Ask the Expert, Student Life

ASK THE EXPERT: Internships

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When you’re looking to get some field experience, an internship is a great way to “get your feet wet.”  However, many students may not know where to begin, or what they should do to get one.  This is why we decided to speak with expert, Lisa Ferns, Career Advisor and Internship Coordinator in Career Services at the University of Rhode Island, about what students should know about finding internships, the interview process, and landing an internship.

When should students start looking for internships for the fall?  Spring?  Summer?

Students seeking internships should give themselves 2-4 months prior to the start of the semester to find, interview, secure and select an internship.  If students are seeking credit they need to inquire with the appropriate department at their college/university at the start of [class registration] for the following semester.

What should they be expecting when they apply for an internship with regards to documentation?

Students should expect to submit a resume, cover letter and reference page.  This may not be the case in all instances but a student seeking an internship should be prepared to supply these if required by an employer.

What are some red flags students should watch out for when applying for an internship? 

  • Students need to be aware that most recruiters paint their organization in the best possible light and they need to determine whether or not the organization will be a good fit for them and their internship/learning objectives.  Asking pointed questions based on research and having an understanding of individual needs will assist a potential intern to evaluate the internship objectively.
  • Valid information regarding the company should be available when researching.  Look for an actual contact person and company email.
  • Internships should be learning experiences that are supervised and have a reflective piece.  When interviewing, ask about the specific work tasks required of the new hire and how learning objectives can be incorporated into the agenda. You don’t want to be doing “grunt” work or filing all day.
  • I usually don’t recommend internships that require a student to pay any kind of fees.

How many internships should they apply for?

Students can apply for as many internships as they see fit.  Finding and securing the best fit for each individual is the main objective.

How long should they wait to hear back?

If applying electronically, students should wait approximately two weeks before contacting the organization.  If applying by snail mail, a three-week time frame is suggested.

What if they don’t hear back?

It is perfectly acceptable and recommended for a student to “check on the status” of their application if an appropriate amount of time has passed with no response from the company.

How should they prepare themselves for an interview?

Research the company, conduct a self-assessment (know your strengths and challenges), be able to articulate concrete examples of your skills and abilities, conduct a mock interview with Career Services, and practice, practice, practice…

What are some key pieces of advice you would give to someone going on an interview for an internship?

Be comfortable and very familiar with your resume; have an understanding of the company and its culture, do your research and a mock interview with Career Services (practice, practice, practice).  Also, have 3-5 questions prepared that reflect your research and needs, and ask the employer these towards the close of the interview.

If the company calls them back for a second interview, how should they prepare themselves?

Be prepared to meet with a variety of people within the company and to delve deeper into the questions asked previously.  Otherwise, all the rules remain the same as for the initial and second interviews.

If they have multiple internship offers, what should they do?

Students should have a solid understanding of their time/geographic restraints, learning objectives and goals.  They need to evaluate the experience they will have within the organization as well as the kind of supervision they will receive.

How should they prepare themselves for their internship?

You prepare for an internship similar to the way you would prepare for a job.  Try to research the company and complete all necessary forms and paperwork for your college/university ahead of time.  Know who your supervisor will be both at work and at school, and plan accordingly for transportation, mid and end of semester reviews, as well as for a balance of academics and work.

What should students wear to their internship?

It is best to wear business attire initially and then, once established within the organization, a student can acclimate to the organization’s environment accordingly. 

What are some tips you have for students on the first day of their internship?

Look, listen and learn; on the first day it is good to get a sense of your surroundings, observe the people and the culture of the work place and try to absorb as much as possible.  No doubt, newcomers may be overwhelmed and the first day of an internship is not the appropriate time to make bold gestures.

How can students make the most of their internship?

Ask questions, take the initiative and become involved.  An internship is a learning experience and by asking questions you further expand your knowledge base.  Employers expect that interns don’t know everything and hopefully they will want to instruct or teach students the correct ways to complete tasks.  Likewise, employers are not familiar with the rate at which a new intern can grasp concepts or complete assignments. Therefore, if you complete all that is assigned to you, do not hesitate to ask as to how you can be of further assistance.  If you want to know more about a certain department or process and it is not within your job description, ask if you can shadow or conduct an informational interview with people from that department.  Many companies have philanthropic affiliations or recreational teams; join in these events or groups to expand your network of contacts.

What should students avoid while working at their internship?

Always have goals that you want to achieve within the internship experience.  Try to avoid being passive within the internship by taking the initiative.  Do not be a “know-it-all” and listen carefully and thoughtfully to supervisors, co-workers and colleagues.  Be cognizant of the employer policies, adhere to them and try to never to be unreliable.

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