The day’s finally here. You’re graduating. You dedicated countless hours to lectures, homework, and extracurriculars, and you worked tirelessly to keep up your GPA and learn everything you could.
Now it’s time to walk across the stage and grab your diploma.
You’re entering a new stage in your life, which can lead to excitement, curiosity, and even anxiety. Your transition from the college world to the full-time job market is filled with questions: Where do I start my job search? What kind of work environment do I want to be a part of? Should I pivot and get a master’s degree?
If you want to gain a little extra experience and test the waters of a full-time position, you might ask: Can I get an internship after college?
The answer is yes. Having your diploma doesn’t mean it’s too late to consider an internship program. It can offer valuable post-graduation hands-on experience and the clarity you need to develop your early career goals.
6 benefits of internships for recent graduates
An internship experience can open up doors to your dream job, make your LinkedIn profile shine, and provide you with relevant experience to kickstart your career. Let’s explore six reasons to look for an internship after college:
1. Discover your path
Your university coursework has taught you valuable knowledge and skills. Once you enter the workforce, you’ll begin to put them to the test. Like an entry-level job, an internship lets you apply your studies to real-world situations, develop a deeper understanding of your professional strengths and weaknesses, and start making important career choices.
An internship can be a powerful opportunity to find your purpose after college and figure out what work environments you enjoy or don’t prefer. It can also help you decide if you should go to grad school. Working an internship is an effective first step to discovering what you want the rest of your career to look like.
2. Expand your skill set
As a college graduate, you leave university with transferable soft skills like time management, critical thinking, and adaptability. An internship program gives you the chance to use them in a professional setting while also gaining valuable hard skills in your field.
A healthy job environment encourages employees to learn. But as an intern, the entire experience is geared around learning — not just some of it. This is your opportunity to ask questions, actively request feedback, and shadow people you admire.
3. Understand the lay of the land
College scratches the surface of the skills you’ll develop over your career. Depending on your major, you may have focused more on theoretical concepts or an entry-level understanding of job-specific tools, rather than how to function in a workplace.
Inserting yourself into a professional environment for the first time can be overwhelming. You have to adapt to company culture, set professional boundaries, and learn to collaborate effectively to keep your team and organization’s workflow going — things your degree might not have taught you.
As an intern, your employer likely won’t expect you to know everything. While an internship still asks you to be responsible and take accountability for your work, it offers a gentler path into this new chapter of your life.
4. Build out your resume
Regardless of how hands-on your future job might be, potential employers prioritize your soft skills just as highly as technical ones. A successful internship experience demonstrates that you possess a wide set of valuable soft skills, like taking initiative, pursuing self-improvement, and learning how to self-manage. These are all things you can put on your resume to show future employers.
5. Build a professional network
Around a quarter of workers search for job openings through their professional networks. Throughout your internship experience, you’ll connect with people in your field and maybe even find job opportunities through them.
And your professional network will come in handy for more than just finding a job. They’re the people who you’ll bounce ideas off of, seek investments from, or look for moral support during rough moments in your career. You can even find a mentor to work with you as you follow your career path.
6. Transition into a job
Most job postings don’t require internship experience as a mandatory prerequisite. But many internships lead to full-time jobs. According to a 2021 National Association of Colleges and Employers report, employers extended a job offer to almost 80% of their eligible interns. If you perform well, you’re likely to stay at the company once the internship is over. And if not, you have professional references that can vouch for you as you look for something else.
If you can’t find an entry-level job at your dream company, consider inquiring about their graduate internship opportunities. Don’t hesitate to ask the hiring manager or program director about their intern-to-employee conversion rates. It’ll show off positive traits like courage and big-picture thinking, and taking initiative could curb job search depression.
Where to find internships
Similar to finding your dream job, encountering the right internship requires narrowing your search and tapping into the right networks. Here are six ways for recent grads to find an internship:
- Search online platforms: Many job posting sites, like Monster and Glassdoor, have internship postings. Some platforms send internship opportunities directly to your inbox, which can help you be the first to apply and show your enthusiasm.
- Use social media: Professional social media platforms like LinkedIn also post internship opportunities. Follow companies that you’d like to intern with and activate push notifications so you see opportunities as soon as they appear. You can also adjust your profile to state that you’re looking for an internship.
