When my son was a high school senior, I was able to travel to a lot of university campuses. It is a wild understatement to say that students at these universities are doing it all — studies, extra-curricular activities and experiences to build their resumes for the future. This is a world apart from my university peer set, who mostly spent summers in retail or restaurants and waited for after graduation to have a “desk job.” The pressure and intense focus is palpable, as everyone tries to stand out and compete for an opportunity with the undefined future employer.

If you’re a student in pursuit of a great internship, take a deep breath. It’s probably a lot easier than your university applications ever were, and there are no standardized tests. From my point of view in the hiring world, there are five essential steps you should take to land an internship you love:

Write your wish list.

Given that this internship could lead to a future job opportunity, you should think about your personal priorities as well as your professional ones. Do you want it close to home, or in a new city you’re considering for after graduation? Do you want a small environment where everyone knows each other, or a big company with a recognizable brand? What kind of work do you want to do? Is there an industry you want to target? Do your research for the strongest contenders to make sure your search is focused in the right places.

Beat the clock.

Even though internships aren’t until the summer, most companies are accepting applications now and will interview in the upcoming months. The majority of larger companies will have a page with information about the process (Adobe’s is here). If you can’t find the information for your employer of choice, try engaging with them via social media or a networking contact. Your school alumni organization, neighbors, parents’ coworkers and friends are all good potential connections into companies, and you should turn over every rock that you can. There is nothing worse for an employer than getting a resume of a great candidate after the open roles are already filled.

Package your prowess.

Decide which skills, experiences, and personal traits are going to be part of your intern brand. Employers don’t need to know about every part-time job you’ve had. They do want to know what you do at school, what you’re good at, where you have proven experience, and what you’re passionate about. Consider the experiences you have gained broadly beyond the books: we’re interested in leadership opportunities from key projects, clubs and sports teams that have shaped your abilities to manage multiple priorities and develop interpersonal skills. If you haven’t already, build a LinkedIn profile that highlights your best experience. Be sure to edit and brand review your Facebook and Twitter too.

Interview the interviewer.

Once you are contacted for an interview, the courting process begins. While you need to prove yourself in the interview, it shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. You need to find out more about the role, manager and expectations in order to make a decision. Is the employer focused on creating a learning opportunity for you, or are they only focused on getting the work done? Will there be other interns? How accessible will your manager be when you need direction and have questions? Not all companies or internships are created equal, so this step is critical, no matter how eager you are to get the job.

Go with your gut.

If you have several choices, you should select an internship at a company where you really connected with the people and are interested in the products. There usually isn’t a “right choice,” there is just a choice that feels right to you. Keep an open mind, too – sometimes an opportunity isn’t what you initially targeted, but it could be a fantastic experience. It’s only a few months, and you’re going to learn a lot… no matter whether this is a future employer or a future story about the path you didn’t take.


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