How to get an internship: Make yourself stand out

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Are you feeling stuck in the endless cycle of needing experience to get a job but needing a job to get experience? You're not alone. Many students and recent graduates face this frustrating paradox, especially when it comes to landing that pivotal first internship. 

The challenge is even more daunting when you consider the competitive nature of desirable internships and the often confusing array of options available—from in-person to virtual, paid to unpaid.

But what if there was a clearer path forward? In this guide, we'll dive into how you can make yourself stand out in the crowded field of applicants. You’ll learn how to define the type of internship that aligns with your career goals, prepare impactful application materials, and leverage modern platforms like Riipen to gain the practical experience employers value.


Define the type of internship you are looking for

Whether you're seeking clarity about your career path, hoping to ensure it's the right fit for you, or eager to intern with your dream company to explore their culture and get your foot in the door, it's important to reflect on your career aspirations and what you hope to gain from the experience.

Identifying your goals and motivations is the first step toward finding an internship that aligns with your aspirations and significantly contributes to your professional development. You should consider not just the role itself but its format, whether it's paid or unpaid, and the work environment as well.

Unpaid vs. paid internship 

While unpaid internships remain common in certain industries, larger companies and some government agencies are shifting towards paid internships. Despite this trend, nearly 40% of internships in the United States are unpaid. While this might work out for some individuals, others simply can’t afford to work without pay. 

Choosing between unpaid and paid internships involves weighing factors that can significantly influence both your immediate financial situation and long-term career prospects. Ask yourself:

  • Can you afford to engage in unpaid work? Many students have significant expenses or lack financial support to engage in unpaid internships, making paid internships a more practical choice for those who need financial stability.
  • What unique experiences might an unpaid internship offer that a paid one might not? Unpaid internships can sometimes provide high-value experiences in niche fields or prestigious organizations where paid positions are scarce. This can be crucial for breaking into competitive fields.
  • How will the type of internship affect your career path? While both types of internships increase your chances of getting a job after graduation, paid internships are 32% more likely to result in a full-time job offer. However, unpaid roles could offer valuable experiences and networking opportunities that could open doors to better prospects.
  • How do the potential long-term benefits compare? Despite the fact that paid internships tend to lead to more job offers or higher salaries, the connections and experiences from unpaid positions might outweigh the lack of immediate financial gain.

In-person, hybrid, or virtual internships

Aside from the pay structure, the internship format can significantly impact your daily routine and overall experience. Think about which environment would best suit your lifestyle and work preferences:

  • In-person: This is the most traditional type of internship. It's ideal if you thrive in a face-to-face setting that offers direct mentorship and hands-on experience.
  • Hybrid: This model combines the benefits of remote and on-site work and is suitable for those who enjoy flexibility but still want occasional in-office interaction. It’s emerging as the most favored model by both students and organizations, with 46.8% of employers planning to offer this type of experience. 
  • Virtual: Due to the surge in remote work options caused by the pandemic, virtual internships have become more prevalent. They offer the greatest level of flexibility, allowing you to connect with organizations and teams regardless of geographical boundaries. This format is especially beneficial for those who may not have equitable access to internship opportunities. 

Prepare your internship resume and cover letter

Once you’ve selected the type of internship you want to participate in, it’s essential to craft a resume and cover letter that will attract the attention of hiring managers. Here’s how to approach each document:


Crafting a professional resume as a student or recent graduate is different from a traditional work-focused resume. The key is to highlight achievements from your academic career, related projects, and any work experience you may have (even if it is limited) that will interest employers. Here’s how to do that:

  • Focus on education: List any relevant coursework or academic honors that align with the internship near the top of the resume.
  • Highlight projects: Include academic or personal projects that demonstrate relevant skills and knowledge. Describe the objectives, your role, and the outcomes to show your hands-on experience.
  • Relevant work experience: Don’t forget to include part-time jobs or volunteer work with similar responsibilities and skills to the internship you’re applying for.
  • Skills section: Clearly list any technical or soft skills that are pertinent to the internship. This could include software proficiency, languages, or interpersonal skills.
  • Achievements: Where possible, quantify your accomplishments with figures or percentages to show how you’ve made a significant impact in your previous roles or projects.

