Whether you’re looking to explore different fields, make some extra cash, or build a relevant skill set for your future career, you’ve probably thought about getting an internship. However, internships don’t fall from the sky, and despite how much we talk about the internship search up here at MoHi, it’s normal to feel confused and overwhelmed by the internship search. But no need to worry: Spectrum has you covered with a step-by-step guide to the internship hunt.
1. Do some soul-searching
Though it might seem counterintuitive, don’t immediately log into LionSHARE or Beyond Barnard. Instead, first open up a blank document on your word processor of choice and answer the following questions.
Why do you want an internship?
How certain are you about your future career? Is your motive behind getting an internship to narrow down your list of prospective careers/majors or are you already set with what you want to do?
Your answer to this question determines the entire orientation of your search: If your purpose behind finding an internship is more exploratory, we suggest keeping your scope broad and also considering shorter externships, which can range from a day to eight weeks. On the other hand, if you know the field you want to intern in, then look exclusively at opportunities within that discipline.
What type of position are you looking for? What type of corporation?
Do you want to work in a traditional office environment or a startup that uses coworking spaces? Do you mind doing a little grunt work, like scanning files and sorting spreadsheets, or do you need to have your toes wet by day one? Given that internships tend to last for a few months, it’s important to make sure the internship you are seeking is a productive use of your time.
When will you be available for the internship? How many hours per week do you want to commit? Are you willing to travel? Are you open to unpaid internships or are you looking exclusively for paid positions?
These questions do delve a bit into the minutiae, so no worries if you don’t have all the answers! The purpose of asking such questions is to further narrow down your search, because having a rough outline of what you want to do will make it easier to navigate the research process.
2. Stay organized
Now that you have some ideas about what you want to do, the next step is to create a system to guarantee that you stay on top of everything.
We strongly suggest creating a spreadsheet to keep track of deadlines, usernames, passwords, contacts, application materials, and additional notes. If you don’t really vibe with spreadsheets, don’t worry—here’s one we made to get you started! Feel free to copy and paste it into your personal account and modify accordingly. As you start getting replies from companies, consider implementing a color code to keep track of your application status (eg. blue = still in the works, yellow = pending review, green = accepted, red = denied).
We also suggest creating a general folder with subfolders for each application. Include in these folders everything that you submitted to a company so that you can refer to it later if necessary.
3. Upgrade your application materials
Since almost all internships require a resume, be sure to update yours to reflect your most current academic, club, and leadership experiences. Then, set up an appointment at the career center (or, alternatively, go to their drop-in hours) to have a counselor review your resume. If you’ve never written a cover letter, it may also be smart to have your first one reviewed by a career counselor. Additionally, since recruiters often prowl LinkedIn, it doesn’t hurt to create or update a profile there as well.
4. Conduct research
Now it’s finally time to begin searching! LionSHARE and Beyond Barnard are great places to start looking, but there are many others sites you can visit as well. Third-party platforms such as internships.com, WayUp.com, and Indeed.com are also great places to look. Additionally, make sure to check out the “internship” pages of any company that you have in mind as well, because oftentimes these pages feature opportunities not posted elsewhere.
When you find opportunities that you’re interested in, take a look at employer preferences. Even if you don’t meet all employer preferences (such as class year), don’t shy away from applying; instead designate these internships as second priority on your spreadsheet to differentiate them from the ones that are a mutually good fit.
5. Reach out
If there’s a company you’re interested in that hasn’t posted any internships, reach out! Doing so demonstrates initiative and differentiates you from the pack.
Cold-emailing, cold-LinkedIn messaging, and cold-calling can be incredibly daunting. The secret to these awkward interactions, however, is to find Columbia or Barnard alums. If you have time on your hands and are applying to large firms, focus your attention more on junior-level rather than senior-level employees to develop talking points about the firm before you talk to hiring managers.
For the actual messages, stay away from overly polished and humble-braggy emails. Instead, try to be a little more down-to-earth while still maintaining professionalism. Begin by making your subject line to the point (something like “Inquiry about Summer Internship Opportunities” should work well). Introduce yourself, explain how you got your connection’s contact info, discuss why you’re contacting them, briefly mention some relevant experience, and finally wrap up with an ask to call or meet up for further discussion. If they don’t reply within a week, consider sending out a follow-up email.
6. Attend career events
Career fairs are perhaps the best tool you have in your internship search arsenal. Make sure to periodically check the events tab on Columbia's Career Education site and to note the dates of events that interest you in your calendar. Additionally, try to get on the emailing lists of pre-professional clubs around campus and to friend those clubs on Facebook to get notified of any potential events.
Before the event, conduct research on the companies or people who’ll be attending so that you’ll be able to connect with the speaker/recruiter. Make sure to print out an updated resume (or better yet, a tailored resume for each company) that you can hand over when the time comes, and collect emails and business cards! Networking is key.
7. Fill out the application!
You’ve done your soul-searching, created a spreadsheet that would put a Goldman analyst to shame, and finished your research. Now it’s finally time for the most important part: actually applying! The key to the internship application is tailoring your materials. For example, if you’re applying to both journalism and banking internships, emphasizing your writing skills for the former and your experience with spreadsheets in the latter will probably boost your chances at landing one of those opportunities.
If you also have to submit a cover letter, make sure to read this straightforward guide and to incorporate information that you’ve gleaned from your research and contacts. If it helps, think of your recruiter as a potential partner that you’re trying to impress: The goal is to show them that you guys are a mutually good fit.
Applying for internships can be equal parts stressful, draining, and exhilarating. What’s certain is that it’s not easy. What you have to remember, however, is that whatever multinational corporation XYZ thinks about you doesn’t really matter. Your willingness to shake hands, collect cards, and write emails day in and day out says way more about you than the decision you get back, whatever that may be.
You’ve got this, champ, and best of luck.