How to Land Your First Internship with Zero Experience in 2024: A Practical Guide

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Sat Feb 24 2024

How to Land Your First Internship with Zero Experience in 2024: A Practical Guide

Deciding to enroll in a college or university marks a significant turning point in one's life. This important step, which serves as a foundation for your future career, often leads to the inevitable need for an internship. Internships are specifically designed to bridge the gap between academic learning and professional employment. They provide an invaluable opportunity for students or fresh graduates who may not yet have substantial work experience to acquire practical skills and gain hands-on experience in a real-world setting. Internships offer a sneak peek into the professional world and often serve as the initial stepping stone into the employment arena.As a student or a fresh graduate contemplating an internship, you might find yourself pondering over the question of whether previous experience is necessary to secure an internship position. The good news is that the answer to this question is a comforting "no." Most employers understand that as an intern, you are unlikely to have extensive professional experience, nor do they expect you to have worked in a specialized role, such as an engineer or scientist, etc... This, however, does not mean that you can submit a blank resume! While employers do not expect professional experience, it's crucial to show that you're serious about the company and the role you are applying for and that you possess the potential to excel in your position. The more real-world experiences and relevant skills you can demonstrate, the higher your chances of securing the internship.Continue reading to learn how to enhance your prospects of landing your first internship. We will delve into every aspect you need to understand, offering valuable tips and effective strategies that are specifically geared toward students who may feel unconnected and inexperienced. Securing an internship is by no means an impossible task, but obtaining one without any prior experience requires a conscious investment of time, effort, and persistence. If you are able to consistently manage these elements, stay focused, and remain determined, you stand a good chance of securing a rewarding internship that significantly contributes to your personal and professional development.

What is an Internship?

According to the University of Maryland, an internship is a professional learning experience that offers meaningful, practical work related to a student's field of study or career interest. An internship provides a student with the opportunity for career exploration and development, as well as the chance to learn new skills. It also offers the employer an opportunity to bring new ideas and energy into the workplace, develop talent, and potentially build a pipeline for future full-time employees.Moreover, it's important to note that financial compensation for internships can vary greatly. Some internships, particularly those in highly competitive industries or in the non-profit sector, might not provide any monetary compensation at all. Conversely, others, depending on the industry and company, can offer a modest wage or even a competitive salary. This wide variation in compensation is why it is absolutely vital to research and understand your rights regarding pay before embarking on an internship. Internships can also significantly differ in their duration, typically ranging anywhere from a short period of a week to as long as 12 months. The length of the internship usually depends on the specific needs of the company and the availability of the intern. In some special cases, an internship can even lead to a guaranteed job offer at the end of the term. Such opportunities usually arise when the intern has demonstrated exceptional skills, knowledge, and work ethic, making a strong impression on the employer. This is a common strategy employed by many companies as part of their talent acquisition programs, using internships as a way to identify and secure promising future employees.

How to Get an Internship Without Experience?

1. Tailor and Perfect your Resume

If you haven't already, the time has come for you to create your resume. The importance of this task cannot be overemphasized as it forms the most pivotal part of your internship application process. Your resume serves as your first impression, and it is the initial phase of the screening process. The cold truth is that no matter how qualified you are for an internship, a poorly written or inadequately designed resume can lead to your application being disregarded even before anyone has had the chance to consider your potential.When embarking upon the journey of applying for internships, it is of utmost importance to dedicate time and effort to tailor your application to the specific company and position in which you are interested. This may appear to be a daunting and time-consuming task, but the effort invested is undoubtedly worth the potential outcome. This is especially significant when you lack prior work experience, as it is your opportunity to demonstrate your potential as a candidate. The practice of customizing your applications is not only beneficial for your current internship applications but also serves as a stepping stone for future job applications. Tailoring your application makes it more pertinent to the position, thereby increasing your chances of receiving a positive response. The goal is not to pile on more work for the sake of it; the objective is to meet the unique requirements of each company and position.Start the process by conducting thorough research into the company and the internship to which you are applying. Delve into the company's mission statement, values, and recent news or events. Don't forget to review the job advertisement carefully. This investigation will provide you with insight into what the company is seeking and what it hopes to achieve. Armed with this knowledge, tailor your resume to emphasize all or the majority of the key attributes, skills, and experiences that align with the company's needs. This could be a selection of relevant skills, qualifications, certifications, extracurricular activities, or projects you have undertaken during your time at university. You could also include experiences that demonstrate your abilities and potential value to the company. Look for suitable keywords within the job description and incorporate them into your resume. This strategy can prove to be extremely beneficial, especially when it comes to bypassing automated screening systems. If you're unsure about how to craft an exceptional resume, follow these seven foolproof tips to make your resume stand out. This will help you secure that coveted internship position in less time.Finally, it's essential to remember that having the most experience is not the key to success. Instead, it's about showing how hard-working, eager to learn, and sincere you are for the position. This can significantly enhance your chances of securing an internship, even if you lack prior work experience. Moreover, always remember to pay close attention to the application instructions, as many companies have specific requirements for submitting your application.

