and how that will help the interviewers’ team and company.

You don’t want to make things about yourself.

You want to send the message that you will be someone that will come in and look to make an impact in any positive way you can.

Take out examples of your physical pieces of work

Remember that piece of physical work I mentioned to bring in the section about preparing your interview materials?

You’ll want to bring that out at some point in the interview. You should be able to squeeze it in to one of the questions the interviewer asks.

For example, they might ask “Can you talk to me about your experience with building presentations?”

Any average candidate can talk about the presentations they have built, but how many can show a tangible piece of evidence of their presentation building skills?

If you packed a printout of a presentation you built for a project, you could bring it out during the interview and walk them through it as you explain how the project proves your abilities.

This is my favorite way to stand out in an interview and I don’t think many candidates utilize physical pieces of work in an interview.

The top 3 benefits of this are:

  • You immediately stand out and become memorable to the interviewers
  • You showcase your competence by showing tangible evidence
  • You showcase your communication and presentation skills as you walk them through the project

Concluding the Process

Thank you note

Phew! It’s finally over. Or is it?

Once the interview has concluded there is still one thing left to do.

With the names and business cards you gathered from your interviewers, you should send out a short thank-you email to everyone you met with.

This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It should be short and to the point. The thought of sending the email is more impactful than the words contained in the email.

Here’s an example:

“Hi John – 

I wanted to thank you for the chance to interview with you and *firm name* a few days ago. It was great to meet your team and I am eager for the opportunity to work with you. If there is anything else I can do on my end, please let me know.

Warm regards,

Brandon”

Moving on From Rejection

Finding an internship is a numbers game. You aren’t going to get offers from every internship you apply for and you shouldn’t take it personal. You shouldn’t even let it phase you honestly.

When you are rejected, simply brush it off and move on to the next internship opportunity.

I understand that may have been your dream position, but there are still plenty of great opportunities out there that you can pursue. If you pursue those opportunities, you can gain the skills and experience to try again at your dream company.

Apply to all internships that you can and don’t put all your eggs in one basket by banking on one firm.

I went through countless rejections on my path to an internship Was it painful at first? Yes.

But the experience was necessary and helped me develop more than if I had just received an offer for everything I applied to. Here’s what I took away:

  • Rejection happens and that’s life
  • Quitting from discouragement only worsens the rejection
  • By applying and interviewing for any position I could, I honed my interviewing skills, which became important when actually interviewing for those “dream job” positions
  • With each interview, I became more confident and less nervous than the previous one

Summary

Alright, there it is! From beginning to end.

The process of getting an internship is a long one and requires a lot of planning and steps along the way.

Hopefully I shined some light on the things you can do to increase your chances of receiving an offer.

The biggest takeaways from this post are:

  • Start early
  • Be consistent
  • Pay attention to details
  • Show you can add value
  • Be persistent and don’t let rejection get you down

With that, go out there, implement what you have learned, and get that internship offer!

Brandon Hill Photo

Author: Brandon Hill

Brandon is the creator of Bizness Professionals and author behind each post. He is currently a working professional, primarily in finance, and looks to provide resources to aspiring or current young professionals for well-rounded professional and personal development. Find out more on the About page.

There may be affiliate links on this page, which means I may receive a small commission for any purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Products that are linked are ones I highly recommend and have used/tested myself.

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