How to Get an Internship

As a headhunter for entry-level jobs to executive-level positions, I’ve seen the gamut of what works and what doesn’t to land your next career opportunity, which extends to internships. In addition to my profession, I’ve personally obtained many internships at major Fortune 500s during highschool and college

This is how you can successfully secure your next internship*:

*To hear the expanded podcast on this topic, tune into the Daily DANDAN Episode 97 here.

#1. DO NOT limit yourself.

Many interns want to work for the hottest companies. In my day, it was all the rage to chase finance jobs. The Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers of the world were the ultimate status symbols. Anywhere else was considered less impressive, thus many pegged their hopes and concentrated their efforts on too few targets, optimistically (perhaps irresponsibly) thinking that they were done with job search just by sending off a few job applications.

In the modern era, the peer pressure and self-esteem issues have only worsened due to the negative effects of social media. More than ever, people are pressured to chase the few big brand names that everyone agrees is prestigious. However, the reality is that those companies don’t have enough jobs to go around. Therefore, most job-seekers who didn’t get their dream role, would have been better off increasing their employer parameters instead of self-eliminating from opportunities that could be as good, if not better.

Whatever the case: When you narrow your sights on too few internship targets, you will massively reduce the odds of you landing an internship AT ALL.

#2. Instead, focus on volume.

Leverage all the resources you have to increase your potential internship employer pool. Use my strategy of market mapping and volume reachouts to hiring managers, as I describe here. As I describe in #4 below, maximize the value of your school-sponsored hiring events.

Create a system of which you are leading the charge on finding YOU what you want. You should have daily and weekly activities such as LinkedIn messages sent, companies added to your excel sheet, managers mapped out for future reachout, etc.. In addition, use the right marketing materials (obtain a free resume guide here) and LinkedIn profile for yourself.

#3. Approach a mix of businesses.

In addition to major Fortune 500s that you can find through your career fairs, you can also find job opportunities through market mapping with local or national startups that allow remote work. For instance, startups like my company often hires highschool and college interns who want advice, training, and career support.

In exchange, interns offer entrepreneurs something of value whether it’s social media strategy, content creation, marketing, or administrative duties. Business owners and entrepreneurs like me are ALWAYS eager to work with go-getters who want to do meaningful and impactful activities that generate value.

#4. Network like CRAZY at your college/graduate school sponsored events.

As an exhibitor, it’s shocking to see how few people actually take advantage of these college events. After it’s over, 99% of people I meet do NOT follow up. For attendees, whether you are interested or not, unless you already have a job lined up, why would you NOT connect with potential employers?

Back to point #1, what is the strategic advantage of being discriminatory or exclusionary when you have NO JOB?

Since there are none, you should be grabbing EVERY. SINGLE. EXHIBITOR’S business card to utilize later as a follow-up. In the worst case, you can consider these opportunities to be your backup. This is to make sure you didn’t waste your time showing up to these career fairs in the first place! Get offers – you can reject them later. That’s much better than having no offers at all.

DG Tip: EVEN IF you didn’t actually speak to the exhibitor due to timing constraints or fear, you should GRAB their business card anyways and follow-up to let them know of your interest to move forward to an interview.

#5. Lastly, take the lead on all job search activities.

Too often, candidates (especially younger ones) feel constrained as to the appropriate behavior they should exhibit while seeking a job. They create rules that don’t exist, such as “wait to hear back”. In today’s world, a passive mentality like that will not suffice and is NOT to be depended on.

It is ON you as the job seeker to obtain the job, NOT ON the company to hire you, therefore YOU need to be proactive.

YOU must reach out to actual human beings in the process and STOP relying on job portal submissions. YOU need to follow up and reach out to hiring entities, whether that’s the internal recruiter, HR person, or the actual hiring manager. YOU have to. Because the competition is too fierce NOT to.

In Conclusion

For the most part, everyone has, at some point, become frustrated by and disillusioned with the job search process largely caused by a lack of understanding of how it actually works in the real world.

There is no “right” approach other than a proactive approach. None of my internships ended up being what I did for a living, yet all of it contributed to me learning what I didn’t want, thus revealing what I did want. Ultimately, ALL of my job experiences contributed to my eventual selection of becoming a headhunter as my main profession.

No matter how your internship-obtaining efforts go, get a job no matter what. ALWAYS BE employed. Even if it’s not with a fancy company your friends are jealous of or what parents would be proud of. Not only is it good for you financially, it also helps you understand how human capital is created and valued.

Your internship should be about YOU accumulating skills that will help YOUR future, not anyone else’s.

As the founder of Dandan Global and DG Recruit, Dandan Zhu is a headhunter, career coach, and global speaker on topics related to headhunting, recruitment, careers, and job search.

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