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Reuters/Adnan Abidi
Plan early.

A beginner’s guide to college internships in India

By Punyaslok Rath

Editor-in-Chief, internshala.com

In the last four years, the internship market in India has undergone a quiet revolution—fuelled by the internet economy. Gone are the days when an internship was the privilege of those from a few top colleges. Gone are the days when internships had to be facilitated by colleges’ placement cells. And, also, gone are the days when internships meant slogging for free.

Today, millennials are determined to get their first taste of work-life before they turn 21. At the same time, there are hundreds of startups hungry for raw talent. Internships fit the startup business model well, since young companies have an uncertain future and a low paying capacity. This has had a spillover effect, with established brands now competing with startups to attract fresh talent, and stepping up their internship programmes.

Though even today the demand for internships far outstrips the supply, there are a few steps that can help determined students land internships of their choice.

Start really, really early

I mean two things by this. First, you have to start looking for a good internship at least six to eight months in advance. Second, students need to realise the value of internships early in life. Imagine the advantages of having two or three internships on your resume by the time you reach the pre-final year of college. The good news is that on our website, we now see a lot of Class 11 and 12 students who are interested in interning with startups.

Explore your interests

Talk to seniors in college, read internship stories from previous students, introspect, attend as many seminars and conferences as possible, and follow blogs/Quora. The other approach is to read through the internship descriptions and go for the ones that sound interesting or worth trying.

Email etiquette

Employers generally complain that new hires don’t know how to draft professional emails. You could ask someone in your family to advise you on email etiquette or follow the advice given on several online blogs. You could also use some of the customised cover letter services available on the internet, such as Cover Letter Now.

Build a resume

These days, employers increasingly demand already skilled students. This is not to say that you will not acquire any new skills during an internship, but you need to have demonstrable experience in your chosen areas. There are many things you could do to boost your resume. While you are in college, you can do the following things to build an impressive profile:

  • Start teaching yourself: The internet has brought the classrooms to your homes. Do skill-based training or take a course. Sites like edX, Lynda, Coursera could be very helpful with their wide array of certification courses.
  • Work on projects outside your standard curriculum: This is especially valid for students interested in research internships. Getting involved in academia outside your curriculum shows your seriousness and dedication towards the subject matter.
  •  Volunteer/join student organisations in college/freelance: An internship selection is always about two parts—the technical proficiency and soft skills. The latter can be enhanced by taking up these responsibilities. Freelancing, in particular, can help you gain a lot of confidence and short practical experience from the comfort of your home. Some of the websites to check out are Odesk, Elance, and Freelancer.com.
  • Invest in your passion: Do you like to travel, cook, shop? Start a blog and pen down product reviews or travelogues. You like music? Learn it. Coding is your first love? Debug sites and stack those experiences in your portfolio.
  • Make a great presentation: There are many tools that are available for free online that you can use to do a good job of formatting and presenting the content of your resume in a neat and visually appealing manner. Check out Resumonk and Creddle.

Make a list of your dream companies

Visit their websites regularly (especially the career section) to look for new openings, and subscribe to their newsletters, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. This won’t just help you find out about new openings but will also build up your knowledge about that company.

Talking to seniors and professors from your college could also be a good start. Ask your placement cell to connect you with employers. There are many blogs you could follow that cover upcoming startups such as YourStory and NextBigWhat.

Use social networks

LinkedIn, in particular, could be useful to connect with HR managers of the companies or founders/CEOs of the startups where you’d like to intern. Don’t just blindly connect: Write a strong short pitch on why they should hire you as an intern. LinkedIn also offers a free one month premium membership trial that you can use to send InMails (direct communication) to prospective employers.

Follow-up

In my experience, only 2% of students who apply for internships ever follow-up with the employer on the status of their application. As a result, they naturally have an edge over the 98% who don’t. Following-up indicates sincerity and a genuine desire to do the internship. You can send the first follow-up email four or five days after your first email, and another email about a week after the first follow-up. If you still don’t get a reply, keep calm and carry on—with another application elsewhere.

We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com.