2. Write a Sincere Cover Letter

There are two primary reasons why you should always include a cover letter with your resume when applying for an internship:
  • If you're applying for a position where your experience may not directly correspond to what the company is seeking, a cover letter can illustrate your commitment and seriousness about the organization and the role for which you're applying.
  • When the decision comes down to you and another applicant with a similar background in terms of work and education, an impressive cover letter may be the crucial deciding factor. It can tip the scales in your favor, offering insight into your personality that a resume cannot.
Writing a persuasive cover letter requires time and effort, but it can yield unexpected results. Especially for applicants without prior experience, it’s imperative to dedicate time to make yourself different from other candidates.Your cover letter and resume should be viewed as complementary pieces of a whole. While your resume provides a concise overview of your skills and qualifications, your cover letter serves as an extension that allows your voice to shine through, providing a more personal touch.An effective way to stand out is by crafting a one-page letter (the ideal length for a cover letter) that conveys your enthusiasm for the organization, offering a deeper explanation of why this particular internship sparks your interest. Detail your skills, talk about relevant projects you have engaged in and made a tangible impact on, as well as show your passion to the hiring managers.Consider telling a compelling story that keeps the recruiter engaged, showing more about your personality while connecting why you are uniquely suited for the position and the contributions you hope to make.Once you've finished drafting your cover letter, set it aside for a couple of days. Then, return to it with fresh eyes. Use an online grammar or spell checker to catch mistakes and enhance the professional quality of your letter. Look for any areas where you can make the language clearer and more concise, and see whether there are any skills that you might need to highlight or add-in.Finally, before sending it off, make sure to read your cover letter multiple times. This will allow you to spot any last-minute errors or omissions. In your closing paragraph, don't forget to reference a future interview, expressing your eagerness to meet with the employer and discuss the internship further. This signals your enthusiasm and proactive attitude, rounding off your application on a positive note.

3. Create a Digital Portfolio (if necessary)

In the realm of specific internships, particularly those involving artistic elements such as writing, graphic design, photography, or software engineering, it is highly advisable to go the extra mile and create a digital portfolio. This portfolio will serve as a curated collection of your best work, demonstrating your proficiency and passion in your chosen field.For example, if your internship is in the field of writing, you could assemble a portfolio that includes links to a diverse array of your written works. This could range from insightful articles and thought-provoking essays to captivating blogs, all aimed at exhibiting your prowess in the written word. In the case of a graphic designer, your portfolio could be a visual feast of your artistic endeavors, including designs of posters, eye-catching backdrops, banners, logos, and more. Each piece is chosen to highlight your creativity, your understanding of visual aesthetics, and your ability to convey messages through design. Similarly, if you're venturing into the world of software engineering, you might want to use your portfolio as a platform to showcase independent coding projects. These could be projects where you have successfully solved complex problems or created useful applications, highlighting your technical acuity and problem-solving skills.In general, curating a digital portfolio is an excellent and strategic way to demonstrate your abilities. It provides tangible proof of your talents and skills and can significantly assist you in making a strong impression, thereby increasing your chances of securing the much sought-after internship position.

