Not all internships are created equal. One might be with your dream organization and offer great experience, even a job-offer post-graduation, while another might involve fetching coffee for bosses who won’t give you the time of day. Take your time with the internship search and find an opportunity that excites you.
Why are internships important?
Internships are important for several reasons. They offer experience, a better understanding of a certain industry, connections and an opportunity to learn about yourself outside of a classroom or lecture hall. An internship should be a praxis bridge: on one side are your studies and the theories you have learned, on the other side are the full-time jobs that you don’t yet know how to perform. Your internship should help you move between the two.
Many internships are unpaid and only count as college credit. I wasn’t financially able to take on an unpaid internship when I was in college, so I applied to work at a fishery in Alaska the summer after my sophomore year. Lucky for me, my school had a program to sponsor internships both domestically and abroad, so I was able to avoid the fishes and intern for a grassroots non-profit without going into more debt. Those three months were invaluable because I gained experience relevant to my studies and learned a lot about myself: my love for grassroots organizing, the difficulties involved with living in someone else’s house and my ability to adapt to working in a different country for the first time.
Internships can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. The longer the internship, the more equipped you will become to enter the industry in a full-time role. Internships are often for current students or recent graduates because the positions generally teach skills that would be applicable to a wide range of jobs, and students are starting at square one. But internships are also a great way for more seasoned workers to change career paths.
How do you find internships?
1. Know what you want.
When I was in college, “Have you landed an internship yet?” was a favorite question. This question, in addition to breeding stress and superiority complexes, implied that all internships are created equal — if you have something with the label "internship" slapped on it, you are set. This encourages people to leap at the first opportunity that comes up, even if it isn’t a good fit. Around six or seven months before you want to start an internship, sit down and write out your priorities. Do you want to intern with a company or non-profit? How important is location? How will you pay for accommodations and food? What types of industries interest you the most? What sacrifices are you willing to make?
2. Use your connections.
Even if all your classmates seem to all have judges for parents, senators for aunts, tech entrepreneurs for best friends and magazine CEOs for personal genies, you have more connections than you might realize. Your professors have years of experience assisting students and maybe even working in these industries themselves.
Even if your CS professor isn’t your best friend, if you have worked hard in their class, they know your work ethic and you should ask for advice. They know the position you're in and probably have plenty of personal contacts in the industry. Your school also undoubtedly has a career service office bursting with resources and connections to companies that have relationships with the college, and most schools are happy to have alumni come back and use these resources in addition to current students. Your friends and family also are invaluable resources as extra eyes and ears for the most relevant opportunities.
3. Use the internet, but be creative!
Think of the internet as a beach you are combing for agates (or shells, or inspiration or whatever you look for on the beach). What you want is there, but if you spend all your time manually picking up and inspecting every rock you lay eyes on, you won’t move very far. Find the methods that will help you skim as efficiently as possible. Go to your college’s website and resources first, since those opportunities are catered to you and probably have a smaller applicant pool. After that, ask your career center if there are any job search platforms that they use specifically and that employers who like applicants from your school would know.
Don’t only look for “openings” or places that are advertising that they want young people to apply; those often draw huge pools of applicants. Look for organizations or companies that interest you. Then, see if they have existing internship programs or would be willing to put one together for you (this can be especially appealing for employers if your school can fund your living expenses for the duration of the internship).
4. Check back often.
Don’t do a search in November, get discouraged and throw in the towel! Organizations are consistently updating their websites, and hiring managers are often too busy to respond to emails one month but the next month are thrilled to speak with a potential intern. I had someone tell me that they weren’t hiring and to check back in a few months. A few weeks later I got an email from the same person saying they wanted to interview me. Have patience and don’t give up if there has been a long silence, but also don’t bank on these hypothetical opportunities; apply for more in the meantime!
What is the best website to find an internship?
• Whatever your college uses!
The school I attended uses Handshake, so on-campus jobs, research positions, internships and other opportunities were all in one convenient place.
Internships.com is run by Chegg, a college and study assistance program. You can use the site to search for internships by geographical area or by category; they also have advice and resource articles.
InternJobs.com is a global database that focuses on internships and entry-level positions for students, recent graduates and career changers. You can explore internships by location, keywords or popular searches.
• College Recruiter
College Recruiter has been in the game a long time. They started as a publisher of campus maps and employment magazines and launched their online job platform probably before most present-day interns were born. They focus on internships and entry-level positions, and most employers will know who they are.
After College focuses on jobs and internships for current students and recent graduates. You can be matched based on parameters such as your major and school so check if your college or any alumni have an active group on the site.
You can use LinkedIn articles as resources, their job board to search internship opportunities and their profile maker to ensure that any employer who turns to the “world’s largest professional network” to learn about you isn’t disappointed.
There are a lot of internship-specific job boards, but Fairygodboss is the largest job search engine that focuses on empowering women in their careers, so don’t forget to check our community forums and the reviews of any company you are considering for an internship. Many internships take digging to find or don’t even exist until you create them. Don’t rush too much, and remember to make sure that the internship you are offered will help you understand yourself — and an industry you are interested in — before you hit send on that acceptance email.