The college internship market is growing, albeit slowly, at a 1.7% clip in 2018, according to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

The NACE data also shines a light on other characteristics of college internships:

  • The acceptance rate for new college interns looking for a good internship opportunity is robust, at 77.3%.
  • The retention (hiring) rate for college interns after one year is 70.3%.
  • The per-hour salary rate stands at $18.73, up 67 cents from 2017.
  • “Planned social activities and paid holidays” are the most widely offered benefits to interns and co-ops, and “are typically the least expensive for employers to offer.”
  • On average, employers begin recruiting interns eight months prior to the start date and co-ops five months in advance of starting.

Pursue an Internship Action Plan

If you’re a college student in the market for a good summer internship, the time to start looking is in the fall and winter. As the NACE report notes, companies are already recruiting interns for both summer and fall positions.

What’s your best strategy for grabbing a blue-chip internship? Start with this action plan, which, if diligently applied, should get you in the door with a quality internship:

Take a personal inventory. First, it’s time to create an internship “to do” checklist, which should assess and review the following items that could prove crucial in being selected for a platinum-level internship:

  • Your grade point average (GPA).
  • Your job history. (Yes, part-time summer jobs matter to hiring companies, when you’re a college student.)
  • Your projected college major and field of work, which, ideally, should align with the internship.
  • Any volunteer or charitable experience.
  • Any leadership roles (i.e., editor of the college paper, captain of the rugby team, or member of the student council).
  • Your passions and interests. (What drives you to succeed in the career you’re choosing – and why?)
  • Your paycheck preference. (It’s okay to generalize it, but don’t make a paycheck a huge priority as you present to a hiring company.)
  • Your geographical location. (This matters, as companies generally prefer candidates close to the office or workplace site.)

Ideally, you’ll want to check off all the items on this list, but prioritize the vocations and career paths that matter most to you. Then, seek to fit those ideals into a specific industry and company. Hiring companies will want to know that your service as an intern is a “win-win” for both you and the firm.

Do all this before applying for any internships. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time – and the company’s time – on internships that aren’t a good fit for either of you.

Do your research. The internet is a wonderful place to start your internship search, as are mobile apps dedicated to the college internship hunt. For example, Internships.com has both a solid web site and mobile app dedicated to college internship hunt. Having a profile on LinkedIn.com, where companies can find you, is highly recommended, too. Another good resource is Lauren Berger’s InternQueen.com.

You can also turn to your college or university’s student employment office for internship information, and also ask professors and teaching assistants if they know of any good internship possibilities in your field of interest.

Additionally, drill down and visit the web sites of the companies you view as a good landing spot. Companies may list internship opportunities on their web sites that a college employment office may not know about.

Create an airtight resume. Even if a desired company reaches out to you after a word-of-mouth recommendation, you’re still going to have to deliver a resume, and likely a cover letter, too.

It’s okay to combine the two in one package – just make sure the resume is a short, one-page list of accomplishment and career goals – the more brevity, the better – and the cover letter tells your story.

In essence, any resume package should focus on the internship job description – that’s what hiring managers want to see from applicants – and steer your accomplishments and career goals in that direction.

For example, if you are studying finance and economics, it’s perfectly okay to tell an investment company like Goldman Sachs or Fidelity Investments that you’ve had your own small stock trading portfolio since you were 16. Decision makers love seeing job applicants who live the life they do, and that shared experience can be a big difference maker when applying for an internship.

This should go without saying, but ensure the resume and cover letter are typo-free and are grammatically correct. TopResume.com offers a free resume review service, as do others online. Also ask friends and family to review your resume.

Prepare for the physical interview. Common sense dictates to clean up, dress well, be on time (15 minutes early is just about perfect), and read up on the company before you sit down with a hiring manager. This shows respect to company decision makers, and should be a priority.

When you’re talking to the hiring manager, focus not on pay (a big no-no) or hours (a bigger no-no.) Instead, take a forward-looking tone and focus on the position, and how it can position you for career advancement.

Equally important is emphasizing the qualities and tools you bring to the job. Tell stories – companies perk up if you can give a real work example of how you are prepared for the position.

Above all, be friendly, smile often, and be engaged with your interviewer, always looking him or her right in the eye. Body language is huge from an interviewer’s viewpoint, and you’ll want to ace that one last, big test. At some companies, how you will fit in to the company culture matters most.

The follow-up. Within 48 hours, write a personal thank you note, emphasizing your appreciation of the opportunity. Email is perfectly fine, but texting is too informal.

A hand-written note is even better – it shows a nice, personal touch that hiring managers will appreciate, and which most of your competition will not do.

Wait two-or-three days to respond if you have not heard back. Then, send another email to the hiring managers confirming your interest in the job, and ask if there’s any other information he or she needs to recommend you for the internship.

If you’re offered the internship, get right back by email or phone promptly – within 24 hours is highly advised. If you have any last-minute questions, now is the time to pop them. Don’t wait until you’re on the job to ask – it might be too late.

If you’re turned down for the internship, view it not as a failure, but as a learning opportunity.

Ask both yourself and the hiring manager (hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask) what you could have done differently and what you should do the next time, when you’re in the same position.

The Takeaway

Follow the internship action plan and you’ll vastly improve your odds of landing that dream internship.

In the process, you’ll also learn a great deal on what it takes to get your foot in the door in the professional sector, and you really can’t put a price tag on that.