Advice for Landing Your First Internship or Job in College

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When you’re going to college, it’s a fun time to bond with new friends, pursue an education in a field of interest, and importantly, invest in your future success. Much of the future success is tied to the promise of better jobs that you will get once you graduate. The harsh reality however, is that while there are better jobs out there for graduates, there is still much competition around the positions. One of the best things you can do to improve your chances at getting your preferred job after graduating is to have relevant experience prior to applying. While the focus of this article will be tips to improve your chances of getting this experience through your first internship, the same concepts apply to getting your first job if you haven’t yet had any other internship or work experience. There’s going to be two key tips to landing your first job, and that’s figuring out where to apply and what to put in your resume.

I. Where to Apply

Whether it’s a summer or winter internship, or if you’re looking to get your first job, figuring out where to apply is the first step in the process. While you definitely can’t be ‘picky’ at this stage in your career, there is a clear recommended path of what opportunities you should pursue. This path is based on the fundamental principle that relevant experience is far more valuable than un-relevant experience, with any experience being better than none.

You should focus your search on:

  1. Paid, major specific internships in a industry you want to go into: A paid internship will help you get a benchmark on pay that you can use to negotiate going forward in future opportunities. In addition, being major specific means it will use some technical components that your academics will teach you, and allow you to see real world applications of the ideas.
  2. Unpaid, major specific internships in a industry you want to go into: A technical internship related to your major, even if unpaid, will be valuable to a future employer. The knowledge you will gain on the job will also help supplement and even approve your major related academics.
  3. Paid job at a company that is in the industry you want to go into:
  4. Volunteering: If you were unable to secure any opportunity mentioned above, focus your time doing some volunteering at a non profit organization. This is another avenue to get tangible skills, while usually not having the competition that a job will have.

Identifying which of these relevant opportunities are available in your area, generally 6 months prior to when you need to work, is a great way to get a head start on your success. They say that it’s not what you know, but who you know. While this isn’t fully true, it makes an important point: don’t be ashamed or hesitant to use your network of classmates, friends, and family when looking for your first internship or job. When you are in a position such as a student that does not have much previous working experience on your resume, having someone internal to a business that can refer and vouch for you is very helpful in securing you the first interview.

II. What to Put in Your Resume

As a student, the reality is that you have not yet had much time to immerse yourself in the workforce. As a result, your resume is probably going to be quite thin, consisting of information from even your high school days. You don’t want to add ‘fluff’ for the sake of filling a page, so here are the valuable pieces of information you can add, regardless of if you had any previous employment.

  • List your current ‘hard skills’ as well as ‘soft skills’, where ‘hard skills’ are generally major related, like a specific piece of software, method, or other knowledge, and ‘soft skills’ are generic ‘leadership’, ‘teamwork’, ‘presentations’, etc.
  • Listing major specific academic coursework is valuable in helping an employer understand what you currently know. Don’t list the exact course number, rather provide the name and a short description, if necessary.
  • Listing relevant projects and experience is very helpful when you don’t have professional projects or experience. This could be either from your schoolwork, or from work you’ve done in your free time. If you had a major assignment or project, list out what the key technical components were, and what the benefit was of the end result.
  • Industry certifications are another great way to add unbiased attestations to your knowledge and skills; a quick search online for certifications of your given major or industry will yield numerous examples. This is another way employers can get a grasp on what you currently know, before the interview even begins.
  • Any school organizations you participated in, and any academic distinctions or honors received. Organizations that are related to the major, or linked to academic excellence are a plus.

In all cases, try to list every bullet point in terms of the specific value the line item provided or the problem it solved. Don’t just write what you did, but write what the difference what you did made. For academic items, simply being clear about all the different concepts and skills utilized to complete the project is in itself valuable. Remember that getting the first interview begins and ends with the resume! Regardless of your major, you want to sell yourself so that they see you as a better fit for the position than the many others who apply.

With these key tips in mind, you’ll be on the fast track to landing your first internship or job. The real work truly begins your first day on the job, and it’s key to be a valuable employee.

Looking for more details? Wondering how you can get on the fast track to a full time offer or promotion from your first employer? Get the full advice by purchasing the book. You will learn tried and tested tips needed to succeed in your job, whether it’s an internship as a student or a full time position as a new grad.

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