How To Get an Internship with No Experience: Landing Your First Internship in College!
Learning how to get an internship in college is essential! Here’s our guide to show you how to do it!
For many first-generation college students, the point of college is to develop tangible skills for future employment. While maintaining a solid GPA shows employers:
- good work ethic
- time management
- and academic success
Having a relevant internship or work experience is necessary when landing a full-time job!
Students or people coming from top-notch public schools and elite private schools have the bonus of being well-connected to networks and families in companies already hiring. This makes finding off-campus internships so much easier for them.
So this is a guide to help unconnected and inexperienced students find internships in college without experience or elite connections!
Do not fear! The key to securing internships is not out of reach for you or anyone else looking to land their first real job! We can fill this gap ourselves and we show you how you can do it!
What is an Internship?
According to Ohio State University, an internship is “an opportunity to integrate career-related experience into an undergraduate education by participating in planned, supervised work.”
In plain English, it’s how you get “real work experience” while you’re studying at your college or university. It’s the fastest way to:
- Build professional connections
- Network with seasoned professionals
- Explore various industries
- And gain real-life work experience to add to your resume!
Okay, that’s all cool and dandy but how do you land one?
How to Get an Internship? (The Essentials You Need)
You’re going to need a resume, cover letter, and if you can, a connection or referral. That’s pretty much it.
Resume for Internships
A resume for internships looks like a resume for a job where you outline your experiences and skills for the job you’re hoping to land.
There are entire guides to show you how to write a resume: I like the GUIDE FROM RESUME GENIUS. They cover not only how to format it but also how to target your resume to fit the job ad description.
This is essential when it comes to beating out Applicant Tracking Systems that filter out resumes and applicants for keywords before they reach a real hiring manager or recruiter.
Cover Letter for Internships
Think of cover letters as an extension of your resume. You want to highlight your experiences, skills, and passions to tell hiring managers why you’re the best fit for the job!
Resume Genius has a solid guide on how to write a cover letter but Novo Resume goes into how to incorporate keywords into your cover letters. I recommend reading both if you need some deep insights on how to write your cover letter
Connections or Referrals (If You Can Get One)
You could type “I am Jeff” on both your resume and cover letter and you could still land an interview if you have a killer referral.
Okay, I’m being hyperbolic, but low-key I’m not. Having a connection or referral can help set your application apart! How?
Referrals help you:
- Get past all the automated filters
- Avoid having to beat out Applicant Tracking Systems (that filter you out for not spelling analized right).
- Get your application to the top of the pile (imagine cutting a line of 300 other people!).
- Get in the good graces of the hiring manager before they meet you.
Why does this happen? Because no one wants to deal with a bad intern and unfortunately cover letters and resumes suck at revealing that. Referrals, especially ones from trusted coworkers or fellow employees, make this process a sure thing.
Yeah, a potential intern may look good on paper, but so can everyone. Referrals add that extra bit of confidence hiring and admissions managers need to send you that “ACCEPTED (link to my image)” email and make their team hyped for the new interns.
Can I Get an Internship If I’m not a College Student?
Yes, but it’s easier if you are a college student.
Internships aren’t exclusively for college students but companies and schools focus on getting motivated students into their workplace hoping to:
- Scout the next current pool of applicants
- And recruit the best talent from the best schools
Students also have the benefit of leaning on their relevant coursework and letters of recommendation from their professors to give them an edge in the internship application pool.
Meaning if you’re not attending a community college or university, your chances of applying and winning internships are slim. Especially when most companies make it a requirement to be a student in order to apply.
So if you’re already a student, keep reading. If you’re not, try signing up for a class at your local community college and get your foot in the door.
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How to Get an Internship in College by Networking like a Pro
The key is being proactive and leveraging meaningful relationships. This can be as simple as visiting your college’s career center, networking on LinkedIn, or talking to family friends to find companies taking on interns.
