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It's Never too Soon to Look for an Internship

By Nicole Cavazos

You might be thinking, “It’s only February, I have plenty of time to look for a summer internship.” But the truth is if you wait much longer, you might miss out on some of the best opportunities. In fact, many of the most competitive and desirable internships start looking for candidates early.

Because internships have become one of the key ways that many companies hire new employees, they shouldn’t be taken for granted. Wait until the last minute to look for an internship and you might be facing slim pickings.

But even if you’re not looking to land a dream internship that will evolve into your dream job, internships are practical ways to gain real experience and should be regarded as an essential component of your education. Don’t wait until you’re a college senior to start looking for one. The smart students start interning as early as high school. The more skills and experience you’re able to acquire before graduating, the more desirable you’ll be as a real job candidate.

Gone are the days when working as an intern meant making copies or running errands for your supervisor. Today, many internships are more like entry-level positions offering real world experience. And because they can be so competitive, they also give you some valuable experience in effectively competing and interviewing for a job.

So what are you waiting for? You’ll probably never again have the chance to try out so many skills and industries as interning offers. It’s your dress rehearsal for the professional world. Use it to your best advantage. Here are some tips to help you stand out in the crowd of hopefuls.

Be Proactive

The first place you should start is with companies where you’d love to work. Just keep in mind that the more popular the company, the more competitive the internship. For instance, landing a coveted internship at Google might be about as easy as gaining a spot at Harvard. But this is where it pays to start early. You might increase your chances if you intern at some smaller tech companies in your freshman and senior years before working up to Google.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t cast a wide net. What’s great about interning is that you’re still in the exploratory phase of your life. No one is going to fault you for applying for fields as diverse as finance or fashion. If you have an aptitude for both, now’s your chance to discover which one suits you best.

Treat it as a Real Job

Just because it’s “only” an internship doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat it like a real job possibility. You still have to compete with many of your peers for a limited number of good positions. Although you may have limited experience, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t highlight your best assets on a resume and cover letter. At this point, school activities, summer jobs and special skills and interests are all relevant on your resume, as long as they demonstrate your leadership skills, creativity and diligence.

Do your homework by thoroughly researching the company and understanding their needs and culture. Be able to express why you think you are a good fit and how you feel you could contribute. Ask lots of relevant questions and listen carefully during an interview. And above all, be professional. This means dressing for the part, arriving on time and thanking your interviewers for their time. And don’t forget to follow-up with a thank you note.

Think Outside the Box

Internships can be acquired in numerous ways. In addition to going directly to the websites of companies where you’d love to work, you can also check out your school’s career office and internship page and campus career fairs. Another great strategy is to ask around. Professors, friends, parents and family friends are all great resources for ideas and introductions.

Be Open-Minded

If you restrict yourself to well-known companies, you could miss out on some amazing opportunities. Sometimes the smaller, lesser-known places offer the most hands-on experience. Having real samples to show is much more impressive than busy work at a more prestigious organization. And the earlier you start in your college career, the more opportunities will become available to you down the line.

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Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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