Internship tips: Research and applications

By MacKenzie Brady

Student Life Editor

With the spring semester in full swing, many of us are thinking ahead to what our summer plans may be. If your summer plans include an internship, but you don’t know which one or have no idea how to begin finding one and even the thought of looking on top of going to classes, doing homework, and staying involved in whatever clubs and sports you’re doing is making your heart rate increase as you read this, take a deep breath. It will be okay. This is a crash course of not only how to find internships to apply to, but also some tips to make your application materials stand out. 

If you’ve done an internship before, congratulations. You’re already familiar with this process. If you’ve never done an internship before, no need to worry. The process is only as daunting as you allow it to be. 

“Approach the internship search like it’s another class,” said Executive Director of Career Development Nanette Cooley. She explained that by devoting a few hours a week to the internship process — research, applications, practicing for interviews, etc. — the process becomes much more manageable because you’re not scrambling to do it all right before applications are due. 

While the internship process looks different across fields, there are some universal aspects, including research, the resume, and, should you make it farther into the running for the position, an interview of some sort. 

So, first thing’s first: Start looking for an internship now. The sooner you’re able to identify your area(s) of interest, the sooner you can research companies, groups, organizations, etc. that are working in your field(s) of interest. 

If you’re having trouble finding a company’s internship opportunities, check the “volunteer” or “career opportunities” tabs on their website. 

“Students should always cast a very wide net when it comes to searching and applying for internships,” Cooley said. “Experiential learning is one of the most effective ways to identify career interests and narrow focus.” 

Determining what you’re not interested in helps you figure out what exactly you are interested in. 

Take risks when it comes to internships. “Try something new that may not have been obvious or apply to a start-up to learn more about entrepreneurism. This is the time to explore opportunities and reflect on what feels good and has the potential to ‘feed your soul’ which is so important in making career decisions,” Cooley said.

If you’re unsure of how to start looking for internships, the Center for Career Development has internships broken down by major on their webpage of the Washington College website under the “Recommended Internships” tab. The list is fairly up to date, providing names, locations, whether or not it’s a paid position, and a link to the website for you to begin your own research. 

Sometimes, each department also has a list of internships, so it is not a bad idea to ask your advisor for a push in the right direction. 

“I would say that the most effective way to source internship opportunities is networking,” Cooley said. “Having conversations with alumni, neighbors, family, coaches, professors, service providers, friends’ parents, etc. can lead to promising opportunities.” 

Once you’ve established what you’re interested in, or alternatively, where you might like to work, time for the next step: Applying. It feels like a lot of work, but internships are competitive. Even throwing your hat in the ring is more than some others will do, and you’re that much closer to getting an internship. 

According to Cooley, students should apply to 20-25 internships, depending on your area(s) of interest. “International students may need to apply to more than that due to employer hiring policies,” she said. “It can be more challenging for international students because of OPT/CPT regulations.”

While applying to 20-25 internships may seem daunting, breaking it up and doing a few at a time makes them much more manageable. Be sure to keep track of due dates, and what, if any, additional materials each position may require—how many letters of recommendation, a writing sample, etc. 

It is also worth noting that when asking for letters of recommendation, it is best to ask people who know you and your work really well, even if they are not in your department or areas of interest. Having a really well-written, sincere letter of recommendation from someone outside of your area of interest is much more compelling than a dry letter that speaks very broadly from someone within that area. 

Internships are competitive, and it is always good to set yourself apart from your competition and make yourself stand out. There are a number of ways to make yourself stand out, especially on your resume. 

Tailoring your application materials to each internship is a good way to make yourself stand out. “Cover letters and resumes should include the ‘language of the industry’ and include ‘key words’ that are used to describe responsibilities and desired skills,” Cooley said. 

It is also a good idea to make sure your resume highlights your most relevant experiences for each internship position. This may mean having multiple versions of your resume, each tailored specifically for the needs of the employer and the skill sets they desire. 

If you’re unsure about how to tailor your resume, or about what which experiences would be most relevant, schedule an appointment with a career advisor at the Center for Career Development. 

Through appointments with career advisors, “students can feel confident that they are putting forth a quality application which promotes their accomplishments, honors, experiences (inside and outside of the classroom), leadership roles, athletic involvement, research, study abroad, etc.,” Cooley said. 

This is obviously not an exhaustive list — I do have a word count after all — but it is a good jumping off point. Get in contact with your advisor, make an appointment at the Center for Career Development through Handshake, see what employers are listing on Handshake, connect with people on LinkedIn. Once you take the first step towards finding an internship, the rest will get easier. 

If, after reading this article, you’re still overwhelmed by the idea of an internship, that is okay. You do not have to have an internship to have a productive summer. You could do a series of externships, getting real-word experience shadowing at a variety of companies; conduct informational interviews to get a jump on the next summer; volunteer in your area(s) of interest; do community service work; travel; take classes; or get any sort of job back home. Any work experience is relevant work experience, even if it is not in your desired career. Being able to explained how you did whatever you did on your resume for the next year will help you get that internship when you are ready.

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