The dog days of spring semester roll on, but the elephant in the room grows larger and larger: "What am I going to do over the summer?" The answer to this can vary including, but not limited to, work, study abroad, summer classes, the infamous "lazy summer" and, for a good portion of students, an internship.

In the early years, an internship was rare and designed as paid, supervised practical training for aspiring professionals in specific fields. Today, however, the definition has become somewhat ambiguous and broadened into almost a seasonal position, paid or unpaid, as more and more students undertake internships to help themselves gain a foothold into the professional world.

“Internships allow students to enhance job exploration and clarify career goals. Students gain communication skills, and are able to apply knowledge and make connections between theory and practice,” said Joely Swenson, program coordinator for Engineering Career Services at Iowa State. “This increases the student’s employability at graduation. Employers use interns as a pipeline for hiring full-time employees.”

Depending on the position and type of internship, they can be very competitive. Often employers will have hundreds of candidates to fill only a select few positions. Given this, there are many things students can do to maximize their appeal to employers. The first step, though, is to build and write a resume.

“Avoid making any grammar or spelling mistakes. Your resume should be results orientated and use key words from the job description,” Swenson said. “Your objective and profile should tell the reader what you have to offer.”

This portion can be time consuming, but nevertheless a good, well-designed resume will usually be the deciding factor of offering a student an internship or not, Swenson said. 

There are many resources, both on campus and external, that can help students find something that interests them. A good place to start is internship workshops and regular meetings with career services staff provided by each college, said Taren Crow, program coordinator for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Career Services. 

“Workshops vary by college since each college has its own career services office. I would advise students to check directly with their career services office,” Crow said. “Also, we are always open to helping students one-on-one — just make an appointment.”

Once students find a path they would like to pursue, the internship hunt is on. Crow said job sites and networking are some of the best ways to find an internship that works for you.

“When searching for jobs or internships, people typically default to job boards. That’s okay, but not always the most effective. Successful searches involve using a number of tactics,” Crow said. “Find a few websites and check them regularly, but also pinpoint specific organizations you’d like to intern with and pursue them. Also, ask people you know about opportunities and see if they’ll ask the people they know. Reach out to new contacts — alumni can be especially helpful.”

Kyle Pick, senior in aerospace engineering, was able to obtain an internship with Boeing in Long Beach, Calif., as a structural analysis intern helping design the military cargo plane, the C-17. Pick found the internship through research online, crafted his resume to appeal to the company, and met the company’s representatives at the Engineering Career Fair last fall. When interview time came, he said he was well prepared.

“I tried to focus my interview around two or three past, relevant experiences I had that would stand out to them,” Pick said. “I would definitely recommend that all students pursue internships. The professional world is way different than that academic world. … I gained an invaluable amount of work experience in professional setting.”

Pick said all students thinking about internships should get involved in school and extracurricular activities relevant to their field of study, keep their grades up and network as much as you can. In part due to his internship experience, Pick has accepted a job with Rolls Royce as a design engineer starting in June.

Many companies will begin their summer posting starting in December and January.

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