While summer intern season may be coming to a close, many college students also seek out internships during the school year. It's not always easy to find an internship that aligns with your career goals and schedule, but when you do find one, it's vital to make the most of it and build the foundation for your professional future.
According to Tim Elmore, president of leadership training company Growing Leaders, there has been heightened competition for good internships over the last decade, especially in certain industries and locations.
"As the economy sagged over the past nine years, companies rediscovered an inexpensive way to find talent – hire college students as interns," Elmore told Business News Daily. "I [also] see more university students still unsure as to what they want to do in their career, and an internship enables them to explore without signing up for a long-term commitment."
More companies are also hiring full-time employees from their intern pools, according to Jeff Selingo, author of "There Is Life After College" (William Morrow, 2016). In an article for LinkedIn, he explains that recruiters have shifted their attention from hiring soon-to-graduate seniors as full-timers to scoping out juniors, even as early as the fall term, to be interns the next summer.
"Internships are increasingly the only way for new applicants to get in the door at some companies," Selingo wrote. "Postings for internships now make up a significant proportion of the overall entry-level job openings in several industries."
Applying for and getting an internship
First and foremost, make sure you apply for internships that truly interest you, said Todd Rothman, executive director at wyzPREP.
"Internships can be very demanding on a student's time and effort. The more passionate a student is about [their internship], the more they will gain from it," he said.
Potential interns accelerate the discovery of a "good fit" for their internship if they understand their strengths and weaknesses first, said Elmore. This means not only taking personal assessments but taking on as many extracurricular activities or jobs as possible beforehand.
When it comes to the interview process, Elmore advised having your own set of questions to ask the interviewer after you've answered all of theirs. For example:
- What kind of environment have you established?
- What tasks do you need accomplished?
- How will I be utilized during the internship?
- Will I have access to several team members to learn from them?
Preparing for your internship
Rothman said that before students accept an internship, they should understand the time commitment and the internship objectives.
"You want to be sure that you have the time and ability to fulfill your obligations," he said. "An internship provides an inside look at what [that job] will require before you get accepted. In some sense, it is like having a crystal ball and being able to see what your future career will look like."
"Read up and prepare for the work beforehand," added Elmore. "There will be enough surprises without adding to it by not becoming familiar with the mission, values, culture, products and services of the organization."
After securing your internship, it is critical to understand the social currency of the company, said Elmore. He also noted that interns should be open to feedback and proactive about their contributions.
"Too many students are fragile when it comes to hard feedback. You will differentiate yourself if you welcome it from your supervisor," Elmore said. "Take initiative. Anticipate the needs of your team or leader and don't wait to be told what to do."
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.