While internships have become an essential component of the job search process, landing one that provides you with the experience you need is easier said than done.
In order to secure these critical opportunities, you must take charge of your search, be aware of the skills they require, and be able to learn how to gain those skills, said Suzanne Scott-Trammell, executive director of Career and Professional Development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers discovered that more than 75 percent of employers prefer candidates with relevant work experience, and at least 65 percent of students who intern receive permanent job offers.
When searching for an internship, Scott-Trammell offers several tips:
- Develop an elevator pitch: Sum up your skills, talents and goals in less than 2 minutes. “This will help you become comfortable when reaching out to employers, alumni or contacts, so you can clearly and concisely let them know how they can help you," Scott-Trammell said in a statement.
- Assess your weaknesses: Determine what skills you lack, and work on improving them. “That will lead to better employment prospects upon graduation," Scott-Trammell said. "It's also good to know the leading organizations in your field. Having those on a résumé grabs attention."
- Focus your search: Create a target list of businesses and professionals in your desired field, and contact them. "Set goals on what you need from each person," she said. "These meetings are most effective when you talk with them about their career choices and advice they can share." [The Best Paying Internships ]
- Don't limit yourself: While ideally you would get paid for your internship, eliminating all unpaid opportunities isn't always the best option. The most important factor to keep in mind is the long-term value of the experience you gain. "The time invested in the experience will typically pay out in a quicker and better job offer upon graduation," Scott-Trammell said. "If you demonstrate you have the skills being sought, you will create a greater demand for yourself and make yourself more employable."
- Fine-tune your résumé and interview skills: How you present yourself in your interview and on your résumé is the best indication of the type of employee you'll be. Scott-Trammell says employers want employees who show up on time, are consistently reliable, are team players and are committed to getting the job done. "All of these characteristics can be communicated in the interview and in your résumé," she said.
- Be prepared: Since you only get once chance to make a solid first impression with potential employers, make sure it counts. "Present yourself as a confident, well-spoken student with a firm handshake and good eye contact," Scott-Trammell said. "That will begin the kind of professional reputation you want to create.”
- Follow up after meetings and interviews: Send thank-you cards or emails that reiterate specific points of interest or topics you discussed. "This communicates the type of employee or intern you will be with attention to detail and a professional manner," she said. "This also begins a reputation that will be hard to forget, and that's your goal — to present yourself as the confident, articulate problem-solver you have become."
Ideally, you want to start gaining professional experience while you're still in school. Scott-Trammell advises students to get internships between their sophomore and junior years of college, then again between their junior and senior years. She said this gives two opportunities to both gain real-world work experience and network in chosen career fields.