4. Keep Advancing Your Skills and Qualifications

In most cases, organizations do not expect interns to bring a wealth of work experience to the table. Instead, they prioritize the qualifications and skills that a candidate possesses. As you embark on your journey to find the ideal internship, it's important to dedicate time not only to the search but also to identify and pursue opportunities that allow for the expansion of your skill set and qualifications.This process could involve exploring various training programs and courses designed to enhance your knowledge and proficiency in your field of interest, which could provide you with a certificate or qualifications. Some of these programs may require dedicated blocks of time, while others offer the flexibility of online learning, allowing you to engage with the course material at your own pace and convenience. It's worth thoroughly considering the options most suitable for you that will best serve to enhance your knowledge and yield a certificate.Moreover, it's highly beneficial to dedicate some time to the development of your transferable skills. There are countless ways to do this: you could involve yourself in any activities or projects at your college that you believe could provide you with tangible or intangible skills in your new industry. For instance, joining a club such as a debate or public speaking group can provide an excellent platform for honing your communication skills and fostering a critical thinking mindset. If it's management skills you're aiming to develop, seeking out leadership positions in any groups you're a part of could provide an invaluable learning experience.In the highly competitive world of internships, the acquisition of new skills and the expansion of your knowledge in your chosen field is not just beneficial; it's essential. Demonstrating a commitment to continual learning and professional development not only illustrates your eagerness to learn but also underscores your determination for professional growth. This communicates a strong message to potential employers about your dedication to self-improvement and can also be a good way for you to highlight what you have achieved in your resume or cover letter, helping you to stand out from the crowd.

5. Visit your College's Career Center

One of the most vital resources that you can tap into as a student is your college's career center, which serves as an invaluable resource for students actively seeking opportunities to develop their professional skills and secure employment or internships. These centers typically have established relationships with local businesses and financial supporters, and they are informed about open positions, including internships and volunteer roles.College and university career centers recognize that many students may have limited professional job experience. As a result, many internships are structured to support those just beginning their careers with little to no experience. Upon visiting your college's career center, you will be presented with a plethora of resources to aid in your job search. Countless resume templates and job boards await your exploration, all designed to help you secure that coveted position. The advisors present at these centers are equipped to help you prepare for practice interviews and can assist you in crafting a compelling cover letter and resume that sets you apart from the sea of applicants. These professionals will meticulously review and edit your documents to ensure you are presenting your best professional self.Furthermore, even if your work experience is lacking or non-existent, the experts at the career center are adept at helping you uncover and highlight relevant skills or activities from your background. These can be translated into qualities and attributes that employers are actively seeking in potential employees. In essence, a career center is the ideal starting point for students who feel lost in the professional world and are unsure of where to begin their journey.

6. Reach Out and Leverage Your Network

Networking, a fundamental tool in any professional's toolbox, is especially crucial for individuals who are just starting out in their careers. It has been shown time and time again to be one of the most effective ways for individuals to secure internships and job opportunities, even if they lack substantial prior experience in their chosen field.There are a myriad of ways to start building your network. You can join organizations within your industry, attend relevant events, and engage in meaningful conversations with your professors or lecturers. Once you've made it known that you're on the hunt for an internship, you'll likely find that you are automatically included on lists of potential candidates for such positions.Besides, don't underestimate the power of your existing personal relationships. Some people look down on using personal connections to secure internships. However, don't be ashamed to reach out to your family, friends, or mutual connections and let them know that you are looking for an internship. They may know someone from a company that is offering an internship in your industry and connect you with them. Connections will always be an influential factor in your job search. Not taking advantage of your connections just puts you at an enormous disadvantage.Additionally, social media platforms are not just an online hangout; they can act as an online extension of your personal network in this digital age. Consider utilizing these platforms to connect with new people, join any groups related to your field of interest, and adopt a lookout mindset for opportunities everywhere.Investing time and effort into these networking activities can yield significant dividends because it can help you identify opportunities that you might not have otherwise been aware of. However, it's essential to always remain professional and persistent in your networking endeavors and to approach every interaction with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow. By taking a proactive approach to networking and making the most of the relationships you build, you can greatly increase your chances of finding valuable internships that will help you gain essential skills and experience. Keep in mind that your goal is to get your foot in the door. Once you land your first internship, the rest will be easier.

