If you’re searching for an internship now, looking ahead to next year, or just thinking about what you might want from a prospective gig, Nathan Parcells is the man you need to know. As the founder of InternMatch, he connects students with companies they love, helps them land great internships, and gives them the tools they need to succeed once they’re there.

So, with the summer internship season underway and the fall one on the horizon, we sat down with him and snagged his advice on what you need to know.

 

Let’s start with summer internships. Is it too late to snag a job now?

No! Employers are constantly changing their needs and having new projects come up, and we’ve seen a number of employers put up summer internships recently, most of which are for immediate placement.

Nathan Parcells
Nathan Parcells

That said, you get the most out of your internship if you do something a little bit longer term, for at least a few months. So, if you’re planning to head back to school, it might make sense to look around not only where you’re living for the summer, but also near your school location, so you can continue working for that employer in the fall.

You should also think about what you can do to stand out at this time of year. There are fewer students really actively searching for internships now because many are already working—so I think being a little bit more aggressive with following up with employers is actually OK.

So, after you apply, send an email or call to say, “Hey, I’m very, very interested.” And if you haven’t heard anything a week after you send in your application, re-pinging that employer to say that you’re still very interested is a good route to go.

What about the fall? If you’re trying to get an internship for the fall, when should you start looking?

You should be thinking about fall positions that are exciting to you as soon as possible, because internships are quite competitive and because the back-to-school season can be busy. So, initially brainstorm some of the networking contacts you have, or types of opportunities you think would be really desirable, then think about how to go about applying for those roles.

Everyone will tell you that networking is still a really key component of finding a role. So, at your internship now, think about building and strengthening your relationships with your employer. Also try to meet other people in your industry at offices nearby. Now is really an ideal time to be building those relationships that might turn into an internship in the fall.

As far as filling out applications, we see the most fall positions going up in August, so that’s a good time to be aggressive in applying for positions.

What are the most important things to look for in an internship?

Well, the first step is actually taking a step back, and really reflecting upon what the goals of getting an internship are for you—whether that’s exploring different career paths, getting a good experience, or working in a position that you hope to eventually convert to a full-time job.

Then, the second most important piece for any internship is to ask: What’s the educational benefit that you’re going to get out of it? Ultimately, an internship is about developing this new set of skills that is critical for being successful in the professional world—skills that aren’t taught very thoroughly in the academic world.

When you look at different position descriptions or talk to employers in an interview, really get a sense for the types of projects you’ll be working on, and whether they’ll be training you on different software or professional tools. All of these tools will be essential to you in becoming a much stronger applicant going forward.

You work with a lot of employers. Though it varies, of course, by field, what are some common traits employers look for in interns? 

A lot of employers talk to us about the concept of exceeding expectations. No matter what your role, you should talk to your bosses about what they expect out of you and what their goals are for you.

Then, if you want to get the strongest possible recommendation and really impress people, the best thing you can do is go above and beyond what those goals are. So, maybe your goal is developing 100 new sales contacts at the business you’re working at. Getting 150 or 200 would really impress your employer.

What are your thoughts on the paid vs. unpaid internship debate?

In my opinion, employers really should be moving toward offering paid positions, if at all possible. There’s a ton of research that shows that offering paid positions helps employers find more qualified students, and it increases the chance that they’ll retain qualified interns as full-time employees. It’s just a much better practice, and it’s the fair and legal thing to do.

For students, I think the challenge is that, for a number of people, an unpaid internship is not a possibility—you have to be making some money. If it is a possibility, it’s sort of up to you to weigh what you’re looking for, your career goals, your educational goals, and how critical financial compensation is to you.

I was recently talking to a student who was interviewing with a smaller company that probably would have preferred to have offered her an unpaid position, and they asked her, “Are you expecting this to be paid or unpaid?” She said paid—and she got it.

I think some students are nervous about negotiating over salary, but really, employers are going to be getting a lot of value from working with you. I think that you do have an ability to have a say in that negotiation and that process, and you should not feel bad about being compensated for your work.

Any final words of wisdom for internship seekers?

Keep as many doors open as possible in terms of what might be a really exciting internship for you. I’ve spoken to tons of students who were studying marketing, for example, then went to work at their dream job at a big marketing firm—and discovered that it really wasn’t the type of role that they’d expected.

There are so many different professional paths you can take with the skill sets you develop in school that it’s really worth having an open mind, reflecting on what you think you’ll be happy doing, and seeing if you can try that. Having an internship is a great way to test out what’s exciting for you.

Learn more about InternMatch at internmatch.com, or check out these free resources for interns:

  • Cover Letter Examples
  • How to Turn an Internship Into a Full-Time Role
  • 40 Ways to Find the Right Internship
  • Photo courtesy of Lars Plougmann.