Cover letters

Although cover letters aren’t always required, they are another chance to show how you will be a valuable asset to the company. Oftentimes, they will be read before your resume is even considered. Here’s how to write an engaging cover letter:

  • Personalize: Always tailor your cover letter to the specific internship and company. This includes addressing it to a specific individual or group and making sure it's loaded with information specific to the company and position you’re trying to land.
  • Introduction: Start with a strong opening that grabs attention. Think about what makes you unique or what you will be able to contribute to the position. Express your enthusiasm for the field and any connections you have with the company.
  • Body: Highlight experiences and projects that are relevant to the internship. Make sure you pull in specific qualifications listed in the internship description and connect your background to them.
  • Closing: Reaffirm your interest in the position and mention any enclosed materials (like your resume, portfolio, or references). Indicate your desire for a personal interview and thank the reader for considering your application.

Where to search for internship opportunities

The key to finding the right internship is to cast a wide net and explore a variety of resources. Here are some effective strategies to help you discover internship opportunities that align with your career goals:

Explore Rippen: Search for project-based internships

One innovative platform to consider is Riipen, which specializes in virtual, project-based internships. This global marketplace provides students and recent graduates with the opportunity to engage in authentic, real-world projects across nearly every industry, making internships more accessible and eliminating geographical barriers. 

These opportunities are especially beneficial for:

  • Students or recent graduates looking to gain hands-on experience directly related to their career fields.
  • Individuals who have limited local internship opportunities, such as those from rural areas.
  • International students who have challenges securing internships due to visa constraints. 

Many students have already benefited from Riipen’s unique approach. For instance, Dustin Tysick found the platform transformative: "As a student, there is nothing more frustrating than sending off hundreds of generic resumes that don't show off what you can really do. Riipen lets students walk the walk and really show companies just how valuable they are."

Similarly, Ashley Yuen appreciates the practical experience she gained: "I believe my experience working with a real client has enhanced my knowledge and skills as I was able to apply what I have been learning to the organization."

Prominent educational institutions like Arizona State University and The University of California have also fully integrated Riipen into their curricula, providing their students access to these invaluable opportunities and setting them up for success in their future careers.

To begin your journey with Riipen, simply sign up on their platform and create your student profile. Then, explore different projects that align with your career goals and interests.

Utilize your college career center

College career centers are vital hubs of information and support tailored to help students transition from academic life to professional environments. These centers offer a comprehensive suite of services, including:

  • Guidance on resume writing.
  • Interview preparation tips.
  • A list of internship opportunities.
  • Career counseling

Take advantage of the workshops and personalized counseling they offer to maximize your internship search results.

Attend career fairs and workshops 

Career fairs and industry workshops are excellent venues for:

  • Learning about companies directly from recruiters and representatives.
  • Networking with professionals who can offer valuable insights and advice.
  • Discovering internship opportunities that may not be advertised elsewhere.

These events allow you to meet recruiters face-to-face, allowing you to make a personal impression that can't be conveyed through a resume alone. They also often include panels and talks that can provide deeper insights into your field of interest, helping you stay informed about the latest trends and demands.

Leverage your network 

Building and utilizing your personal and professional network can be one of the most effective ways to find internship opportunities. Start conversations with family, friends, professors, and former colleagues to let them know you’re on the hunt for an internship. These individuals can offer:

  • Opportunities for advice and mentorship from experienced professionals.
  • Information about unadvertised internship openings.
  • Potential referrals that can help you secure an interview.

Engage actively with your network by sharing your career goals and asking for introductions or advice.

Direct company outreach

Directly contacting companies can show initiative and genuine interest, qualities that employers highly value. Research companies that align with your career goals and:

  • Send personalized emails to potential employers.
  • Contact companies through professional social media channels.
  • Inquire about upcoming internship opportunities directly through their HR departments.

This direct line of communication can sometimes bypass the competitive nature of traditional application processes, giving you a unique advantage.

Job sites

Job sites remain foundational tools in the internship search. Platforms like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed are not just repositories of internship listings; they also offer valuable insights into company cultures and the experiences of past and current employees. These platforms allow you to:

  • Quickly submit your resume to a broad range of opportunities that align with your skills and interests.
  • Use advanced filters to narrow down search results by location, industry, job type, or even specific companies, ensuring you find the best matches.
  • Read reviews and explore ratings to get a sense of what it’s really like to work at various organizations before you even apply.