Networking is Nepotism For Us Regular People
Don’t feel ashamed to ask your family, family friends, or mutual connections that you are looking for an internship. Some peers I’ve talked to look down on using personal connections for securing internships, calling the method “nepotistic” or “unfair”.
Listen, I firmly believe connections will always be a powerful factor in the world. Not taking advantage of your connections just puts you at an enormous disadvantage. Your goal is to get your foot in the door. Once you landed your first internship, the rest will be easy.
Another useful method is connecting with companies by reaching out to hiring managers and human resources. Even with the free version, LinkedIn is invaluable for this!
For example, go on LinkedIn’s search engine under “people”, and, then, type in something along the lines of
- “Company A hiring”
- “Company B recruiter”
- or “Company C talent acquisition”
The homepage that my school and many others use as their career network platforms to help students land an internship in college.
Also, check company websites for open internship positions throughout the year. Also, make use of your school’s job board and career services. For example, my school has a portal called HandShake. These are useful because companies are looking to recruit specifically from schools like yours!
Visit Your College’s Career Center When You Don’t Know How To Get an Internship with No Experience
Visit your college’s career center. They can help you:
- Find internships
- Edit your resume
- Review your cover letter
- And prep you with practice interviews
This place is EMPTY every year. You might catch some college seniors stressing during the Spring Semester (or Spring Quarter for my California homies) to find a last-minute job, but this place is DEAD!
But you know what that means?
TONS of advisors, resume templates, and job boards for you to explore! You can probably even find the boards online too! This is perfect for students who really don’t know where to get started.
This took me 5 seconds to google search “[My School’s] Career Services Center”
Every college and university understands that many students come with little professional job experience. This means a lot of their internships focus on helping YOU get started when you have no experience!
This also took me 5 seconds to google search “[My College’s] Internships”
Using Cold Outreach To Get an Internship with No Experience
Something I realized while networking – whether on LinkedIn or in person – is that most people are extremely friendly and generous about helping out college students. Many of them were in our shoes once!
When directly reaching out to people, make sure to craft a concise, to-the-point, and polite introduction that details why you are reaching out to them. When reaching out, have a firm sense of humility because these are essentially strangers to you, helping you from the kindness of their hearts.
For example, it would be weird to ask a stranger to get you an internship at their place of work without previous rapport, so be personable and gracious. Above all, this is where you get to flex your people skills!
Template To Use When Cold Messaging Someone on LinkedIn
Here copy this with your info and DM someone you aspire to learn from.
“Hi [Insert professional name here],
My name is [Your name] and I am a student at [whatever cool ass college you go to] looking to break into the [whatever job or industry you’re interested in].
I was looking for [job or internship opportunity] and noticed you had experience working in [the job or industry you were looking into]. I wanted to know if you had time for a virtual chat over [Zoom/Skype/”Whatever works best for you”].
Let let me know, I’m eager to follow in your steps.
Best, [Your name goes here]
Obviously, edit this however you like.
If you live in the same area or know they’re coming for an event in their area, offer to meet them in person for coffee. Even if you don’t drink coffee, invite them for salad.
Just get in front of them, get to know them, and let them get to know you.
At the very least, you can ask questions that will give a greater insight into what you need to be doing to get an internship in your respective occupation.
How to Get An Internship By Networking With Other Professionals
Even if it doesn’t work out, try again. There are a ton of professionals and all it takes is one good fit for you to know:
- Industry secrets and pro tips
- Upcoming internship opportunities
- Or even an actual job opportunity
You can even reach out to professionals you’ve already talked to for any particular career recommendations or professional referrals.
They can point you in the right direction with some pointers, or refer you to someone else that may be better equipped to help you. Always be sure to thank them for their time, and conclude with a personalized thank you email or message.
Building up your professional track record
Another point of concern for students looking for their first internship is that they don’t believe they have the right experience or background. Internships in a lot of ways are a sign of privilege. Not everyone is blessed with time to intern.
For example, some college students work part-time, lack a mode of transportation, or have to balance family life.
