Should I get an internship after graduation?
If this sounds familiar, you’re probably wondering whether to take a job you’re not thrilled about, keep applying to jobs that are hard to get, or focus on internships as a way to get work faster when it’s hard to find a job.
First, don’t worry – most people have been in your shoes at some point. Even friends who are glad to have jobs usually don’t know exactly what they want to do with their career.
As someone who has both hired interns and applied for internships, and often find myself offering advice, I wanted to share:
- When it makes sense to get an internship after college
- When to avoid internships after graduation
- How to find an internship after graduation
- Tips to get an internship post graduation
- Other great resources you can use to get an internship and start your career
Reasons to get an internship after you graduate
Doing an internship after college is a great idea if you don’t have a job offer you’re excited about or aren’t sure what type of work you want to do.
Great reasons to look for internships after graduation include:
- There’s less competition. You can apply for internships year-round, not just in the summer. You’ll have 10X less competition September through May!
- Companies can hire you immediately. Most companies with formal internship programs want to hire great interns but have to wait months or years for graduation. They’ll like the option to hire post-grad interns immediately.
- Internships are socially acceptable ways to “try things out.” It’s a bad sign if a job applicant had three jobs in their first nine months after graduation. But if these are internships, it’s OK – no one expects you to stay longer than a few months. If you’re not sure what job you want, a string of internships is a great way to test your options.
- Internships are easier to get than jobs.The bar for an internship offer is often lower than for a full-time job offer. So, even if you know you want to work somewhere full-time, framing your application as an internship could make it easier to get your foot in the door.
- Internships can pay. Some formal internships pay well, and most should pay above minimum wage. You can even turn an unpaid internship into a paid one after proving your value over a one- or two-month trial period.
- Careers where you need experience. Some industries, like politics or media have very few jobs that are accessible without prior experience. In these situations, you’re probably better off starting with an internship than waiting for a unicorn 🦄 job.
- They’re great if you have a low GPA or little work experience. A great GPA, work experience, or athletics are three ways to differentiate yourself when applying to jobs. If you don’t have any of these, internships after graduation are a fantastic way to learn valuable skills and show employers you are worth hiring.
Altogether, internships after college are a great way to start your career. Even if you have a job offer at graduation, internships can give you more experience, more certainty about what you want to do, and the skill to get on a better career trajectory.
When to avoid interning after graduation
Applying for internships can be a great part of almost anyone’s job search, but there are a few situations when it makes less sense. These include when:
- You have (and need) a job that pays well. Obviously, if you can’t stay with your parents or need money to support your family, it makes sense to go straight to your job.
- Your job gives you diverse experience. Large companies often have “rotational” or “leadership development programs” designed to give new grads a range of experience. These programs, or roles like management or design consulting jobs can offer many of the benefits of internships while paying much better.
- You’re confident you can get a great job. If you went to good school, have great grades, and have done internships before – in short, you’re confident in what you want to do and that you can get a good job – you can apply
- You need to get paid. If you don’t have a job and can’t afford not to work, definitely prioritize full-time jobs. But consider also applying for paid internships, since these can cover your costs and improve your chances of getting a full-time offer.
How to find an internship after college
Time needed: 5 minutes
Follow this process to find internships for non-students:
- Start networking with informational interviews.
Start with alums from your school at companies that have recently hired interns or who are currently hiring entry-level roles. Follow this guide for a step-by-step process and templates for outreach on email and LinkedIn, and what to say.
- Look for internship programs and postings.
- Reach out to companies that posted summer internships.
It’s worth reaching out to all companies, but focus particularly on companies posting individual interns rather than formal internship programs. Larger programs (at big companies) will follow a more rigid process and will be less likely to hire off-cycle.
In any case, try to find the person responsible for hiring and managing interns, and reach out directly to them about hiring you as an off-cycle intern. You can find these people (1) on the job postings and (2) by searching LinkedIn for recent interns and reaching out to ask whom they reported.
- Cold email for internships.
- Search LinkedIn for interns.
Search LinkedIn for students and recent graduates who’ve recently interned in functions that interest you.
First, search the function (e.g. “product”) in the main search bar. Next click “people” to see results of people with that function as a keyword. Then click “all filters,” scroll down, and add “intern” to the title keyword field.
How to get an internship after graduation
Tips for non-students to get an internship
After you’ve reached out using the approaches above, follow these tips to land a good internship quickly:
- Offer to work free for limited time. If you’re able to work without pay, you’ll have many opportunities to create an internship.
- Prioritize companies that are actively hiring. Whether or not they have formal internship programs, focus your outreach on companies that have live job postings. If a company isn’t hiring anyone, they’re less likely to have resources to pay or hire you.
