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Top Tips for Picking an Internship

By Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire

When you're looking for an internship, keep in mind that it's often the early bird that catches the job.

Each company differs, but traditionally you should apply up to three to six months ahead of when you are interested in interning and begin correspondence to determine if an opportunity exists. Some companies--particularly in the media, finance, and consulting industries--accept applications a year in advance, and the competition can be steep, so do not procrastinate and be sure to get the facts. Many smaller companies welcome a call and might not work as far in advance, while others prefer you apply online. It is important to determine the company's internship application policies and guidelines to jump-start the process.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when trying to find the right internship for you.

  • Ask other people you know for contacts and referrals who might be searching for interns. Most companies love having interns help them and even if they don?t have an internship program, you just might initiate one and be the first.

  • Check with the career counselor at you college to determine what internship programs are available through your university, even if you graduated several years ago. Many colleges have internship programs available to help assist their students and alumni in securing internships. Take advantage of these services.

  • Check with someone who has interned at a specific company and see how she liked it. What did she learn? Was she a coffee-getter or did she really learn specific skills?

  • Don't be afraid to interview a company if they are offering an internship. Find out what they will expect and all the details possible. Observe the environment you will be working in and see if you can meet the people with whom you will be working. Be enthusiastic as you check them out and make a fabulous first impression.

  •     Pick an industry that appeals to you--high tech, entertainment, media, medicine, law, nonprofit--and read about it.  Don't go in without some idea of what you are getting yourself into, and check out alternatives.

  •     Set realistic goals--do you want to learn about one industry or dabble in several?  Are you using the experience to get a foot in the door at a specific company?  Is the job most important or the opportunity to travel or meet people?

  • Pick the kind of learning experience that appeals to you--service, where you work under a professional; apprenticeship, where you learn a skilled trade; externship, which allows you to experience a career for a short time as you shadow a professional; co-op, which may last longer and alternate with classroom work; or practicum, another one-time experience.

Tory Johnson is the CEO of Women For Hire and the Workplace Contributor on ABC's Good Morning America. She co-authored Take This Book to Work: How to Ask For (and Get) Money, Fulfillment and Advancement, which was released in paperback in September 2007. Connect with her at

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