The key to filling up your resume and building your professional portfolio is making the most of your extracurricular involvements on campus! This can range from getting involved with:
- School clubs or organizations
- Sororities or fraternities
- Online certificates
- Relevant classes
- The practical benefits of college research
- Volunteer work
- Part-time work
- and the list goes on and on!
Most hiring managers are understanding that many full-time students do not have a focused professional background. This is why it’s important to emphasize not only your capacity to learn and your interest in the subject but also your desire to contribute as an intern.
Also, emphasize your soft skills! Whether you can:
- think critically
- write well
- do public speaking
- work with numbers
- work interdependently
- work collaboratively with other
Think of it this way, your resume is to get your foot in the door; your interview is your chance to show the interviewer why you’re the ideal candidate.
What I Did When Trying To Figure Out How To Get An Internship With No Experience
Here’s a pic from my LinkedIn at the internship my dad help me get connected with.
During my junior year, I scrambled to secure a summer internship. I was looking for something primarily in the business development and marketing sphere but was met with rejection after rejection.
Despite not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I thought business would be interesting. As a result, I was primarily going about my search through word-of-mouth and online job boards ranging from LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed.
By spring quarter, I was feeling defeated. I had a decent 3.30 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) and extracurriculars ranging from online certifications, on-campus club participation, and involvement in a professional fraternity.
I was just a young college kid looking for someone to give me a chance.
One day, my dad called saying someone he met during work from another company was looking to help me. It ended up being a digital marketing internship at a mid-sized financial firm in San Diego.
“Nepotism is networking for everyone.” – some random commenter on TikTok.
So what’s the takeaway?
What I’ve been emphasizing is … USE YOUR CONNECTIONS!!! Although students, especially first-gen students, generally lack professional connections, it’s important to constantly search for opportunities.
Summary on How To Find An Internship in College:
- Have a great resume
- Prepare for interviews
- Maintain a competitive GPA (above 3.0 if you can)
- A personal brand
- Find mentors
- Creating professional connections
- Taking advantage of college alumni programs
- Visit your career services center
- Research places you want to intern
- Research roles of interest
Securing internships continues to grow competitive so you need everything ready in your arsenal. With so many variables going into securing an internship, persistence is non-negotiable.
Where To Find Internships?
Here’s a list of some popular internship search tools to help you find some internships in college.
- Any company website under their “CAREERS” link
- Internships on LinkedIn
- Internships on Handshake
- Internships on Indeed
- Internships on Monster
These are internships I know from my pre-med days in college. Trust, these internships are crazy cool and often paid. If you come from an underrepresented or low-income background, I highly recommend you look into these internships.
Why? Because they’re looking for students like you!
SHPEP (Summer Health Professions Education Program)
- SUMMARY: This is a 6 week, all-expense paid (room and board) program that allows you to rotate in multiple professions of the health sciences. This includes premed, dental, pharmacy, nursing, physical therapy, podiatry, and optometry. They have sites all over the US including schools like UCLA, Iowa University, and Western University of Health Sciences.
- You get the option to apply to three schools via one app and I HIGHLY recommend applying to Western U. They have an amazing staff who really care about their students and honestly convinced me to apply there. Plus they had bomb Mexican food!
- Tips when applying: Try and find someone to write you a letter of rec by the end of November to early December (so basically before winter break). This way you are motivated to write your personal statements over winter break as you already have someone in mind. This also allows you to focus on classes and have your essays ready for your letter writer by the time winter quarter starts. You do not want to wait.
- ALSO, VERY Important: it takes around 2 weeks to mail something from California to DC so please submit your letters and OFFICIAL transcript by their deadline!
- SUMMARY: a two-day visit to UCSF to see and connect with UCSF’s faculty and staff
- MORE INFO/Link: https://diversity.ucsf.edu/InsideUCSF
- Tips/Notes: One of my friends who got in said they usually take 3rd and 4th year college students but apply anyway because you never know.
- DEADLINES: On the website.
