Understanding the Internship Process


Setting Internship Goals

Analyze your skills and interests:  examine academic and career goals.  What kind of experience do you want?  What are your education, career, and personal goals? What are your personal beliefs/values/work ethic? What kind of organization are you looking for?  What type of work environment do you prefer?  How would you like to contribute?  Define your limits – timetable for an internship (how long?  When to begin and end?, part-time or full-time?), geographical preferences, paid or unpaid.

Matching Career Goals with Internships

First you will want to take a look at the goals you prepared to see if the skills and interests you originally were seeking can be met in an internship.

Next, consider the importance of matching yourself and each internship opportunity.  Examine what skills, attributes, abilities, and limitations you will bring to an internship which will enable you to attain your goals and be attractive and useful to the organization for which you want to work.

Think about what you have to offer.  Even if you have had no formal work experience, you have acquired a number of skills:

  • Research and writing skills from working on research papers 
  • Management skills from summer jobs 
  • Communication skills from classroom presentations and group projects
  • Time management and organizational skills from being in school and having a busy schedule

These are transferable skills (writing, research, and managing) that you could add to your list of personal offerings.  Transferable skills are skills you have acquired while doing any activity in your life - jobs, classes, parenting, projects, hobbies, sports - that are transferable and applicable to what you want to do in your next job.

Analyze your everyday life for skills you may not have realized you possess.  Be careful not to discard skills that appear useless.  For example, a friendly attitude is useful in an internship that requires a lot of person-to-person contact (interpersonal skills).  Sizing up your personal attributes is an important and necessary assignment.  Start listing them and these lists will come in handy in everything from writing a résumé and preparing for interviews to evaluating your experience when you’ve finished the internship.  Here are a few more examples of transferable skills you may have attained thus far in college:

  • Critical and analytical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Adaptability to change
  • Written and oral communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Time management and organization
  • Working independently and as a team
  • Customer service
  • Reliability and trustworthiness
  • Multitasking
  • Detail-oriented
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Dynamic and outgoing
  • Leadership

Exploring Academic Credit

Decide whether or not you want to do your internship for academic credit.  If you do, follow the necessary steps to arrange for academic credit by talking with your academic department and/or faculty advisor.

Locating Internship Opportunities

You can find internship opportunities in a variety of different ways, including (but not limited to):

  • Internship resources available in the Career Crossings Office
  • Personal contacts and other networking resources
  • Research targeting specific organizations and companies of interest
  • Internet listings
  • Academic department and faculty advisors

Applying for Internships

To apply for most internships, you will need to have a current résumé and cover letter customized for each opportunity you apply to.  Writing a résumé for an internship opportunity is very much like writing a résumé for a job opportunity.  The difference may be that you lack in professional experience or experiences directly related to your field.   This is not uncommon and employers do not expect you to have this experience already.  What employers are interested in seeing on a résumé is your:

  • Major(s) or minor(s)
  • GPA (3.5 or higher or if specified to include in application requirements)
  • Relevant coursework
  • Community involvement/volunteerism and college research
  • Work experiences and additional internship experiences

Interviewing for Internships

For an internship, you would prepare yourself for the interview just as you would prepare for a job interview.  You should expect to be answered traditional types of questions, behavior-based questions and be prepared for all different types of interviews.  These could include but are not limited to telephone screenings, one-on-one, peer group, panel, luncheon, video and second interviews.

Accepting and Declining Internship Offers

When an offer of an internship is extended, it is most often communicated through a telephone conversation.  If an offer is extended in the form of a letter, a follow-up phone call will more than likely follow the letter.  An acceptance letter by the student who has been granted an internship is optional.  If you have been offered an internship by more than one organization, it will be necessary to choose and accept one position.  At the same time, it will also be necessary to inform the organizations whose internships you do not accept that you will not be interning with them.  This may be accomplished by telephone, however, a follow-up letter would be an added piece of professionalism.

Before Beginning Your Internship

You will want to know and establish the following before your internship:

  • What would be my tasks, duties and responsibilities?
  • Does the site have a written description of the internship?
  • Does the position require any special skills, experience, or education?
  • What hours would I be working?
  • Who would be my immediate supervisor and how closely would we be working?
  • Where does the department in which I would be assigned fit into the overall structure of the organization?
  • Is there an orientation provided for interns?
  • What is the dress code?
  • How will I be evaluated?

Some Additional Tips for Internship Success 

  • Be Prompt—Oversleeping is a poor excuse for being late on the first day or any day.  Time a test ride to work and plan for enough time.  Take into account any traffic that might add on time to a commute to work. 
  • Have a Positive Attitude—Your attitude is “one of your greatest assets.”  After your appearance, it is the next factor notice.  A positive attitude will benefit you as well as your co-workers.
  • Know the Agency Rules—Find out about, follow, and respect the regulations of the organization.
  • Attendance—Arrange in advance when you need to take a day off.
  • Dependability—Whether you work alone or as part of a team, other responsibilities will come your way if you are dependable.
  • Respecting the Time of Others—Consider your supervisor’s and staff members’ time when seeking help on assignments.
  • Evaluate the experience—Take time to evaluate what you have learned and reflect on the experience.