- Ask formal programs if they will accept post-grads. Larger companies tend to have formal internship programs. They’re also less likely to make exceptions to their process for you (or anyone). So reach out to the program’s recruiter, explain your situation and ask if they will consider recent graduates for their internship.
- Concentrate your efforts on internship managers. Focus on speaking with the people who hire and manage interns. If you’re trying to convince someone to hire you, these are the people with the needs and resources to make an exception.
- Focus on companies without formal programs. Companies without formal internship programs will be more likely to create a one-off internship for you.
- Alongside your application, work on a side project. Especially if you don’t have work experience, focus some of your time on developing projects that build and and illustrate your skills. Here’s a list of dozens of ideas, organized by function.
- Come up with a compelling reason why you’re interning. Whether they ask or not, everyone will wonder: why is this person applying for an internship – are they not good enough to get a job offer? A good way to allay concern is to explain you were planning on something else: “I was planning to go to medical school but realized I don’t feel strongly enough about this to commit 10+ years to becoming a doctor. Since I spent all my time in school preparing for medicine, I’m planning to do an internship to make sure I choose the right role.” You can insert this into your introduction when talking to people.
Template email outreach to get an internship after graduation
Here’s a template version for the email above:
Hi [THEIR NAME],
I’m a recent [INSERT SCHOOL] grad, and wanted to see if you’d be open to an unpaid [IF YOU NEED A PAID INTERNSHIP, JUST REMOVE “UNPAID”] [INSERT FUNCTION] intern.
As a student I [INSERT RELEVANT EXPERIENCE AND ACCOMPLISHMENT]. I’ve also created a project portfolio to show my work here [INSERT LINK TO A PORTFOLIO OF RELEVANT WORK].
Would you be open to short call to discuss if there are any projects I could help you with, like [INSERT COMMON PROJECTS FOR THE ROLE]? You can schedule time with me here, or let me know when would work for you!
Template LinkedIn outreach to get an internship after graduation
Here’s a template version you can use:
I’m [YOUR NAME], a [YOUR SCHOOL AND YEAR], and wanted to see if you’re open to an unpaid [IF YOU CAN’T DO AN AN UNPAID INTERNSHIP, REMOVE “UNPAID”] [INSERT FUNCTION] intern. I’ve [INSERT RELEVANT ACCOMPLISHMENT HERE] and would be able to work full-time for [INSERT TIME] months starting [INSERT WHEN YOU CAN BEGIN]. This should result in [OUTCOME THEY CARE ABOUT]. Does this sound useful for you?
Sample talking points when asking about internships
Once you get someone on a call, modify the sample script below and use for your conversation.
How to introduce yourself on a call
- Hi, I’m Taylor. Thanks so much for speaking with me!
- I just graduated from Dartmouth, where I wrote and edited for the D for four years. I wrote more than 100 articles and edited 200.
- I’d really like to work in marketing, but since I spent most of my time in school focused on journalism, I decided to apply to internships as well as regular jobs.
- I’d love to learn a little more about your role and team — and to see if you have any work I might be able to help with.
How to learn about what they need
- First, I’m curious: could you share what your teams’ main priorities are for the next 6 months? How does your boss measure success?
- Would you mind sharing the main projects you’re working on?
- Are there any tasks you either (A) would like to do but don’t have time or (B) have to do but wish you could outsource?
- In addition to these projects, can you think of anything else that would help achieve your goal that might be good work for an intern?
How to see if they’re open to hiring you
- I wanted to know: have you had any interns work on your team in the past? How was the experience? What did they work on?
- Would you be open to bringing me on as an intern for 2 months?
- Looking at my background, are there any questions skills or characteristics you’d want to make sure I have before hiring me as an intern?
- One final question: I saw your team is hiring full-time right now, would you have budget for a paid internship?
Post graduation internship FAQ
Yes, you can. Look for paid internships, or reach out to companies that are actively hiring for related roles. In both cases, companies have budget to pay for quality interns.
No. Companies hire interns to get work done at a lower cost, and to build their talent pipeline. Recent graduates can produce even better results on both fronts, because graduate interns can work for longer or during the “school year” and can start full-time work immediately.
Yes, you can. You have two options: first, you could reach out to whoever is recruiting for the internship, and confirm that they will accept recent graduates. Or, if the initial application doesn’t take much extra time, you can just apply.
If you’re responding to a posted internship, you can ask: “I wasn’t sure based on the job posting, is this internship paid?”
If you’re looking to create your own internship, you can ask: “I had one other question: would you have a budget to make this a paid internship?“