Tips for landing a summer internship

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It’s June and with the balmy D.C. weather also come the throngs of interns who descend upon the city every year. Seeing these bright-eyed and eager students reminds me of the place I was in when I wrapped up my first year of college. Where was that you ask? A law firm? A Silicon Valley startup? Shadowing a doctor at the local hospital? No, nuh-uh, and nope. You could find me nervously pacing on the intersection of Scared Ave. and Lost Rd. 

I knew I had to get an internship—everyone at school had been talking about finding internships since our first semester (intense, I know). But I had no clue where I was going to find one—I had no experience, but every office seemed to want someone with at least more than one year of undergrad under their belt. Sound familiar? Don’t get discouraged. If you’re still without an internship, would like to land something before the end of summer, or are just looking ahead for next year, I’ve got some tips. 

I know there are a million ways in which internships largely favor students who can afford to work unpaid for a summer, who can move to a city like NYC, DC, or SF, etc., etc. But you don’t necessarily have to do any of these things to start breaking into the professional world.

1. Find something in your hometown

While a lot of internship hubs are found in outrageously expensive cities like DC, NYC, and San Francisco, you don’t have to move to these locations to land your first internship. Do a Google search of companies in your area, nonprofits, campaigns, or medical practices that might be more willing to let a rising-sophomore intern for the summer.

2. See if your school has programs which fund summer internships

If you’re an upperclassman or will be in the fall, start talking to your career center early on to see if they know of opportunities you might not be aware of. Some schools will fund a summer or a semester internship—for my school these funding opportunities were typically geared towards juniors. I can’t emphasize how key getting to know your career counselors is. Often, internships are landed through connections and referrals and your counselors can often put you in touch with alums or people they know who might be able to help you land a summer gig.

3. Negotiate 

Maybe you can’t afford to intern five days a week 9-5 because you need to work part-time. Don’t be afraid to ask for a part-time schedule. After all, you’re doing free labor (most times, anyways 😓). I know people (myself included) who’ve juggled class, work, and an internship by reaching an agreement with their supervisor to enable them to do both. When I was a senior I really wanted to intern at Harvard’s Legal Services clinic and was able to negotiate a one day a week internship—great experience and still let me fulfill my other obligations. 

4. Be scrappy

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I could give. Being unconventional, sending gutsy emails, and just asking for an opportunity can go a long way. I landed my very first internship with zero connections, not knowing anyone in the office, by sending a “cold email” introducing myself and pitching my skills. They didn’t respond. So I called the office to follow up. Eventually (after much tactful calling—remember you don’t want annoy them), I finally got someone on the phone and asked for an in-person meeting. I met with my (future) supervisor and he gave me the internship on the spot. When you don’t know people in an industry you’re trying to break into you sometimes have to think creatively. Don’t be afraid to ask for things, the sooner you get comfortable doing this, the better.

Lead with confidence and know your worth—I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you!