Prepare for the interview

Preparing thoroughly for a job interview is crucial to making a great impression and increasing your chances of securing the position. Here are some key steps to help you get ready:

1. Research common interview questions

Start by familiarizing yourself with typical interview questions that you might face. These can include common questions, such as:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why are you interested in this role?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Why should we hire you?

Practice answering these questions out loud, focusing on providing clear, concise, and compelling responses that highlight your relevant skills, experience, and enthusiasm for the role.

2. Understand the company

Thoroughly research the company, its products, services, mission, values, etc. Not only will this help you demonstrate your genuine interest and enthusiasm for the opportunity, but it also can set you apart from other candidates. Be prepared to discuss how your goals and qualifications align with the company's needs.

3. Align your skills with the company’s needs

During your interview, clearly demonstrate how your skills, experiences, and career goals align with the company’s objectives. Tailor your responses to show that you’re not just looking for any internship; you’re specifically interested in contributing to their team.

4. Prepare insightful questions

Most of the time, the interview will end with time for you to ask any questions you might have. While you might come up with some questions during the interview, it’s best to have some prepared ahead of time so that you can further demonstrate your interest in the role and your eagerness to be part of the company. Here are some things you could ask about:

  • The specific projects you will be working on.
  • The team structure and how you would fit into it.
  • Opportunities for learning and growth within the company.

5 tips to improve your odds

Enhancing your visibility and attractiveness as a candidate requires a strategic approach. Here are five actionable tips to significantly improve your odds of landing your dream internship:

  1. Cultivate a professional social media presence: Ensure that all your online platforms, including social media profiles, present a professional image. Hiring managers and recruiters often research candidates online before making interview decisions.
  2. Create a detailed LinkedIn profile: Your LinkedIn profile acts as your digital resume and is your first impression to many recruiters. Include a professional photo, detailed descriptions of your educational background and work experience, and highlight specific skills and projects. 
  3. Develop online portfolios or personal websites: If you are in a field where visual or written work is relevant, create an online portfolio or a personal website. This is your space to showcase your best projects and professional endeavors, providing tangible proof of your skills and creativity.
  4. Create a Riipen profile/CV/resume: Sign up for Riipen and create a profile that showcases the projects you've worked on. Attach this profile to your job applications or add it to your LinkedIn page. This shows potential employers the practical experience and skills you've gained through real-world projects.
  5. Develop relevant skills during your internship search: While you search for internships, continuously enhance both your technical and soft skills pertinent to your desired field. Utilize platforms like Riipen to engage in projects that build these skills. Also, consider online courses or volunteer work to expand your abilities and experiences further.

Persistence is key

It's not always easy to find the perfect internship—especially when faced with rejection. However, each application, interview, and every piece of feedback is an essential part of the process. These are not just hurdles but opportunities to refine your approach and improve your candidacy.

Every resume you tailor and every cover letter you send casts a wider net and sharpens your job-seeking tools. With each one, you gain insights into employer expectations and discover more effective ways to present your skills and experiences. 

When feedback comes, whether it's a formal rejection or constructive criticism during an interview, it serves as a critical learning tool, helping you refine your tactics and improve your future applications.

Remember, rejection is an inevitable part of the job search process. It's important to view each 'no' not as a setback but as a natural step toward the right 'yes.' Each rejection fine-tunes your direction, bringing you closer to an opportunity that fits better with your skills and career goals.

Many of the most successful professionals credit their breakthroughs to not giving up even when faced with challenges. Keep pushing forward with patience and persistence, and trust that each step brings you closer to securing the right internship and fulfilling your professional ambitions.

Jump ahead:

Key takeaways

  • It's important to define the type of internship that aligns with your career goals by considering factors such as the industry, the role, whether it's paid or unpaid, and the work format—be it in-person, hybrid, or virtual. 
  • You should craft a tailored resume and cover letter that highlight your academic achievements, relevant projects, and any related work experience.
  • Leverage platforms like Riipen to gain practical, project-based experience that enhances your career readiness.

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