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How to Get an Internship Without Work Experience

how to get an internship

An internship can dramatically improve your odds of securing a full-time job. In fact, 70% of employers offer full-time positions to their interns, according to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers

But how exactly can you score your first gig when you … have yet to score your first gig? We chatted with the Forage recruiting team about how to get an internship without work experience. 

Highlight Your Transferable Skills

Your resume might feel like a blank slate, but chances are, you’re more qualified for an internship than you think. After all, these are entry-level positions. Employers generally aren’t looking to see that you’ve previously performed the role. Instead, they’re looking for transferable experience. 

“So maybe you never had an office job in sales, but you had some retail experience,” Elisa Pineda, senior recruiter at Forage, explains. That’s a role you’ll want to highlight on your application for an office sales job as you’ve likely used and developed some of the same required soft skills, like customer service or communication, during your tenure.   

Learn more about featuring soft skills on your resume

Showcase new skills

Build the confidence and practical skills that employers are looking for with Forage virtual work experiences.

Show Initiative

Across all jobs, companies are looking far and away for interns who are self-starters, Pineda says, so look for ways to go above and beyond the basic tasks of the application process. 

For instance, Pineda recalls encountering an underclassman who was interviewing for an engineering internship.

“He had started to create a game within the game engine [the employer] used and gave it to interviewers,” she says. That candidate ultimately landed the role, even though it was typically reserved for college juniors. 

But don’t despair if you aren’t proficient in game or app design. There are other ways to demonstrate initiative.  

  • Customize your resume for each internship application. Optimize for keywords mentioned in the job description and lead with the skills the employer says they’re looking for.  
  • Send along a small project or work samples with your cover letter. Think two-to-three slides of creative ideas for a marketing position or a link to a website you helped design. 
  • Take a Forage virtual work experience program to demonstrate your hard skills and get noticed by top recruiters. Visit our course catalog to find a program in your desired field.  

Leverage Your (Full) Network

Networking involves establishing and leveraging relationships with people within your desired industry or area of interest. These relationships can make or break your odds in terms of getting an internship without experience, so prospective interns with thin resumes should prepare to cast an extra-wide net. 

“Anything that comes your way, don’t take it lightly,” Pineda says. You might have your eyes on a swanky internship at a large firm, but a role at a small business could be equally or perhaps even more rewarding.  

“Friends and family count, too,” she adds. “Look for opportunity everywhere.” 

Here are some other ways to fully leverage a fledgling professional network. 

  • Tap your adjunct professors. “They actively work in the field you’re trying to get into,” Robert Sabori, recruitment coordinator at Forage, says, so they’re more likely than full-time professors to know of open roles.  
  • Attend meetings of local professional organizations or trade groups within your career of interest.
  • Maintain contact with your college career center or internship coordinator, even in the “off” season. You never know when a late-breaking opportunity might present itself.

Cold-Call

Consider contacting human resource professionals outside of your network as well via LinkedIn or, if possible, email. 

“You’ll get more ‘nos’ than ‘yeses,’ Pineda admits. “But there are quite a few [recruiters] that just want to help” job market newbies. 

Avoid cold-messaging directors or vice presidents, who are generally time-poor and more removed from individual job searches. Instead, target junior or senior recruiters, Pineda says. These individuals can identify roles at their companies — or put you in touch with recruiters and hiring managers at other companies who might be looking for someone with your skill set. 

Be Yourself

Previously, recruiters were inclined to focus on the technical contents of an intern applicant’s resume, but “what we’re looking for now is your personality,” Sabori says. “Not only are [we] looking for a right fit for the company but [we] want to make sure the company is right for that person and their development.”

You want to make sure the company is right for you, too — and you’re not likely to do so if you’re simply telling each employer what you think they want to hear during the interview process. Instead, be your authentic self and ask the questions that are top of mind as you’re evaluating your options. 

That way, you’ll increase your chances of not only getting an internship without job experience but getting the internship that will most impact your professional development in the long term.  

Haven’t secured your first role just yet? Here are some ways you can get work experience without an internship.

Image Credit: Brook Cagle / Unsplash