By Allie Ricci and Brett Scharf:
Searching for your first internship is an exciting time, but it can also be overwhelming, especially for those who have no experience. The truth is, we all need to start somewhere, and often that’s with your first internship. As you prepare for and eventually land that opportunity, it’s important to remember you’re at the beginning of an exciting career journey.
To increase the chance of landing not just any internship, but the one you want, you should be intentional in everything that you do, from writing your resume, to searching for postings, to practicing for the interview, and following up afterwards. The more you demonstrate intentionality at each of the steps, the more success you will have.
Keep reading to learn how you can improve your chances for getting your first internship.
10 Tips for Landing Your First Internship
The older you get, the more you realize that there is no specific road map to follow in life. The same thing applies with securing an internship. In fact, there are many different factors in play, including a little bit of luck, that will help you. Don’t forget, there’s someone on the other side who is making the final decision. You can only do so much to influence that decision in your favor.
Still, there are many things you do have control over. As you look at the list below, it sets a solid foundation as you begin your career. The more intentionality you demonstrate during this process, the more you’ll increase your chances of success and the easier it will be moving forward.
Check out our top ten tips for landing your first internship with no experience.
#1: Write Your Resume
If you haven’t done so already, now is when you should write your resume. This is the most important part of the application process.
To start, you’ll want to outline your different roles, education, and anything else you’d like to include, such as interpersonal and technical skills, or college organizations you’re a part of, such as the NSLS. The first thing on your resume should be what you want to highlight. When you’re in the beginning of your career, often this is your education. However don’t overlook the importance of the limited experience you do have!
For instance, if you were a babysitter for the past six years, you may want to highlight that first because of the many lessons you learned. Keep in mind that you should focus on the outcomes, not just what you did, as well as trying to keep it as quantifiable as possible. Instead of listing your different responsibilities as a babysitter, list the outcomes, such as:
Expanded from one family to 20 families over six years
Built relationships with parents to ensure repeat business
Proactively asked for referrals to expand business
Printed out flyers and created an Instagram account to share babysitting techniques
Trained others on my techniques so they could fill in for me in case of conflicting schedules
You’ll also want to be able to discuss each of these bullet points during the interview (more on this later).
#2: Have Someone Review Your Resume
Once you’ve edited your resume several times and you think it’s ready--it’s not. Now is the time to solicit feedback from others, including friends, family, and most importantly, the Career Services department at your school.
They’ve looked at thousands of resumes. And, they have relationships with different companies in the area, so they have an understanding of what employers are looking for in a candidate and on a resume. Plus, they are there to help you. Make sure to take advantage of them and their experience.
Don’t get upset when you receive criticisms or negative feedback. Whether it is from Career Services, your best friend, or your parents, they are trying to help based on their experience. And if they’re having trouble understanding the main points of your resume, then a hiring manager will as well.
#3: Show What Experience You Do Have (And Gain More)
Just because you don’t have any experience in your chosen field doesn’t mean you don’t have any experience. As previously mentioned, you should include jobs on your resume that don’t directly relate to the internship you’re applying for as long as you relate the experience back to the outcomes and the role. You have developed transferable skills that employers seek through the jobs you’ve held and the courses you’ve taken while pursuing your degree.
For example, being a server at a restaurant or a cashier at a store can provide you with valuable interpersonal skills employers seek, such as teamwork, customer service, and communication. Leveraging this experience while searching for an internship will help you build a solid foundation that primes you for landing a full-time job after college.
Even before applying for internships, look to join organizations on campus and try to enter a leadership role. Or volunteer for various organizations that have a positive impact on other members of the community.
Additionally, some schools have Student Advisory Boards for different departments and programs. This is a great opportunity to have an impact on your program of study by sharing feedback and suggestions for improvement. It’s also an opportunity to expand your network with faculty, staff, and peers.
#4: Showcase Your Best Self
Beyond a well-written resume, there are other elements that can set you apart from other candidates. One of them is a professional headshot, which you can use on your LinkedIn profile. This is so important that it’s listed first in LinkedIn’s guide for a better profile.
Also, align the other details of your profile with what’s listed on your resume and be mindful of what you post there and on other social platforms. You’re now transitioning from a college student to a professional.
While not every company looks at your social profiles, those that do are often looking for more information about you or to clarify something from your resume. Inappropriate posts or photos on social media may be seen as a red flag or deal breaker to a hiring manager. If you are not sure if something is appropriate or not, simply delete the post to avoid any issues.
#5: Find the Right Internship
Now that you have an edited version of your resume, you’re looking for opportunities to gain more experience, and you’re presenting your best self, it’s time to start looking for the right internship. Set specific long-term goals using different theories, such as SMART goals or PACT goals, so you have direction as you search for the right opportunity.
As you will find throughout your career, the best place to start is with your network. Ask your parents, friends, peers, faculty members, and others that you have a direct connection to if they know of any opportunities.
Next, connect with Career Services. Since you’ve already established a relationship with them when they reviewed your resume, they should have a clear understanding about the positions you’re looking for. Often, they’ll also be responsible for organizing and hosting job fairs at your school. Most schools have both campus-wide job fairs and others directly related to specific majors, programs, or departments listed on the school’s website.
