Half the school year has gone by. You think about the upcoming Holiday break, wondering what to do. Some of your friends are traveling. Others are going home. Some are even doing an internship. Wait, an internship?

Internships provide students with on-the-job experience in a corporate or academic setting. From these experiences, students can discover their passions and refine their career directions. Graduate programs and prospective employers look favorably on internship and research experiences.

What if I’m a junior or a senior? What if I’m a first-year or a sophomore who doesn’t know where to start?

Don’t Worry! Take a deep breath and know you are in the right place. Here are 10 steps to help you land your dream internship.

The first step…

1. Be Aware of Deadlines

February Calendar

Deadlines are deadlines. Any application after the due date is…‘dead’. Plan ahead and plan accordingly. If you take longer to finish an application, start early. If you need a recommendation letter, give your reference enough time to write one for you. February and March are common deadlines for summer research and internships opportunities. The day you start the process is all up to you- be aware of your deadlines!

2. Know Your Goals and the Goals of the Internship

“Select your internship based on a sincere interest in the experience and environment for which you are applying. You will be devoting a significant amount of time to the experience and you will want to get the most out of it,” advises Elaine Schwartz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Co-Head of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Food Science Faculty at Chapman University.

If you know the goal of the internship, it gives you a guiding star on how to write your application.

“If your internship is about research, write your application and essays about your interest in research!” advises Dr. Schwartz.

She writes many internship recommendations and has seen many of her students chosen for internships. Tailor your application to address how you can contribute to the program and how those contributions will be mutually beneficial to your personal career goals.

3. Know the Organization’s Mission & Vision Statements 

Pay attention to hints! Knowing an organization’s values is like a ‘cheat-sheet.’ They are already telling you what they want to hear. For example, take Pepsi:

“Our vision is put into action through programs and a focus on environmental stewardship, activities to benefit society, and a commitment to build shareholder value by making PepsiCo a truly sustainable company.”

Fill your essay and application with words and phrases like “environmental stewardship,” “benefit society,” and your interest in operational “sustainability” in a company. Provide examples of how you incorporated these ideas in your past experiences. It is an easy-peasy way to get ahead. Know you cheat-sheet. Know your company’s Mission and Vision Statements.

4. Cater Your Resume to The Application

Scrabble Letters

Modify your resume to fit the application. Some organizations may emphasize a need for a certain skill set others might not. Modifying your resume to fit every application’s needs assures you hit important points. Yes, this is a lot of work, but, do not underestimate the value of customization.

5. Apply to As Many Internships as Possible

There are many programs available to you. You just have to find them. There is tough competition. Applying for many internships gives you the greatest chance of landing one. Yes, it is tedious. But it’s worth it.

With a history working for corporate America, Elaine Schwartz, PhD, also advises her students to create a ‘My Profile’ on websites of companies they would like to work for in the future. There is no cost and it helps students match with jobs or internships in their field. Some other great places to start are Intern-match for Orange County and your school’s Career Development Center. For example, Chapman University‘s students have participated in internships with AllerganMedtronicUCI MINDIrvine Ranch Water DistrictSummer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program and Research Experiments for Undergraduates (REU).

6. Professional Societies

LinkedIn Pen

The phrase “It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know” still applies. Go to the career fairs. Join groups on LinkedIn. Meet with professionals in your field. Word of mouth is the most effective way to hear about a position, and share your interest in one. Make it fun. Do a networking event with friends! A lot of times there are free drinks and food as well. Remember- network, network, network!

7. Paid Internships

Not all internships are UNPAIDJason Keller, PhD, Associate Professor and Head of Life and Environmental Science Faculty at Chapman University, connects many students to paid internships. He explains how many of his students miss out on internships because they look for jobs just “needing to make money.” Let go of that mentality and get creative! Want to further your career? Look for paid internships you qualify for in your industry.

8. Look for the Job You Want, Not the One You’re Qualified For

Work backwards. This is the smartest and most strategic way to create a career path for yourself.  If you want to work at Apple, go to their website and go to their ‘jobs’ section. See the job you want to have and look at the requirements. See the certifications, degrees, and experience required and mold your career path.  It is another cheat-sheet to find out the best career path for you!

9. Master Your Interview

People sitting in a chair

Dress professionally and practice interviewing ahead of time. Presentation is everything.  Practice with a friend or in front of a mirror. Anticipate what kind of questions they will ask. Having answers for questions like “Tell me about yourself!” “How do you deal with conflict?” and “How do you organize yourself?” will make the interviewer more comfortable and confident in you. 

10. Don’t Feel Bad if You Don’t Get Chosen

Not every internship was made for everyone. Just read the denial, take a deep breath, and keep going. Yes, it gets tiring having to get back up, but that is the important part. Getting back up. Your tenacity is what is going to get you through. Keep applying. Keep going. You’ll get it eventually. Or another opportunity will find its way.

Following these steps will help you find a great internship. But remember, it will always take hard work! Talk to your professors- they could be your best allies and your best cheerleaders. Keep your head up and keep focused on the end goal. And remember, everyone has a different journey. Don’t compare yourself with others and do your best. You will be on your journey to success in no time.