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If you ask any college grad what they should have done differently while in school, you’ll probably get a lot of the same answer – intern somewhere to gain industry experience. When you get out into the real world, it becomes starkly obvious how much more valuable internship experience is than any class project or GPA.
Internships are an easy opportunity to miss out on, because landing one requires foresight. Not only do you need to research the available internships related to your field of study, but you also have to juggle the various deadlines and timetables that each program adheres to. For many students, applying for internships can be as time-intensive as taking another class.
If you’re thinking about applying for any internships in the near future, here’s how to stay on top of the application process.
When to Start Looking for an Internship
Internship deadlines vary based on the size of the company, the industry and the time of year during which the program takes place. A competitive and prestigious internship is more likely to have an early deadline so they can sort through the high number of applications.
For example, the deadline for a New York Times summer internship is in the fall, nine months before the start date. The State Department’s summer internship program has a September deadline.
It’s important to start thinking about internships before or shortly after returning to school.
First, try to find upperclassmen who have interned in the same program you’re shooting for. Ask them what the process was like, how they prepared and what materials they needed. Some applications will require a portfolio of work, while others need multiple reference letters. Discuss internships with your school’s career advisor, who should have a list of internships and information about deadlines.
Once you’ve compiled a list from your peers and advisors, it’s also a good idea to do your own research. You can look for internships on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Internships.com, Idealist, and WayUp. Those sites will have listings from popular companies, but bear in mind that a popular program will also have stiffer competition.
Don’t be afraid to contact companies with no official internship program. Send your resume, samples of your work if applicable, a reference letter and a well-written email describing why you want to intern there. They may be willing to create a position if you are a good fit.
Even though a company without a formal program also won’t have an official deadline, contact them between three to six months before you hope to work there. If you expect to be paid, they’ll need time to fit an intern’s salary into the budget.
If a company has never had an internship before, their HR department may need time to figure out how the position will work. Plus, it doesn’t make a good first impression to email a company at the last-minute asking about internships.
Want to intern at Earnest? Check out what our previous interns have to say.
How to Prepare for an Internship
Some internships are unpaid, but provide academic credit. To receive credit for those internships, you have to register for a specific class and pay for it like any other course. This process can take some time to set up, so make sure to follow your school’s class registration deadline.
If interning away from your hometown or where you attend school, you’ll have to figure out housing. Some formal internships have programs to help students find housing, but often the responsibility falls to the intern. That can be a shock for someone used to living in assigned housing.
Spots for internship housing, like the internships themselves, are highly coveted and often go quickly. You can often find temporary housing in a city’s university dorms or by subletting a room on Craigslist.
When you are interviewing, take note of how other employees dress, and prepare your wardrobe to fit the tone of the office. The sweats you wear to morning classes probably need to be removed from rotation during your internship.
How Long are Most Internships?
The length of an internship depends on the industry, time of year, and whether or not you’re still in school. Some are as short as eight weeks, while others are a year long. If you’re still in college, you’ll be more likely to find summer internships. College graduates are more likely to have a six-month or year-long opportunity.
Getting a shorter internship may seem like a good idea – especially if it means you have more time to hang out with friends and family – but the longer an internship lasts, the more experience you’ll gain. That will pay dividends when you graduate. You’ll learn more skills, make more connections and make a better impression on your coworkers and bosses.
One way to do this is by extending an internship into the school year if the gig is close to your campus. You can offer to work remotely or drive up once a week.
Don’t ask about extending the internship until you’re at least halfway through, because you may decide you don’t like the company or the work. Plus, many bosses won’t give you more time until you’ve proven yourself.
If you decide to extend the internship into the school year, consider if you can handle the workload. It will be more difficult to work and go to school at the same time. If possible, use the internship as credit so you don’t have to take as many real classes.