Prep Medico at UC Davis
- SUMMARY: internship at UC Davis. From what I heard the program looks to focus on reducing the disparities in health in predominantly Latino communities
- DEADLINES: Unavailable right now but applications open every January.
- Link to Application/info: https://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/diversity-inclusion/prep_medico/Prep_Medico.html
Marquette University: Health Careers Opportunity Program
- Summary: the program says it’ll help with preparing you for science coursework such as biochemistry, gross anatomy, physics, etc. They also say they provide hands-on experience and clinical exposure. I don’t know much about this program but I’ll leave the contact info and link below.
- Phone: 414-288-5505
- Email: email@example.com
Program Homepage: http://www.marquette.edu/health-careers-opportunities/
Application Link: https://muhcop.fluidreview.com/
I personally only know of one tech internship that I helped someone land so if you have any suggestions hit up my Twitter! @ChrisLanderos_
BOLD Program Google Internship:
This is a 3-week long internship focused on helping bridge the diversity gap in tech. Google internship program scouts for underrepresented students in hopes of training them for a career in tech. My homie landed this internship and I talk about the whole process in this Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/ChrisLanderos_/status/1519399901347557376
You can learn more about Google’s internship program HERE: https://careers.google.com/programs/bold/
How To Find Internships (The Googling for Internships Method)
You should be a pro at knowing how to find internships but you would be surprised how many students forget to just Google internships.
This can be as simple as writing “First-Generation Marketing Internships for College Students” in Google.
You would be surprised how many curated scholarships you will find for first-gen students. And if you qualify for under-represented internships then go for it!
I literally found the SHPEP paid internships by Googling “Summer health internship programs for low-income students” I kid you not.
It takes effort to go out of your way to look for internships but that’s your main advantage. You’re putting in the time other students are using to study for that test they know they’ll get an A+ in or going out with their friends.
You can make time for all the college things, just don’t forget to make time to search for internships.
General Tips for After You Learn How to Land an Internship in College
1. Get ready for grunt work, but maintain a grateful mindset
I know it can be frustrating sometimes to get stuck doing bottom-barrel work as an intern, but just understand that internships are where many young professionals “pay their dues.”
I mean how can anyone trust you with more important duties if you can’t handle the small stuff?
If it becomes an issue, or you feel like you could contribute more, make the effort to express this to your supervisor or manager. As long as you phrase things politely and from the angle of someone with a desire to contribute and learn, there shouldn’t be any issues!
2. Take the time to network and meet people!
This goes beyond talking to people within your unit or other interns. During breaks take the effort to greet strangers at work, who knows, you might end up making friends.
This is especially helpful for those without a clear-cut career plan. Talking to people outside of your unit will expose you to different occupations and positions.
For example, during my internship this past summer at a bank, I got to talk to digital marketers, SalesForce Admins, Staff Accountants, UI/UX designers, and so on. I even got to talk to some executives like the CFO, CMO, and the CEO during a “meet and greet”.
3. Be flexible, courteous, and adaptable
Being an intern is hard and it comes with challenges. Whether you’re interning at a small company, a mid-sized company, or even a huge Fortune 500 company, you’re going to have to navigate through some level of bureaucracy and office politics.
This means being respectful to your managers and superiors. This also means being conscious of the atmosphere, or what some call the “culture”. And finally, be ready to adapt to changing duties and responsibilities.
Unless you’re at an extremely structured internship, your duties as an intern may not be clear-cut and that’s ok. Just view every challenge, every task as a stepping stone to something greater in the long run.
Marlon Blue II and Chris Landeros
P.S. Feel free to click HERE to find me on LinkedIn and DM me if you have any questions!
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Chris LanderosMy name is Christopher Landeros but you can call me Chris. I started this website after struggling to find relatable and relevant info for first-gen college students. I kept learning the ropes and was wondering why there wasn't a resource to show you how to practically navigate college. So here I am, creating the most in-depth content for College Lighthouse.
I'll send you more of these awesome articles when I'm done procrastinating