How to Land Your First Internship

Landing that first internship is always the toughest. But there is a way that will reduce stress (though not get rid of it altogether) and set you up for success.


To quote Natalie Tran, a former Coastline student covered here on the blog: “The hardest part about college isn’t the classes, it’s everything else.” Natalie knows the trials and tribulations all college students go through and she nails down the challenges of college with this quote. It’s the time management, the assignments, the socializing, etc. that make college tough. And, one of the biggest challenges of them all: finding and landing your first internship.

The internship is a critical, though oft overlooked, aspect of college life. Older generations of workers talk about their first job, or their first job out of college, but that’s simply not enough anymore in this highly competitive application market. The reality is you need to express an interest, through internships or part-time work, in the field you hope to go into post-graduation. The internship is a chance to network, showcase your raw talents, your tenacity, your grit, and to learn on-the-job training that will very likely overlap with any and all future entry level opportunities you undertake.

But all of that comes once you have the first, second, or third internship. The stressful question, the all-important one, is how do land the first?

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STEP ONE: Put Together a Resume

(Including on LinkedIn)

It’s never too early to start you LinkedIn journey. For one thing, hiring mangers appreciate that they can locate you on the platform; plus, it’s good to get into practice checking it regularly, learning the interface, etc. LinkedIn is also a place where a ton of internships get posted, you can get updated e-mails on positions you’re interested in, and you can specifically search for them.

Besides LinkedIn, also craft a ‘physical’ resume, aka a word doc or pages. You can use one of the templates either service provides. And don’t worry if what’s on there is your GPA, that part-time gig in high school, and not much else. The point is to fill up the one page that you have (don’t exceed one page!) with activities like—membership in a school recognized club, honors, awards, certifications, any past work, even volunteering if that makes up a large portion of your time. The point is to show managers that you are willing to put in work and have demonstrated that in any way you can thus far.

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STEP TWO: Put Together a Cover Letter

There are some folks who dispense with the cover letter altogether these days. You may run across jobs that ask application questions that are akin to a cover letter, but more specific to the job. In any case, it’s still worth it to write a cover letter in advance. This letter should speak to you, your passions, your work experience, and in a general way basically serve as an introduction and advocation tool on your behalf for hiring managers. When you write the generic cover letter, you can then use it for specific jobs by substituting company, job title, the date, and some of the words you use to essentially tailor it to the job at hand. Just don’t forget to double check that you’ve changed these with each positions as it would be awkward for a Costco manager reading your cover letter that is written directly for Sam’s Club!

BONUS: Having a cover letter will help with the next step too!

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STEP THREE: Network, Network, Network

Ahhh, the thing we all love to hate. But networking cannot be overstated. Only around 20% of jobs are posted; the rest can
be found in the “hidden job market” which can be found through your networks. Noah Nelson, a Coastline student who interns for our Marketing team, simply reached out to his professors about any opportunities; that’s a form of networking that’s simple and straightforward! You can always frame your interest in a person or company (in the context of cold calling) as a student hoping to learn; many successful people enjoy giving students advice and will relish the opportunity to, at the very least, point you in the right direction.

Some key advice (learned the hard way) for networking: be specific! Know what you’re looking for (paid, unpaid, field, type of company, etc.), that way anyone you connect with doesn’t feel as though you’re wasting their time.

On that note: Be specific about yourself too—don’t tell a five-minute story about your background when a two minute one will do. Think through the story of yourself you want to tell (as it relates to the industry, internship, or individual); hone it down into a two or three paragraph talking point and then deliver it calmly. Then, listen to their response and go from there.

This is where that cover letter you worked so hard on pays off. That right there is the template for your verbal introduction; it includes passions, related experiences, and is already written. Don’t quote your cover letter verbatim (especially if you’ve sent it to the person to whom you are speaking), but do feel free to use it as a guide when thinking about how you want to verbally introduce yourself!

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STEP FOUR: Apply, Apply, Apply

Now here’s the grueling part. You have to apply. As my mom would say, put as many irons in the fire as possible. Apply to the jobs that really excite you and apply to the ones that don’t. Dr. Paolo Varquez, Coastline’s Career Services Specialist, advises students to “apply and don’t think about it” as students sometimes only apply for a few positions thinking they’re going to get hired. It’s extremely competitive. Apply, keep track of what you’re applying to, and move on to the next. However, don’t apply willy nilly: manage your time so that the ones you really care about get a little more attention; as well, don’t apply to everything! Put some guardrails up so that you don’t waste your time on a wild goose chase, applying to an internship you know you’d never take.

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Wrappin' It Up

Applying for internships and jobs is tough; believe me. It can make you feel unvalidated, unwanted, unapproachable. But the more you get into the habit, the less that feeling will sting. Eventually, you’ll realize and recognize that when companies don’t reach back out, don’t move forward on your application, etc. that it’s not a reflection of you or your worth. Sometimes that can be hard to tell, but it really is true.

You matter regardless, not because of, your job, internship, or lack thereof. These are ultimately just titles (and yes, sometimes paychecks), but you are no more or less a complete and vibrant human being with or without one. That’s really the final—and most important—piece of advice I can offer. Companies, friends, family, even your own thoughts may try to convince you that your job or internship is everything. But don’t let it get to you. Repeat it to yourself in moments of doubt; be steadfast: you matter, internship or not; you matter, internship or not. You matter.

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