Finally, review job postings yourself. The best way, and the most intentional, is to make a list of companies that you’d like to work for and go to their websites. Most companies, especially large ones, have internships and job postings listed right on their site. You can also look at sites such as:
If you’re an NSLS member, you also have the option of using our Job Board. This exclusive member benefit connects our members with companies specifically looking for success-oriented candidates likely to be NSLS members.
#6: Apply for Internships
Now, it’s finally time to apply for internships. At this point, you should have a clear understanding of what type of internship you’re looking for, what type of company fits your overall goals and direction, and what they’re looking for in a candidate.
Consequently, you’ll want to update your resume and cover letter based on the role. For instance, while many of the positions you’ll apply for will have similarities, you’ll want to get across that you researched the role and company for each, rather than blindly firing off dozens of applications without fully researching the company or role. This type of intentionality comes across and increases your odds of securing an interview.
While some companies don’t require a cover letter, whenever possible it’s good to include. Again, use this as an opportunity to focus on the outcomes, your ability to clearly communicate, and how your skills will help you be successful in the role.
#7: Practice for the Interview
There’s no prescribed number of internships you’ll need to apply for before getting an interview, but if you follow the tips we’ve already mentioned, it will be fewer than if you don’t. Once you have been selected for an interview, you’ve accomplished the first step. Now you have the chance to impress the hiring manager.
Again, you want to be as intentional as possible. Be prepared to speak to each of the different points on your resume. Then, even if you’re not prompted about each specific point during the interview, you can tie your answers to other questions to specific roles and previous successes.
The following frameworks will help you practice what you’re going to say in order to show your understanding of the job and how it relates to your experiences:
STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Results): During the interview, answer questions by sharing specific examples. For instance, “As a supervisor for the local movie theater, there was a situation where we were understaffed on a busy Saturday night. Based on previous experience, the best opportunity for success was for me to handle ticket purchases and to have two of our other three team members handle refreshments, with the third acting as a floater and cleaner. As a result, we were able to handle the busy night without falling behind.”
KSA (Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes): This framework encompasses your preparation and how you communicate during the interview. Beforehand, research the role and the company to determine how you align with the position and to have the self-awareness of why you’re an excellent fit. As you practice answering various questions, use that logic to incorporate examples that reveal your knowledge, skills, and attitudes to show how you’ll be successful. For example, if an internship for mechanical engineering requires knowledge of CAD (K), ability to work in a team (S), and demonstrate persistence (A), then you can use the KSA framework to respond using the STAR method as you relate the KSAs of the position to your experiences.
You can practice these techniques by yourself, but as with anything, it’s better to practice with someone else so they can provide feedback based on your performance.
#8: Be Awesome at the Interview
No matter how much you prepare, you’ll be nervous at the interview, especially the first couple. However, if you’ve practiced using the frameworks mentioned above, you will increase the likelihood of performing well. Just keep in mind that not every successful interview leads to an offer.
The most important thing to remember is to be confident and be yourself. It’s easy to think that you’re beneath the hiring manager, especially when you have little or no experience. However, this mindset can easily make you nervous.
Those who come into an interview confident, respectful, and well-spoken set themselves apart from the other candidates. And, if you can do those things while tying in the concepts mentioned in the previous tip, you’ll have a successful interview.
#9: Send Thank You Notes
There’s a reason why almost every article you read about finding an internship or a job includes sending a thank you note after the interview. And that’s because it has an impact.
The easiest, and most common approach, is to send a thank you email. While this is a good first step, those who take the time to write and mail a thank you letter truly set themselves apart from other candidates. Of course, this was much easier, though still rarely done, before COVID. With most people working remotely for the time being, it is harder to do.
#10: Be Resilient and Keep Applying!
You will not get 100% of the internships you apply for. That is a fact. And, while at times it will be difficult to keep going, just keep your head up and continue applying. The staff interviewing you, your mentors, and your network, have all been in similar shoes.
Don’t worry! Everyone started with no experience. Remember that finding an internship is often strictly a numbers game. If you continue applying to internships every week, you’ll increase your chances of landing one.
Another technique is to keep circling back with your network and Career Services. Opportunities pop up quickly, so keep connecting with people to see if any new opportunities have become available. If you are able to connect with someone in your field of interest, consider asking them to be your mentor. Through this relationship, you may be able to learn more about the field and get support through the job seeking process.
Apply for an Internship Today
Use the above ten tips to put together your materials, connect with your network, leverage the Career Services department at your school, and practice for your interview so that when the time comes, you’re ready to land that internship!
Here at the NSLS, we’re always looking for interns for a variety of different departments. Click here to see if there is an open opportunity that’s right for you.
Allie Ricci Bio:
Allie Ricci worked in a variety of Student Affairs positions for many colleges and universities. It was during her time at Texas Woman's University where she became the advisor for the chapter of NSLS that has since paved the way to work for the National Office. Allie has held a number of positions within the organization, most recently as the Quality Assurance Manager for the Program Development team. Her responsibilities are mainly involved in special projects assignments as well as managing student recruitment. Her bachelor's is from SUNY New Paltz, and her master's is from Rider University.
Brett Scharf Bio:
After supervising student leaders in higher education for over ten years, Brett Scharf discovered the NSLS through a former colleague. He is now the Intern Recruitment Coordinator, where he is responsible for selecting intern candidates to establish new chapters of the NSLS on their campuses and is the first point of contact to help them embark on their leadership journeys. Brett received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Florida.