You’ve almost got your degree in hand, but wait—what about experience? Many companies will tell you that having a degree simply isn’t enough in the job market. That’s where an internship comes in. Many internships are unpaid, but they offer priceless experience that shows prospective employers that you’ve had real-world applicable experience outside of the classroom.

How do you find an internship that is right for you?

Begin your search early.

Many internships have very rigid deadlines that occur in late fall for the following year’s summer. Be aware of this and start your decision making process in early fall to ensure you stay ahead of the deadlines.

Define your career interests.

It’s very important that you know what you want to do with your degree. Gaining experience in a variety of fields is a good idea if you’re undecided about how you want to utilize your education. Think about the things that you’re passionate about, which could be children, teaching, marketing, social activism or more, and try to make a short list of career options that are most appealing to you.

Network, Network, Network

You’ll hear this a thousand times. It’s who you know. It really is. Contact your college alumni office and meet with people working in your field for informational interviews. This can help you narrow down your search and potentially open the door to where you’d like to work.

Where do you want to work?

One of the biggest factors in finding the best internship experience is picking the right company to join. When you’re weighing your options, you should focus on companies that you would be sincerely interested in working at for the start of your career. Quite often, if an intern performs well, a job offer may exist at the end of the internship. So pick somewhere you’re very interested in working to try it on and see if it’s a good fit.

Prestige

As with your college search, prestige should play a factor in your decision of where to intern. If you’re interested in technology for example, landing an internship at Google carries infinitely more weight than a local web design firm.

Company Size Doesn’t Always Matter

Another option would be to consider working for a smaller company or a non-profit organization; oftentimes these organizations don’t have the budget to keep hiring employees so you’ll get a lot of actual experience instead of winding up a gopher.

When you’re offered an internship, what should you consider?

Course Credit

Some colleges will allow you to absorb an internship as part of your degree credits. You’ll gain experience, gain credit hours and be that much closer to completing your degree program. Win-win-win.

Time Commitment

It’s important to know upfront how much time you can devote to an internship and how much time they’re expecting from you.  You have to find a balance between completing your regular coursework and the internship. Don’t put yourself in a position to become overwhelmed and have either your school or internship performance suffer.

Compensation

Compensation is very important if you’ve managed to secure more than one internship offer. If a company is willing to compensate you for your efforts, it might weigh heavily on your decision to choose one internship over another.

Additional Benefits

Don’t forget about the perks! Some of the more competitive internships have some excellent benefits included in them. Google interns get free meals; other companies offer gym memberships and trips.

What are businesses looking for in quality interns?

Since one of the main objectives of completing an internship is obtain marketable skills and experience that will land you a job, you should strive to be what your internship managers want. It’s important to know exactly what employers on their human resource managers are looking for when seeking the right candidate for their jobs.

Human resource managers are busy individuals. They spend a large amount of time focused on record keeping, compliance and employee development while overseeing hiring practices. When reviewing candidates, they’re often looking for concise communication and interpersonal skills, intelligence, enthusiasm, adaptability, leadership, high levels of energy, maturity and skill.

Wrapping Up

Finding the perfect internship is not always easy. The competition for internships can often make them hard to find. One of the best ways for making sure that you get an internship in your field is to begin looking early. By preparing your résumé and cover letter early on, you’ll be ready to send your documents as internships get posted. Lastly, continue to develop a strong network of contacts and focus in on what really drives you and you’re sure to have a successful internship.