How to Start Your Internship Search

So you found this amazing internship online with a deadline that's fast approaching, and you're so excited that you could apply right this minute. Except there are a few tiny, minor details—you don't have your resume updated, and you don't know that much about the company. Okay, so maybe not such tiny details.

To avoid the horrible feeling of wanting to apply to an internship but not being able to, you can prepare for your internship search ahead of time with these five tips! You'll be completely ready to start applying to internships in no time.

1. Determine the goal of your internship search


Put on your thinking cap and crack those knuckles, because it's time to make a game plan. The first thing to think about before applying to internships is the overall goal of your internship search.

"Just like with any job search, college students need to create a strategy for their internship search," says Heather R. Huhman, career expert and founder of tech PR consultancy Come Recommended. "Students should figure out why they want to do an internship, the type of experience they hope to gain and how they want it to benefit their career."

This can be a hard task to take on, especially if you're not quite sure what you want to do yet career-wise, and that's okay!

"If you don’t know what type of internship opportunity you would like to find, it’s important to do some exploration of careers in your area of interest," says Tamara Peters, career development specialist at Rutgers University. "You should also think about how you can translate these careers into internship opportunities."

Peters suggests taking advantage of career counseling at your school to help brainstorm ideas and better understand potential career possibilities.

By forming a solid plan at the beginning of your internship search, you'll be a lot less overwhelmed later on down the road.

"The secret to every successful internship search is to have a plan," Huhman says. "It’s important to have a goal for your internship search because it’ll help you feel less overwhelmed when sifting through opportunities. For example, if you’re looking for a PR internship with a nonprofit organization, you’ll greatly narrow down employers and create a more targeted internship search."

Make a list of goals that you hope to reach. If you're more of a visual person, it might be helpful to create a collage board or a flow chart to map out your strategy, always keeping the goal of your internship search front and center.

2. Create a strategy


Once you’ve determined your goal, you can start to take action toward reaching it. What's next? Research, research and more research! It's high time to start looking into your target industries and possible organizations and then compiling a list of places at which you might want to intern, all the while sticking to the goal that you made for yourself.

"After you’ve created your goals, make a list of companies and organizations within your college town, hometown, larger cities within your state and even a few places outside of your state," Huhman says. "This initial list will serve as leads during your internship search."

The list can stem from a variety of places: companies that are working on projects that spark your interest, people you've read about in class, engaging speakers your professor has invited to lecture. 

"The first thing that people should start doing is looking for companies…that resonate with them and that are doing things that they would be excited to work on…not necessarily starting by searching for openings," says Emily Miethner, founder and CEO of FindSpark, the largest meetup for interns and recent grads in the country. "Keep up with those people and what openings they might have and…start doing research in that way."

Peters suggests using online resources like Riley Guide, a gateway to job, career and education information resources available online, and LinkedIn to create a targeted list of organizations you plan to pursue so that you can follow these organizations on social media sites, follow their latest news and look out for internship postings. Check out sites with job listings and job search engines to explore industries and companies that you're interested in, as well as see who your favorite companies are working with and what projects they're working on right now. As a rule of thumb, 10 is a solid number of companies to look at initially.

"Also, conduct some research to determine if your target company will be on campus for on-campus recruiting or career fairs," Peters says. "The more you know about your target [companies] prior to speaking to someone from the organization and getting an interview, the better."

During this entire process, make sure to stay focused in your internship search — don't lose sight of your goals! Narrow your list of places down to around five so that only the ones you are most interested in are left.

"Less is more when it comes to applying…keep a more focused effort into fewer companies that you're truly, truly interested in and you know a lot about, and you're going to have a much better success rate," Miethner says. "Then, when it does come time for you to look and to choose, you'll be able to have a better idea of what the companies do, you'll be able to write a better cover letter, a better application. They want to know that you're interested in their internship at their specific company, not just any internship ever."

With your game plan drawn out, you'll be on your way to getting that dream internship!

