Need Help Landing That First Internship? Check Out This 4-Step Guide

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When you’re in college, you can’t turn a corner without someone talking about internships.

And it’s for good reason: Internships are a great way for students to gain hands-on, practical skills in their field of study.

In the competitive world of internship programs, having experience in your chosen field can give you an advantage over other applicants.

But if you don’t have experience, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. It just means you may have to work a little harder.

Use this roadmap to land an internship when you’re a little thin on experience but filled with ambition.

Step One: Landing an Interview

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The most challenging part of snagging an internship is getting your foot in the door.

Write Your Resume

Resumes might be a drag to write, but you’ll almost certainly go unnoticed without one.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of job experience to add to your resume. There are other ways to punch it up.

Make sure your resume is customized to the internship you are applying to,” advises Holly Harper, professional resume editor at Resume Rescue. “Highlight any courses, projects or student organizations that align with aspects of the position.”

“Try to figure out what the employer’s work culture is like and mention relevant interests,” recommends Bart Turczynski, career expert and editor at career advice website Uptowork.

“Just remember to always provide the prospective employer with details,” he adds. For example, he says, blogging can be a “mere hobby,” or it can show an understanding of the basics of HTML, WordPress and social media.

Write Your Cover Letter

Next, it’s time to write a captivating cover letter.

“Make your cover letter shine! This is a chance to display your emotional intelligence, which is what employers are after if someone has no on-the-job experience,” Harper says. “Make the cover letter all about ways you can add value to the company and why you want to help this company via the internship.”

Apply Everywhere

Take your newly minted resume and cover letter and apply for an internship at any company that’s even remotely in the ballpark of your field of study.

“Send out loads of applications,” says Valerie Streif, senior advisor with career services company Mentat. “If you don’t have experience, you can’t be selective.”

“Find as many opportunities as you can that somehow relate to your field of study or interest, and apply, apply, apply!” she adds.

Ask for a Signal Boost

Don’t be shy about asking people to spread the word that you’re looking for an internship.

“Ask friends, parents’ friends, other connections for a good word,” says Streif. “If they know about opportunities or are connected to people who will give you a chance, this is a great way to get your foot in the door. It’s also an excellent way to start networking and get in the habit of reaching out to people to find positions.”

Polish Your Elevator Pitch

You never know when opportunity will strike, so be ready to explain your internship goals anywhere, anytime.

“Your elevator pitch should consist of what you’ve done, what you’re doing now, and where you want to be in  five to 10 years,” says Jason Patel, the founder of college prep company Transizion. He recommends having a quick elevator pitch of 15 to 25 seconds for informal meetups, as well as a two-minute pitch for internship interviews.

Step Two: Preparing for the Interview

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Once you’ve landed the interview, now it’s time to prepare for it.

Do a Dry Run

Before your interview, it’s a good idea to rehearse it a few times. But the goal isn’t to memorize possible answers ahead of time.

A rehearsal gives you an idea of how you present yourself to hiring managers and provides an opportunity to polish up your interviewing skills.

“Sit down with a friend, and in totally informal conversation, talk about your experiences in the classroom, in life or working side jobs,” says Patel, adding that you should record this conversation on your phone.

“Afterward, listen to your conversation and draw important details from it. Is there a common theme? Did you mention something that you forgot to put on your resume?”

Do Your Research

One of the worst mistakes applicants can make is to show up for an interview uninformed about the company.

I am amazed at the number of people applying for internships who have never even Googled  the company they’re interviewing at,” says Harper. “If I know someone hasn’t done research, I immediately know that I won’t hire them no matter how solid their resume is.”

Spend some time researching the company to glean all you can about its history, culture and mission.

[B]asically just stalk the heck out of them before the interview. It will show you are prepared and motivated,” Harper notes.

Scope Out LinkedIn

Most hiring managers will check out your LinkedIn profile before an interview, and it’s completely fair for you to peep theirs.

“Review the LinkedIn profile of the person interviewing you, and be able to give them a compliment on their previous work or articles published,” says Kerry Wekelo, managing director of human resources and operations at Actualize Consulting.

“Another option is to ask a question about their background,” she adds. “For example, ‘I see you have worked at Actualize Consulting for close to 13 years… [C]an you tell me what your experience has been and why you have stayed with the firm so long?’”

Step Three: Acing the Interview

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Interviews make almost everybody nervous. Here are some tips to help you get past your jitters and put your best foot forward.

Fake It ’Til You Make It

Don’t let a lack of job experience shake your confidence.

Kim Grotto, owner of Grotto Marketing, has hired several college-age interns and college graduates with limited experience.

“The number one quality I look for in an intern is that they are not afraid to try,” says Grotto. “Someone who is motivated and pushes through their fear to take action is someone I know I can teach and launch into a position that will be beneficial to both my business and their career.”

Let Your Personality Shine Through

No one likes talking to someone who gives monotone, wooden responses, so don’t be afraid to loosen up (a little).

“Focus on having a conversation rather than simply answering questions” says Grotto. “The more you understand — and can demonstrate your understanding — that life is about relationships rather than transactions, the more successful you will be.”

Arm Yourself With Examples of Your Achievements

Interviewers want to know about what you’ve done and what you’re capable of, so tell them. It’s not bragging; it simply helps them understand why you’re the perfect internship candidate.

Be able to give concrete examples of your school and work experience by providing examples of challenges you faced,” says Wekelo, adding that you should also be able to explain how you overcame challenges and what you learned from them. “We want to know you can handle all types of scenarios.”

Step Four: Following Up After the Interview

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Once the interview is over, take a few minutes to review what went well and what you could improve for future interviews.

You’ve got one more thing left to do until you can kick back and wait for a phone call from the hiring manager.

Send your interviewer a thank you note. It’s an important last step that just might seal the deal.

A Final Note

Internships aren’t mandatory to prepare you for your career path, so if you have trouble finding one or decide interning isn’t for you, check out these 5 productive routes to take instead.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her college internship was a blast but had exactly nothing to do with the career she ended up in.