How do you climb a ladder? One step at a time.
You’d never try to jump, skip the first few rungs, and expect to land halfway up the ladder. That stunt probably wouldn’t end well. Working your way up to your dream job is a similar process: All you can do is take it one step at a time. If you’re looking for ideas on how to get an internship, you’re making a smart move—an internship allows you to put your foot securely on the bottom rung!
The experience from an internship will make you competitive when you apply for the same job as hundreds of other candidates. It will also help you figure out if the field you’ve chosen is actually something you’d like to do long term.
And the good news is, finding an internship is not hard. What kind of business would pass up inexpensive (or free!) labor? It will just take some time and intentionality on your part to find the right position that will help you get the experience you need for your dream job.
Here are five strategies to get you started.
1. Get clarity.
Before you start applying for internships, you need to figure out what you actually want to do. Spend some time reflecting on your skill set and your passions. What kind of work makes you feel alive? And what kind of work makes you want to pull your hair out?
A great strategy to discover what you’re passionate about is to look back at any part-time jobs you’ve had. Make a list of jobs you’ve enjoyed in the past and see what they have in common.
And get started early. Don’t wait until you’re a senior in college to get serious about finding an internship. Discover what you’re passionate about as soon as you can so that you don’t waste time figuring it out later. Real-world experience is nothing like the classroom. An internship might help you learn that you enjoy studying a topic, but you won’t actually enjoy a job in that field.
If you need help getting clarity, try my free Career Clarity Guide. It's a simple worksheet designed to help you discover what it is you were made to do.
2. Start searching.
Once you’ve decided on the kind of work you’d like to do, it’s time to start searching. You’ve got lots of options, and here are the best places to get started:
Go to job fairs.
Guess what? Your college wants you to get a job after school. And one of the ways they help is by hosting job fairs on campus. Sign up, pick out a nice outfit, and go! The great thing about these events is that recruiters know you’re in college, and they’re there to offer entry-level positions.
Talk to your professors.
Chances are, your professors know of local opportunities to work in the field that interests you. After all, they’re probably pretty well established! Visit your teachers during their office hours and tell them what you’re looking for. Even if they don’t have any options for you at that moment, if you’ve got a good relationship with them, your name might pop up the next time they’re chatting with a colleague and hear of an internship opportunity.
There’s a guy on our team, Cory, who landed all of his internships using this method. He asked his professors if they could help him get connected. Now he works as a successful marketer and loves what he does!
Volunteer your time.
You need to be willing to work for a season without pay, or with very low pay, to make connections and build relationships with people in your desired field. No one gets their dream job on the very first try! Small companies, nonprofits and start-ups are often looking for help. Even if you just volunteer one day, evening, or weekend every now and then, your time won’t be wasted.
You can find internships with the click of a button—literally. Set aside time to search online for opportunities. Start by making a list of the jobs you’d like to have or the specific businesses you’d like to work for. Then, pour yourself a cup of coffee and get your research on! Explore places like . . .
- Social media
- Job search sites (Indeed.com)
- Websites of companies you like
Take notes on what you find. But hang on a minute. I don’t want you to start applying for these jobs just yet. You can’t expect the doors to fly open for you just because you threw your name into a digital bucket of applicants. Head to step three before you start applying.
3. Create connections.
A resumé without a relationship is worthless. That’s why, after you have a list of potential internships, I want you to make a list of people you know in the industries or companies you want to work for. It’s the best strategy for making it past the recruiter’s desk where countless other applications are sitting.
Write down every name that comes to mind, including:
- Your professors
- Former coworkers
- Friends from school, church and sports leagues
- Friends of your parents
If you can’t think of anybody in the industry where you’re applying, that’s okay! This is just the first step—establishing your inner circle. When you network the right way, you realize it’s not about who you know—it’s who they know. Start calling up your inner circle and telling them what you’re looking for. Ask them who they know who can help you get connected. Then, call those people! Just like a spider spins its web, you need to start with the inner circle and then make your way out. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your web of connections grows.
3. Prepare for the interview.
As you nail down potential positions and opportunities, you’ll want to have tools that get you noticed. Recruiters only spend an average of 7.4 seconds scanning your resumé!1 Give them a reason to look longer. You might want to write a cover letter explaining why you’re interested in the internship and why you’d be a good fit for the role. You could also create an online portfolio to showcase your work.
If your resumé looks more professional than the other candidates’ who are applying for the same job, it sets you apart! After you’ve gotten your resumé and cover letter ready, prepare for your interview so you bring your A game to the table.
4. Be humble, hungry and smart.
If you follow these first four steps and stay dedicated, you shouldn’t have any problem finding an internship (or two!). Once you’ve made it through the door, focus on demonstrating your character. People don’t hire your experience. They hire you. Are you the kind of person that would be a great full-time team member?
In his book The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni encourages organizations to look for three key qualities in their team members:
Humble: Being humble is all about accepting that you don’t know it all. An internship is the perfect opportunity to learn everything you possibly can and look for ways to serve. Own the tasks you’re given and ask people how you can help them. Also, ask your new leaders and coworkers for feedback and take their suggestions for improvement to heart.
Hungry: No, I’m not talking about scavenging for free food in the break room! Being hungry means having an appetite to work hard and excel. Hopefully, your internship allows you to work with people who are masters of their craft. Observe how they do things—both the hard skills of what you need to know and the soft skills of how they communicate and lead. Ask questions and stay curious. And take initiative to help without being asked!
Smart: A job isn’t just about getting tasks done. It’s about interacting with people. When we talk about being smart, we mean being people smart. You need to learn how to build trust and influence with others, how to work as part of a team, and how to treat others the way you want to be treated.
Find a Place to Practice
Finding your place to practice (your internship) will help you find your place to grow and thrive. It’s a perfect way to start working the Proximity Principle—the proven plan that will get you on the path to meaningful work.
Remember, when you’re climbing up a ladder, you only take one step at a time. You can’t move up into your dream job until you’ve mastered your internship. So, when you’re an intern, accept your job, own it, and maximize your time there by going above and beyond. People will notice, and I guarantee it will lead to new and better work opportunities in the future.
You’ve got what it takes. Press on!
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman will help you discover what you were born to do and provide practical steps to make your dream job a reality.
Listen to The Ken Coleman Show on YouTube, SiriusXM, your local radio station, or wherever you listen to podcasts—and connect with Ken at kencoleman.com.