Applying for your first internship: Everything you need to know

Maybe you’re just about to start college, or maybe you’re nearly finished your degree. No matter what stage of your studies you’re at, getting real-world work experience when you’re launching your career will make all the difference.

3 minute read.
Free Resume Staff

Maybe you’re just about to start college, or maybe you’re nearly finished your degree. No matter what stage of your studies you’re at, getting real-world work experience when you’re launching your career will make all the difference. Not only will it teach you the ins and outs of work, but it will also give you exposure in your industry and help flesh out your resume.

But writing that internship application can be tough, especially when you’re competing with other applicants and your resume only consists of your after school job at the mall. For tips on how you can ace your application, we spoke with career advisor, author and job-seeking expert, Allison Cheston.

Step 1: Know where you’re headed

Let’s rewind for a second: before you even think about writing an application, you will first need to find the right opportunity. And when you’re not sure what you want to do when you finish college, this can feel overwhelming. Allison suggests taking a step back and working out what kind of experience you want to get – peruse job boards and LinkedIn to identify two or three internship opportunities that interest you. Then get researching: benchmark the skills needed for the role with those you have, consider what aligns, and what needs to be developed.

“It’s a combination of internal research, considering your skills, what people compliment you on, and the things that make you light up in your daily work,” says Allison. “Then, you can connect that to the spectrum of opportunity that’s out there.”

Step 2: Build your network

Once you’ve figured out the kind of internships you want, start reaching out to people in those fields. That’s where networking comes in – starting with your LinkedIn profile: “If anybody is paying any attention to you, they’re going to go straight to LinkedIn,” Allison says. Take a look at LinkedIn’s Higher Education resources to find out how you can make your profile pop. Here are some things you should consider:

  • Using a professional-looking profile picture (if you don’t have one, take a photo on your smartphone in front of a neutral background and overlay it with a black and white filter);
  • Updating the profile sections that are designed for students such as Courses, Projects, Languages, Certifications, and Organizations;
  • Including the school you’re studying at and the city you’re based in;
  • Where possible, share your work by adding posts, articles or websites to the highlights section.

Then, start building your network. As a starting point, Allison recommends reaching out to people in your school’s alumni network, and building on the connections from there.

Step 3: Start your search

There are plenty of internship opportunities out there, if you just know where to look. A good place to start would be to check out the structured internship opportunities offered at large organizations. But don’t stop there: “You can always create your own internship,” says Allison. If you know someone at a smaller company that doesn’t have an official internship program, see if there is an opportunity for you to intern there. “If you can convince somebody, maybe it’s someone you know or someone you know through somebody else, that you’d be a great intern at their organization, you’re in a better position to get noticed.”

Step 4: Find the right template

Boring colorless word docs just won’t cut it anymore. If you want to convince a hiring manager to take a chance on you, your resume will be the first point in convincing them. Fortunately, putting together a stylish resume has never been easier, just plug in your information and let us take care of the design. Create your eye-catching resume in minutes with our free templates.

Step 5: Get started!

Ready to start your application? Check out our internship application guide to learn the dos and don'ts of resume writing.


Allison Cheston is a career advisor based in New York who is passionate about helping college students connect their interests and education to the right career paths. Learn more.

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash