Internships in America: How to get them and why you need them

Internships in America: How to get them and why you need them

by Adriana Stein

Updated November 10, 2022

No matter whether you’re from America or are coming from abroad, internships matter. And not just any internship, but the right one. 

Here’s an overview of how internships help boost your career in the long run and how to find the best internship for your career goals.

Why internships in  America matter

Internship positions are the most valuable for high school students, university students, and recent university graduates. The facts are in: Completing internships increases jobs offers by 16% and 56% of interns turned into full-time, entry-level hires in 2019. 

Internships are not just about getting a job, but help you get the right job. You also benefit from doing at least one internship before you commit to a career over the long run, because it helps you differentiate what works for you and what doesn’t. With the hands-on experience that an internship provides, it fills in a lot of the blank spots that universities tend to leave out. While universities focus on theory, internships give you real-world practice, so you know how to orient your career as well as build up your skills.

How to get an internship

The majority of companies in America offer some form of internships, but how can you distinguish between good and bad ones? And how can you increase your chances of getting hired? I’ve outlined it all in the sections below.

Make sure your American English is on point

If you’re coming from abroad, you may have learned English vocabulary and phrases different from those used in America. In order to increase your chances of submitting a successful application and acing your interview, it’s highly recommended to brush on American English specifically. Use truck instead of lorry, restroom instead of toilet, and elevator instead of lift. I think you get the idea. 

Use an American style resume

As with many countries, America too has its own style of resume. Some of the major points to keep in mind are:

  • Don’t use a picture
  • Don’t state your birthday
  • Don’t state your marital status
  • Keep it to 2 pages (in America a CV is a full length version of your work history mostly for academic jobs, while a resume is a short summary)
  • List your GPA (the grades or marks you received at university)

The photo in particular is a big no-go, because it can result with your resume getting removed without even being looked at, because companies need to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

There are other typical resume best practices to still implement such as using active verbs to describe your skills and list jobs and education in chronological order.

Search for companies with internships that align with your career goals

The more you can learn from an internship, the more valuable it becomes for you. So if your goal is to work as a salesperson, get an internship in sales. If your goal is to work as a lawyer, get an internship in a law firm. If your goal is to work as a pharmacist, get an internship in a pharmacy, and so on. Focus your search on internships that directly apply to the career you’d like to have. It’s even better to work at a smaller company that is more related to the job you’d like to pursue as opposed to working for a big company where you only do menial tasks and don’t learn anything. The hands-on experience is what you can apply for the rest of your career.

Focus on paid internships

Unfortunately, there are tons and tons of unpaid internships. And this may make you feel like this is the sacrifice you need to make to get hired. But consider this: Paid internships are 34% more likely to lead to at least one job offer after graduation versus unpaid internships. This is likely because the companies who offer paid internships are more invested in actually hiring those positions to become full time employees later on. So while this may extend the time it takes to find an internship, it’s highly worthwhile in the long run. Plus, the money doesn’t hurt, either.

Follow up with the HR department

Once you’ve found the internship you’d like to apply to and have submitted your resume, stay in touch with the HR department. You may even consider contacting the HR department before you apply to ask questions. It helps your name stand out and keeps you at the forefront of their thinking. 

Don’t hesitate to follow up regularly on your application status. In American culture, persistence and determination are perceived as factors for career success, and highly increase your chances of getting hired.

Take advantage of your network

Never forget the power of your network, and actually that applies to anytime you’re searching for a job. Even if you’re a high school student and are just starting out, use the resources around you for help. Ask your teachers if they know someone who needs an intern. Ask them to review your resume. In university, ask your professors for letters of recommendation or if they know someone who needs support in a project. Network with other peers in your department and ask if they have an internship position that may need more support. 

A general rule of thumb in life is that if you don’t ask, you won’t receive. So you have to bite the bullet and ask others for help. A personal referral is more likely to get you hired, because someone else has vouched for you.

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