Scoring Your First Internship

Date

03/23/20

 

By Alayna Johnson, 2019-2020 SCS Student Advising Leader:

Many students aim to complete an internship before the end of their undergraduate career. This is a great idea since interning allows you to build connections with a future employer, offers an opportunity to refine your skills, and helps you stand out during the graduate admissions process. However, getting a position can be tough if you don’t know where to start. Here, I’ll lay out some basic tips for finding an internship. 

A great first step is to schedule a meeting with the School of Chemical Sciences Career Services Office. The staff here can help you identify companies that would be a good fit for your interests, edit your résumé and cover letter, and even conduct mock interviews. Meeting with the Career Services Office helped me earn an internship at Merck & Co., a large pharmaceutical company. Learn how to schedule an appointment through Handshake here: https://scs.illinois.edu/academics/careers/about-scs-careers

Once you’ve narrowed down a list of companies you might want to work for, it’s time to get started on your applications. Most internship applications will ask for a résumé of your experiences, a cover letter explaining your interest in the internship, your employment history, a transcript or GPA, and 2-3 letters of recommendation. 

In my experience, most internships prefer to see your résumé condensed down to a single page. Make sure to highlight the specific skills and techniques required for the role. Your cover letter should expand upon your résumé and demonstrate how your previous experience makes you a good fit for the role. It’s important to show that you’ve done your homework about the company and the position. This is also a great place to mention your research experience, if applicable: Did you master a particular instrument or technique? Encounter and overcome a difficult intellectual challenge? Invent or improve upon a process? Tell them! Finally, don’t forget to state how the internship would help you achieve your short and long-term career goals. 

Since career fairs happen very early in the school year, it’s a good idea to start thinking about internships during the summer. You can start drafting your materials in August, schedule an appointment with Career Services during the first few weeks of the fall semester, and have enough time to make edits before the career fair. In the weeks that follow, continue to apply online and work to secure an interview. Interviewing is an art that perhaps warrants its own blog post. However, I can offer some basic tips here:

  • Research the company: what are their key products, goals, and values?
  • Stay engaged and calm throughout the interview.
  • Understand how to explain your own experience.
  • Come prepared with meaningful questions to ask the recruiter.
  • Thank the interviewer and follow up with a thank-you email in 1-2 days.

            Securing an internship is difficult and competitive, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you receive a few rejections. Don’t be afraid to apply to many positions to increase your chances. If you aren’t seeing any results, consider stopping by the Career Services Office to get help identifying and correcting any weak points in your application. You can also consider reaching out to your network for opportunities: perhaps your research mentor, your favorite professor, or even an older classmate can help point you in the right direction.

Happy internship searching!