How to get a summer internship: a 5-step guide to landing your dream position as a college student

  • Students applying for internships or their first jobs may not always understand what employers are looking for.
  • Lasse Palomaki, a career coach, discussed how students could improve and showcase their skills.
  • He advised them to put their experience from working part-time, doing side jobs, and volunteering to good use.

Getting an internship while in college can put you ahead of your peers when you graduate.

However, knowing how to acquire the skills that employers seek without prior work experience can be difficult.

Lasse Palomaki, a career coach who has worked for the University of South Florida and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was asked by Business Insider for advice for college students looking for internships and their first jobs.

1. Don’t always focus on the largest companies

Many college students prioritize internships at large corporations that pay well, but this isn’t always the best way to gain experience, according to Palomaki.

“If you don’t have real responsibilities in that role — if you don’t have actual tasks, actual projects that you’re working on — it might not be as impactful as a smaller-name company with a smaller paycheck,” he told me.

2. Research the skills employers want

According to Palomaki, it is worthwhile to spend time researching the skills that employers seek.

He advised looking at job-outlook reports from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

“These often list eight career competencies they think employers look for in recent graduates,” he went on to say.

Reach out to recent alumni from your college who are working in your chosen field to get a better sense of what employers want, he says.

Palomaki suggested messaging them on LinkedIn with something like this:

Hello there, [recipient’s name]. I’m a [subject] student at [institution] who will graduate in [date]. I noticed you’re an institutional alumnus as well. I’d love to get on the phone with you just to see where your path took you after you graduated and to learn from your experiences.

When speaking with them, Palomaki suggests asking about the steps they took to land their current position and how they used their previous experience in the application process.

3. Demonstrate skills from side hustles

While students can gain internship experience from a variety of roles, they must demonstrate that they applied their knowledge to a project and that it had a positive impact, according to Palomaki. Volunteering, side hustles, part-time jobs, and student leadership positions, he says, are all ways to hone those skills.

If you held a leadership position for an on-campus organization, you could show that you developed a strategic plan to recruit more members, according to Palomaki. If you want to get into social media marketing, you can propose taking over their social media platforms.

“A lot of millennials and Gen Z students nowadays have a side hustle, whether that is being on social media, creating YouTube content, or selling something on the side,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of students who’ve utilized that experience to get these internships or full-time positions.”

4. Develop and show your soft skills

Employers may not expect you to have developed “hard, technical skills,” such as data analytics, he says. They understand that if you’re a junior or a sophomore, you may not have had the opportunity to take courses that would teach you those skills.

Instead, they’re looking for skills that can be transferred.

“Can you demonstrate your curiosity by asking insightful questions?” Are you eager to learn? “Are you coachable?” he inquired. “These are things that you can demonstrate as you interact with recruiters as a part of the process.”

5. Learn how to communicate your skills

Palomaki explained that skill development is only one aspect of the process. The other part is communicating your experience to the employer effectively.

“It’s not always the best candidate who gets the role — it’s often the best communicator,” he says, adding that you should identify themes and keywords in the job description before writing your résumé and cover letter to highlight your experience in those areas.

“You have to be able to justify why your skills are relevant for the position that you’re applying for,” he told me.

Using career and writing services at your college, he says, can help ensure your resume highlights your skills. They can also assist you in preparing for interviews.

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