7. Attend Career and Internship Fairs

Career fairs represent a unique and valuable opportunity to establish connections with multiple potential employers and explore the variety of internships currently available. They serve as a platform for gaining insight into the broad range of job roles these companies offer, as well as discovering less obvious opportunities that align seamlessly with your education and career goals.This setting is one of the best ways to practice your networking skills, chat with employers, and learn about potential job or internship opportunities. It offers a refreshing alternative to online job searches, which are often limited to the open positions explicitly listed by the employer on those platforms. At a career fair, you can delve deeper into the realm of potential job or internship prospects by engaging directly with company representatives or interacting with recruiters. You can benefit from the chance to ask pertinent questions and expand your understanding of potential employers and the industries in which they operate. You might even secure a winning internship position at this career fair, so take full advantage of this like you have nothing to lose. Because there would be many recruiters who come here and are actively looking for talent acquisition.However, it's important to remember that to truly stand out and make a lasting impression with employers at a career fair, dedicated planning and preparation are key. Ensure your resume and cover letter are up to date and tailored to the industry or positions you are targeting. Preparing your introduction, or what is often referred to as your “elevator pitch,” is also crucial. This brief, compelling speech is a good way to start a conversation and spark interest in what you can offer the company.Next, it's necessary to conduct research on employers and identify your top choices before a career fair. This can help you make the most out of your time at the event. Understanding their business and the roles they typically hire for will allow you to formulate insightful questions, demonstrating your interest and initiative. Lastly, ensure your outfit is ready and appropriate for the event. Dressing professionally is an integral part of making a positive first impression. And don't forget to ask recruiters for a business card or information on who to contact in the future.Here's a summary of your Career Fair Checklist:
  • Carefully prepare your resume and cover letter.
  • Practice your introduction or "elevator pitch."
  • Research potential employers and prepare questions.
  • Choose an appropriate outfit.

8. Make Use Of the Online Directories Platform

Virtual platforms provide a wealth of opportunities and have become a vital resource for students in all disciplines seeking internships to kick-start their careers. The internet is awash with several websites where you can conduct your search, each one featuring its own unique compilation of offerings and opportunities.However, as a first-time applicant, you might find the vast array of choices overwhelming. Therefore, to streamline your search, you could consider these premium websites for your initial internship application. These platforms have been handpicked based on several factors, including their sterling reputation in the industry, the extensive diversity of opportunities they present, and the user-friendly nature of their interface.
  • is a unique platform that merges the features of social media with job searching, providing a space for users to create professional connections with friends, recruiters, and potential employers. With hundreds of millions of active users, LinkedIn is one of the world's largest professional networking platforms. Its user-friendly interface and vast range of job opportunities make it an engaging platform where users can spend hours exploring various job and internship possibilities.
  • is a comprehensive job search platform that aggregates job listings from a wide array of sources, including major job boards, newspapers, associations, and company career pages. The platform's features enable you to save your job searches and preferences, providing the convenience of having relevant internships and job opportunities sent directly to your email.
  • Glassdoor for Students is an excellent starting point for students and graduates looking to kickstart their careers. This platform not only assists in finding internships and entry-level jobs but also provides valuable resources for users to research salaries, companies, and potential career paths. Additionally, it offers preparation tools to help users gear up for interviews.
  • Handshake is a career platform specifically designed to cater to university students. By creating a profile, students can apply for jobs or internships from a vast network of over 200,000 employers nationwide. Handshake also provides additional features like registering for career fairs, employer events, and more, making it a comprehensive career platform for students.

Final Thoughts

Internships serve as a remarkable platform for acquiring practical work experience and gaining first-hand insight into a specific industry. It has been consistently demonstrated that undertaking a fair number of internships during your academic years can significantly boost your job prospects post-graduation.Taking on your first internship can feel like a mix of Christmas morning and a roller coaster ride. It's exciting, it's promising, and it's also a bit scary, especially if you're new to the working world with zero experience. But everyone starts somewhere, and often, it's with that first internship. When you're on the hunt for an internship, don't just settle for anything. Find one that offers the right opportunity that aligns with your career goals and aspirations.To enhance your chances of securing not just an internship but the perfect one that resonates with your career objectives, every action you take should be imbued with a sense of purpose and intentionality. This means creating a resume that grabs attention and neatly sums up your skills and ambitions, searching high and low for the right opportunities in your field of interest, putting your all into preparing for interviews, and following up like a pro. The truth is, you won't get every internship you apply for, and yes, there will be times when it feels tough to keep going but remember—don't give up! Everyone began with zero experience. If you keep on applying for internships every week, you'll up your chances of nabbing one. The more you exhibit intentional diligence and dedication at each of these stages, the higher the likelihood of your success.

Written By

Wendy Nguyen

Wendy Nguyen

Marketing Coordinator

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