3. Update your resume


So you've been pretty busy over the past year basically just being more awesome than you already were before, and employers want to hear all about it! Make sure to update your resume before you start your internship search so you don’t end up rushing to put something together and accidentally forgetting to add something important at the last minute.

"It’s important to prepare your application materials ahead of time so you can be prepared to apply for an internship at any time," Huhman says. "Instead of scrambling at the last minute to create a resume, college students will already have the materials needed to apply for an internship."

It's also a good idea to get a second opinion on your resume, so going to your college’s career center for a review or asking professors or friends to critique your resume will help you figure out how to represent all of your new activities and accomplishments in the most effective way.

"Make sure there are no grammatical errors and that it reflects the skills and experience you have to offer for the type of experience you’re looking for," Peters says. "Bring copies of your resume to any networking meeting or session you attend. Also consider creating your own personalized business cards."

Bring it on, intern search! You'll be unstoppable once you're armed with your newly updated resume.

4. Establish a professional online presence


Having a professional online presence can open a variety of doors for you. Not only will you be able to connect with potential employers or coworkers, but you'll also be able to show them what you're capable of achieving as an intern.

"As you begin to apply for internships, it’s absolutely necessary to think about your online presence and to start building your network," Huhman says. "By creating your online presence before applying for internships, you’ll have a leg up in your search and stand out to employers during the application process. Also, if you end up connecting with a recruiter or hiring manager through LinkedIn, you’ll already have a professional profile created to impress the employer."

According to Huhman, there are a number of things you can do to build your online presence. First things first: If you haven't done so already, create a LinkedIn account and write a professional summary. Include relevant work experience, involvement and volunteer work on your profile. Next, scrub your social media accounts, getting rid of anything from Facebook or Twitter that might send red flags to employers.

After you've established your social media presence, you can now use this to show employers what you're capable of achieving as an intern as well as get involved with the happenings of your target organizations.

"Start sharing content relevant to your industry and participating in online conversations," Huhman says. "You might also want to consider creating a blog or online portfolio. By following these tips, you’ll show employers you’re knowledgeable in your field and that you’ll be a savvy intern once hired."

5. Contact your connections


Everyone stresses the importance of making connections so much, but have you actually taken the time yet to contact people you've worked so hard to establish connections with? If there was ever a time to do it, the time would be now. Before you start your internship search, consider the resources that you already have close by.

"If there are individuals in your network (family, neighbors, etc.) that work at any of your target organizations, ask if you can meet with them to discuss what it’s like to work at their place of employment, how they got to where they are and if they have any tips for you in the search for an internship," Peters says. "Let them know you’re looking for an opportunity and that where they work is a place of interest to you."

Make sure that you make a good impression on your contacts so that if an internship does come up, they're more likely to let you know.

"When you speak to your contact, focus the conversations on learning more about the person, the organization and opportunities they may have available," Peters says. "It’s not recommended to ask the individual if they can get you an internship, but networking with someone by being polite, well-spoken about your current career objective and showing genuine interest in the person you’re speaking with can go a long way."

And, of course, it's never too late to start making new connections. You never know where one might lead you.

"One of the best ways to land an internship is to make connections with people who work for organizations you’d like to intern for," Huhman says. "For example, if you want to intern as a writer for a magazine, you’ll want to start creating a network of writers, editors and journalists. These connections will help you find more internship opportunities [and] increase your chances of landing an internship."

If you don't really know anyone in the field or at companies you'd like to work at, start small. Reach out to friends, coworkers or alumni from your college who work in closely related fields or companies. Get in touch with people you've worked with in past internships or jobs, even if they aren't really in the field you're interested in pursuing. By branching out and diving into the networking process, you might be surprised by the opportunities that come up.


Whether you're trying to land that research intern or editorial intern title, it's never too early to start preparing for your internship search. Armed with these tools, you'll be on your way to reaching your internship goals in no time!