How to Get an Internship

It’s not luck!

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #110


by Lisa B. Marshall   and Zoe Ogilvie

I recently received an email from a graduate student asking for advice on how to find part-time career-relevant work. Coming up in this two-part episode, tips to help you get experience before you look launch your first real job search.  


How to Get an Internship

These days many college graduates are moving directly into masters’ degree programs. Many of them have told me they don’t feel prepared to enter the workplace. As a result of technology changing so fast, many educational programs simply can’t keep up with the latest developments in the field. So savvy students recognize the need for practical, real-life experience—especially in this economy—because they are likely to be competing with experienced workers for positions.

But how exactly does a student go about finding career-relevant work experience?

Today’s quick and dirty tip? Use your existing network and hang out (physically or digitally) with outstanding professionals in your field. I’ll cover specific strategies on how to do that in the second installment. But today, I want to cover some of things you should do before you start your networking.

Define Your Objectives and Goals

First, it’s important to define what it is that you are looking to gain from your experience. Do you primarily need money? Do you most want writing experience? Do you primarily want social media experience? Do you want to work remotely? Locally? Do you want to work for the company upon graduation? It’s important to define exactly what you are looking for so that you can articulate your goals clearly, concisely, and in a compelling manner. Think aggressively, but also realistically.

Are you willing to accept an unpaid position?  What kind of hours are you interested in and able to work? Are you looking to be mentored?  Are you looking to just get your feet wet? Will you also be in school while you are working? These are all questions you need to ask and answer before becoming involved in searching for a part-time job. And don’t forget to get feedback from anyone you know and trust. Sometimes your friends know a lot more about yourself then you would think.

Identify Your Strengths

You have to be ready to explain and prove your value to a prospective employer before you start approaching your network.

Next, write a short, compelling document that explains why someone should pay to have you on his or her team. Especially if you are seeking a paid internship, you’ll likely need to prove your value and abilities.  And even if you are looking for an unpaid internship, you'll need to convince the person that you will provide real value and not just suck up their time teaching you how to do stuff.  (I know that sounds harsh, but I'm just telling you from the perspective of the employer.)

If you’re an exceptionally fast learner, then mention that.  Do you have previous experience? Then mention that. Are you extremely motivated to learn? Are you an independent, hard-working person? Have you won any awards? Did you complete an interesting project as part of your classwork?

To be clear, even unpaid interns cost money!! "Green" employees generally require significant time and attention from staff--time they could be dedicating to getting their own work done.

Think About What You Can Contribute

When you start trying to network in the hopes of getting an internship, remember it’s primarily about giving. Think about what you have to offer. An employer is much more likely to give their time freely to help you grow professionally if you give your time freely to help the business of the employer grow . If negotiated and executed properly, student positions are an equal win for both parties. 

[[AdMiddle]Also keep in mind that unpaid positions can often lead to paid positions. Think of career-relevant experience as an investment in your career. The point is that you have to be ready to explain and prove your value to a prospective employer before you start approaching your network.

An Internship Example

Take for example, Zoe Ogilvie, who works here now. She was as an intern over the summer. She had two unpaid internships before, but in different fields, and was looking for more hands-on experience in the field of social media and marketing. When I first hired her I didn’t know that she would end up working for me now, and frankly I don’t think she did either--but everything fell into place because we both were willing to work together.

In regard to finding internships, Zoe wanted me to say that, “You really have to put yourself out there through any means” and I think she’s right; yes, you do need to spread your net wide, but be clear about what you want and don’t just settle for anything.   

When Zoe applied for the internship, which was posted on her university’s job search website, she also applied to nineteen other internship opportunities as well. Of these, she received two call backs, one interview, and ultimately one internship.

Again, the point is that jobs and internships are so scarce right now that you really have to make the effort to prove why you should be employed. While Zoe was an intern, she even did her work for us while traveling overseas through the Middle East. That dedication, commitment, and her enthusiasm proved that she could and would be a valuable member of any team.

Ultimately it’s up to you to differentiate yourself from the masses. Oh and if you’re having trouble with that, you might want to listen to the episode on How to Introduce Yourself and How to Introduce a Speaker (Yes, I know you’re not likely to be a speaker, but the basic principles of differentiation are the same.)

In the next installment I’ll discuss specific traditional and creative strategies for discovering great opportunities that will hopefully lead you to a paid position.

This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall, with Zoe Ogilvie, passionate about communication your success is our business. Thanks to Zoe Ogilvie for co-writing this episode with me. She’s not only an outstanding person, she’s proof that if you follow these steps you can land a great internship and a great job. 

As always, I also invite you to join my newsletter or my professional network on LinkedIn (and Twitter).

Interested in co-writing an episode with me? Send me a sample of your writing.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.


Girl on Computer image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.

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