Embarking on the journey to secure an internship is a pivotal moment in many college students’ careers. Last year, I grappled with the same questions that you may have right now. Why did I want an internship? How do I even begin the search process? What do applications look like, and how can I possibly prepare for interviews? These questions encapsulate the shared struggle of gaining valuable experience while attempting to unravel the uncertainty of our post-graduation paths. My own journey, which led me to intern as an enterprise credit analyst at Bank of America in Chicago last summer, is a testament to the challenges and triumphs of pursuing professional growth. Here is what I learned about internships and the process of obtaining one.
Why did I want an internship?
I wanted an internship for many reasons — experience, money, resume-building and, primarily, figuring out what I wanted to do after graduation. Like many students, I didn’t know what career to pursue when I began college (I have since changed my major three times). I decided to “try on” a potential career by getting an internship.
What did the search process look like?
How I found an internship…
- Balancing interests and skills: Before starting my search, I identified my interests (math, analytics), skills (analytics, research) and wants (to be in a big city). These aspects gave me a starting point for what to look for when applying to internships.
- Narrowing the options: Companies post most internship opportunities on online job boards — Handshake, Indeed.com and LinkedIn. I primarily applied to internships through Handshake (see how to set up your account). To narrow my search, I filtered the postings by city, job type and industry and began searching keywords related to my identified interests, skills and field of study.
- Choosing to apply: My application strategy was applying to any moderately interesting position. In each job posting, I started by reading through the responsibilities; if I found at least half of the listed responsibilities interesting, I applied. If I was uncertain, I read the job description and qualifications. (Tip: don’t get caught up on whether you meet all the qualifications.) If I knew I wouldn’t accept the position as a last resort, I didn’t apply.
- Tracking applications: I noted each application in a spreadsheet, including the position title, company, date applied, location and other relevant information (often including my login to the application website).
You can also find internship opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs or at the Employer in Residence table in Hawks Hall, utilizing your professional network (peers, professors, mentors, family friends, etc.) or searching a company’s website directly.
What did applications look like?
Before landing an internship, I submitted 25 different applications. Most Handshake applications started with a “quick apply” — submitting a resume via Handshake and a formal application on the company’s application page. I then entered my work history and education (I copied the information directly from my resume). Part of any application was uploading my resume and a cover letter.
- Every application required a resume. To get my resume in the best shape possible, I utilized UNL Career Services and Business Career Center online resources and met with a career coach (business students can make an appointment at the Student Success Hub).
- Some applications requested a cover letter. Like with my resume, I accessed resources and visited a career coach to ensure my cover letter would help my application.
(Note that different industries require different application materials. It’s helpful to read job postings and talk to people in your field to understand what to expect.)
How did I prepare for interviews?
In total, I completed three self-led virtual interviews. Each self-led interview gave me various chances per question to record an answer, ranging from 1 to 6 attempts (I typically did best on my first takes). I received invitations to two second-round interviews. Because I applied to out-of-state internships, these were held virtually.
To prepare for each interview, I practiced answering questions using Big Interview (register for free here), researched the company, prepared questions to ask the interviewers and used more Business Career Center resources and Career Services resources. The more interviews I attended, the stronger my interviewing skills became.
How did I handle rejection?
Of 25 applications, I received one internship offer, leaving me with 24 rejections. I handled rejections by learning from them — revising my resume and applications to improve them. Then, I moved on to the next application. I couldn’t change the past, but I could prepare for the future.
What would I do differently?
If I were to go back, I would do two things differently:
- I would begin my application process earlier. I submitted most of my applications for a summer internship during winter break, but I would have opened more opportunities had I started during the fall semester. Each industry has a different hiring timeline, but I recommend starting your search earlier rather than later.
- I would submit more applications. While 25 is a lot of applications, I could have created more opportunities by applying to more internships.
One last note:
To those looking to learn and build their futures, I encourage you to begin your internship search. Remember that you are not alone in navigating the internship search process; resources are available to help you at every step.
Each application, rejection and experience will bring you closer to your professional goals. Good luck!
Published: February 2, 2024