Crush the Rush: Your Five-Point Cheat Sheet to Landing a Last-Minute Internship

Updated: September 9, 2020

Time flies when you’re having fun—and also when you’re cramming for exams, living in the research library, and balancing a half-dozen extracurricular activities. Before you know it, the days are getting warmer. And that’s when you realize: hiring for this year’s summer internships is already almost over.

Before we get started, a quick note: If you’re reading this between July and February, take a deep breath. You’re good. Instead of reading on, check out our article on beating the competition and start from the very beginning. Off-season internships aren’t nearly as competitive as summer ones, and they often accept interns on a rolling basic. So slow down, start from the beginning, and focus.

Now then: If you’re reading this in March, April, May, or June, you’re in the right place. It’s true that a bunch of big names exit the employer pool at the end of February, it’s also true that most applicants (both graduates and students) don’t even start applying until well into March. You’re definitely not alone.

Getting an internship at this late date is not impossible. In fact, your chances are still pretty good—especially if you build some strategy into your execution.

1. Call in those favors (or start a new tab!).

Many career consultants will tell you that 60% (some say 80%) of all jobs are never advertised or posted online. Just like this hidden job market, it makes sense to assume there’s a hidden internship market out there—so you want to tap into it. Make a list of employers you’re interested in and look at the companies’ web portals for listings. If you have access to your college’s career center, check in with them regularly. Talk to your current or former professors and see if they’d be willing to speak to their industry connections on your behalf. In the same vein, connect with people in your school’s alumni network who might be willing to ask on your behalf. Make a list of all of these people and resources. Then, systematically work your way down.

2. Save time on applications.

Not every opportunity is the right fit for you. Even if it’s in the same field, that internship you’re coveting might be better suited to a recent graduate or a junior rather than a sophomore. To avoid wasting your time and energy, read the job description carefully. Another great time to save time? Look at the “date posted.” Chegg Internships puts this information front and center, as do some other job boards. If it’s been more than a couple weeks, chances are it’s already gone. If you don’t see when the position was posted, don’t be afraid to Google the company, call them, and check in with HR/recruiting.

3. Spend time on some applications.

All that time you saved not applying to irrelevant postings? Use it to customize your application for those you do apply to. Tailor your cover letter by incorporating language from the job description, review some resume samples, and triple-check your work.

4. Will it into being!

Okay, that sounds pretty kooky, but the idea here is to figure out a place that could use your talents and make them aware of that fact. That tiny creative studio whose work you so admire? Check whether they have an internship program. If they don’t (and that’s quite likely if it’s a startup or small enterprise), reach out to a manager on LinkedIn and (respectfully) request an informational interview. Ask them whether they’ve considered hiring an intern. Do your research beforehand and identify a project that could benefit from your expertise. A small company, for example, may not have time to keep their website updated—bingo! They might have a blog that hasn’t had a post in six months—you’re here to help! Create your own opportunities by showing companies how can add value.

5. Internship ≠ cheap labor

The whole point of an internship is that it’s a learning opportunity—and preferably one that aligns with your college major/chosen career. Don’t lose sight of this when you’re feeling desperate and ready to accept any old offer. The truth is, some employers aren’t as interested in your professional development as they are in cheap (or free) labor. Look at the role, use LinkedIn to research the background and skills of the team(s) you will be working with, and evaluate what you stand to gain. Will you develop new skills? Grow as a professional? Network with an experienced team? Accept the offer only if it makes sense from a career standpoint. If not, go back to points #1 through #4 and try again. And remember, if the internship doesn’t work out, there are always other options.