Your Low-Stress, 5-Step Guide to Landing Your Ideal Summer Internship

October 4, 2023
by Erin Baca, Cal Poly Student

Ok, so you might be wondering why we’re bringing up summer already — it’s pretty far away right? However, local businesses are already opening up their summer intern applications. Internships offer invaluable opportunities for students to put Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” philosophy into practice, gain real-world experience, expand your network, and prepare you to enter the workforce after graduation. Snagging a coveted intern spot can be competitive and summer will be here before you know it, so it’s important to get an early start.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you tackle the challenge of choosing the perfect summer internship:

1. Define Your Goals

Begin by identifying your main interests, strengths, skills, and values. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish through completing a summer internship, such as getting hands on experience, dipping your toes into office culture, or cultivating a professional relationship for a future job or post-grad reference. Clearly define your objectives and motivations for your internship search. This will allow you to find a position that is valuable to you in both the short- and long-term.

2. Do Your Research

Unless you are 100% set on a specific internship program from the get-go, this step should be the most explorative and time-consuming. Thoroughly research industries, companies, and positions that resonate with your personal and professional goals. Use online resources such as Handshake and LinkedIn, career fairs, and your own network to gather information. Think outside the box in your search — many companies that are outside of your targeted industry may actually offer relevant intern roles. For example, SESLOC Credit Union offers summer internship opportunities to Mustangs in fields like accounting, marketing, human resources, and information technology — be sure to check out SESLOC’s postings on Handshake to learn more.

3. Tailor Your Application

Tailor your application, this is your place to show off! Catch a recruiter’s attention by highlighting the meaningful roles you’ve held in the past, whether that be other internships, jobs, or clubs. Your resume, cover letter, and portfolio (if applicable) should be customized to the specific internship in order to showcase how you can contribute to the company or organization’s success. Focus on the quality of your applications rather than the quantity — you will certainly stand out if you put in energy and effort.

4. Prepare for Interviews

At this point, your fabulous applications have landed you a variety of interviews with recruiters. Proper interview prep involves circling back to Step #2 to do a research deep-dive into each company because interviewers can tell who is passionate about their company’s mission. Be sure to practice your answers to common interview questions, especially “Tell me a little bit about yourself”, because that one is sure to be brought up at least once. Develop easy-to-follow stories from your past experiences that show interviewers how you act, behave, and respond to challenges and high-pressure environments. Practice makes perfect, so ask a roommate or friend to stump you with a few interview questions leading up to the big day. And don’t forget to have a few questions in your pocket to ask your interviewer — after all, interviewing goes both ways and this is your chance to learn more about the company and their internship program.

5. Stay True to You

After Steps #1-4 prove to be successful, you’ve narrowed down your final options and need to choose the perfect summer internship. Consulting with trusted mentors, parents, professors, and peers can provide fresh perspectives and help you make an informed choice. Your main focus should be on what feels right to YOU. Go back and review the goals you listed in Step #1 and decide which option moves you closer to the person you want to be in the future.

Regardless of your field of interest and year in school, taking a proactive approach to securing a summer internship propels you closer to your professional aspirations. As an empowered Cal Poly Mustang, you are definitely capable of accomplishing any goal you set your mind to. Just remember that you are one smart cookie!

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