- Start the conversation: Send a potential employer a letter of interest to let them know you’d like to work with them, even if it doesn’t actively offer internships. They might not have an opportunity for you right away, but your initiative might grab the hiring manager’s attention and lead to an interview down the line.
- Check company websites: Not all companies actively advertise internships on job boards or social media. Double-check the company’s career page. You may find a hidden opportunity at the company you want to work for.
- Ask your professional network: Reach out to previous professors and teaching assistants, or pop into your university career center. They might have industry knowledge about popular internships. Before you ask, think ahead of time about the type of role you want to learn more about. Being more specific can help them narrow down the opportunities and keep you fresh in their minds if something pops up.
- Attend a career fair: Check with your career center about upcoming events related to your major. You can also look online for virtual career fairs to widen your search. These events give you the chance to speak directly with employers and make lasting connections.
What to look for in an internship
Internships vary in pay, hours, and type of work, so evaluate what’s important to you and choose a program accordingly. An unpaid or part-time position could look good on your resume, but it might not be enough to sustain you financially the way a full-time job could.
Pay attention to the following details to decide if it’s the right decision, or if you need to reject the internship for a better opportunity:
Paid versus unpaid: As of 2021, around 43% of interns at for-profit businesses were unpaid. If you’re signing up for an unpaid internship, ensure it doesn’t negatively impact your financial wellness and budget first.
Full-time versus part-time: Internships have varying schedules, and some employers might not ask you to work full-time. Part-time internships still offer you great work experience, but they don’t give you the same pay or hours of experience.
If you intern for more than 30 hours per week, you might be entitled to medical benefits under the Affordable Care Act, depending on the size and scope of the company you’re working for.
Virtual versus hybrid: In the age of remote work, virtual and hybrid internships are growing more popular. If you can’t relocate or have accessibility issues that make working from home necessary or preferable, consider looking for a work-from-home position that can guide your learning from the comfort of a home office.
International internships: If you’re considering a career in foreign relations, need to learn a language to move up in your career, or want to prove you can work outside your comfort zone, look into an international internship. Even if it doesn’t land you a job, it’ll stimulate personal growth and show potential employers you’re eager to take risks for your career.
2 alternatives to internships
How many internships should you do in college, and how many should you do after?
You don’t need to complete an internship to succeed in your career. While they can give you a leg up, not everyone can accept an unpaid internship after graduation or relocate for a long summer internship.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t gain valuable practical work experience or clarity in your career development. Here are two alternative options that might suit your specific situation:
Externships: An externship is a temporary training program that lets you shadow a professional in their work environment or concentrate on learning a single skill. They tend to be shorter than internships and are focused more on mentorship than doing a job.
Career coaching: Internships can point your career in the right direction and give you support from mentors and peers along the way. Career coaching can serve the same purposes, helping you set goals, workshop important career decisions, and have someone to discuss roles and responsibilities with.
4 tips for tailoring your resume to internships
Learning how to write a resume that stands out is a skill that will benefit you throughout your entire career, and it happens to be one of the first things you need to do to land an internship. Here are four tips to get started:
Tailor your writing: An internship should feel more like a learning experience than an actual job. But you’ll still have responsibilities. Analyze the internship posting and understand what the learning goals are. On your resume, include relevant keywords that match the skills, abilities, or experiences the employer seeks.
Be concise: As a recent grad, hiring managers know you don’t have much work experience under your belt. Don’t feel pressure to overfill your resume. Keep it short and simple, and choose a resume template that leads the eye to the most valuable information.
Write a cover letter: Although it’s a separate document from your resume, a cover letter personalizes your internship applications and tells potential employers exactly why you want the position. This is especially important when you don’t have a lot of work experience on your resume yet.
If you’re applying for a communications role, you could say: “I’m eager to gain hands-on communications experience that will put my education to practice, take advantage of my people skills, and challenge my comfort zone.”
Prepare references: You may be asked to provide references as part of your application. Select a handful of professional references, who can speak to your skills, and character references, who can discuss your personality and goals. Be sure to ask your references beforehand and talk to them about your aspirations so they’re ready to speak highly of you.
Launch your post-grad career
Can you get an internship after college? Of course. If the program adds value to your professional development, getting hands-on work experience under your belt is never a bad idea.
Internships are a fantastic way to jump-start your early career, grow your network, and build your resume. Now that you know where to look and what to look out for, it’s time to start searching.