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Your First Internship: A How-to Guide for International Students

career planning
By Shorelight Team
Last updated on March 18, 2021

Looking to apply to your first internship? Follow our step-by-step guide for college students.

Your first internship is the foundation for your resume and future career experience. Preparing for, finding, applying to, and—most importantly—landing your dream internship is lot of work. If you are starting your search for your first internship, we are here to help. We have put together eight tips to assist you with every step along the way.

How Do I Prepare for My First Internship? 

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), graduating seniors with internship experience are 20% more likely to get a job offer than those without internship experience. But getting your first internship without much real-world experience can feel a bit overwhelming if you do not know how to take stock of your strengths and accomplishments. 

1. Create a Career Action Plan

If you are starting from scratch, begin with a career action plan. Your career action plan lists your professional goals and the steps to achieve them. The first step in your career action plan is to take stock of your strengths and weaknesses, work experience, and interests. From there, you will have a list that you can turn into your resume. 

2. Draft Your Resume

There are millions of resume examples and templates just an online search away if you do not know where to start. You should also meet with your career counselor or Career Accelerator Program advisor for help on how to write a resume. Having an experienced partner makes applying for your first internship less daunting. 

Tip: Have others check your resume before you apply. Do not be afraid of negative feedback. Share your resume with your family members, career counselors, and friends. Ask for comments. It is better to find out before you apply that you misspelled a word or left out a good talking point. 

How Do I Find My First Internship?

The most important advice for hopeful interns is to start the hunt as early as possible. There are many resources, both online and in person, that can help you find different opportunities. Here are a few to get you started.

3. Search Job Boards

You have completed your career action plan and you have a shortlist of roles for which you would like to apply. In the US, there are many dedicated employment sites that list unpaid and paid internships.

  • LinkedIn A great place to find internships with major companies, LinkedIn is the current king of professional networking websites. 

  • This Chegg-owned website lists thousands of internships for college students from cities all over the country. 

  • Indeed is an aggregate site similar to In addition to thousands of open positions, offers advice and templates for cover letters, resumes, job interviews, and more. 

4. Start Networking and Attending Job Fairs

Do not underestimate the value of networking, even as a college student. Reach out to interns and employees of companies you would like to work for and ask for an informational interview. You can usually find people on LinkedIn or through the company’s social media accounts. 

Talk to previous interns and other people with experience at your target company. You can also go to university-sponsored job fairs or talk to your professors and career center counselors to see if they can put you in touch with someone.  

Make sure you prepare for any informational interviews you schedule—making the right impression with the right person could lead to a role. At the very least, a conversation can help you decide if you want to move forward with your application. 

How Do I Apply for My First Internship, and What Comes Next?

If you have never applied for an internship or a job at all, you may undervalue the importance of making the right first impression. Hiring managers can receive hundreds of applications for the same internship, so it is essential to make sure you do the following to stand out:

5. Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter to the Role

You should write a new cover letter for each role. Keep in mind that you are trying to convince the hiring manager that you will be an asset to the company. Follow instructions and be professional. Review the job posting bullet-by-bullet and provide examples of skills that are listed.  If you have an online portfolio showing your work in class or at other internships or jobs, you should also make sure you link to it. 

6. Read, and Re-read, Your CV and Cover Letter Before You Hit Send 

A misspelled word on your CV can be the difference between landing your dream internship and getting rejected. In addition to sharing your materials with friends and checking for grammar, you should check the job posting a few times before you send off your application. Are your prospective employers asking for anything that you forgot to provide? Once you are sure you are presenting the best version of yourself for the position, you can send off your application. 

7. Follow Up 

If you have the email address or phone number of the hiring manager, it is OK to follow up with them a week after you submit your application. Be polite and always present yourself professionally when communicating with a prospective employer, even if you find out you have been turned down for the role. You do not want unprofessional behavior to prevent you from being considered for a position in the future.

8. Prepare for Your Interview 

If you have made it to the interview stage, then the hiring manager must see promise in your application. Make sure you keep your momentum rolling by preparing for the interview.  

You will likely have a phone interview first. Your first phone interview is usually a general conversation about the position, you, and your background. After that, you may have more phone interviews with other members of the team, or you may be asked to come in for a face-to-face discussion. Either way, here are some great ways to prepare for any interview: 

  • Talk to previous interns You can get a better idea of what the role entails and what interviewers are looking for from other students or young professionals who have held the position in the past. 

  • Review common interview questions A Google search is a great place to start. Compile a list of common questions you think you will be asked and make sure you have answers in mind before your interview. 

  • Develop a list of good questions to ask Hiring managers love to see that you researched the company before you applied. Ask specific questions about your role, the team, and company priorities.

  • Practice Have your friends or family members interview you, asking the questions you have compiled from your research. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel when the time comes to do it for real.  

  • Dress professionally This may sound obvious, but make sure you look responsible and professional when you come in for the face-to-face interview.  

Follow these tips and you will be in a great position to get your first internship. Do not get discouraged if you receive a couple rejections. Instead, use rejection as an opportunity to learn. Ask the hiring manager what they think you can do to improve or what you were missing that other applicants have. 

If you get the role, always conduct yourself professionally and do your best. An excellent recommendation from an internship often leads to a permanent position. No matter what happens, researching roles, getting your documents in order, and applying for internships is great experience for when you apply to full-time jobs after graduation.

Explore Shorelight partner universities and talk to an advisor about our partners' internship programs >