Practicalities: Before getting too carried away with looking for a company can you answer the following test questions?
Where will you live?
Can you afford the accommodation and the living expenses? Bear in mind if it is a paid internship you may wait for your first paycheck.
If you are living abroad are you comfortable with any language and cultural differences?
What type of company are you looking for?
Define your broad objectives for your internship. Some of the factors you might want to think about are:
Type of work – technical, managerial, accounting, marketing, research, general, volunteering, etc.
Company size (eg. Multinational, large, medium sized or small business).
Geographic locations (abroad, in your own country, close enough to where you currently live, etc.).
What skills do you want to develop?
Bear in mind though that the tighter your specification is, the fewer companies there will be and the fewer opportunities you will have open to you.
Get your CV in order
Produce yourself a CV/Resume. Ask experienced people to critically review it. Suitable people might include your academic supervisor, careers service, careers counselor, people you know in industry, friends of family, etc.
If you are not experienced at being interviewed see whether you can arrange mock interviews. Your Career Service can probably help in this.
Check out your visible persona
Check out your social network presence, facebook, etc.. You may think this is your private space but unless you have set the security and visibility settings very carefully and actively manage them your internship company may be able to see your presence. Be careful what you post – think about what is there from the perspective of a future employer!
Try Googling yourself – see what you find. Make any adjustments to your visible presences to improve things if you don’t like what you see. Your internship company may well do this.
Develop a personal online strategy – actively manage what you put on the Internet to create the ‘persona’ you want to show. You can even join in selective blogs and become known as being ‘smart’ in that area. It can be a very small, specific area but it can be of significant benefit to you.
Search for possible companies
Not all companies advertise. Some may not be thinking about offering an internship. A direct approach might just get you the internship of your dreams.
First step - check out any links with companies your academic institution has - ask your academic supervisor, check the notice boards, check your Career's Office, look on your institution's website, check your email. If you want an international internship check whether your institution's International Office offers any help. The student'sUnion or Oversea's Student body if there is one might also be able to help.
Check out your family friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, your social network (especially if you have a more professional presence through tools such as LinkedIn).
Check our own Internship Virtual Market.
Now life starts to get harder and you need to do more work. If none of the above have worked try trawling the Internet - bear in mind though that companies call internships with different names, so it is worth looking at our terminology document for possible alternative search words.
If you have one or more specific companies you would really like to do an internship with, check their own websites to see if they are offering anything. Don't give up if they don't - then is the time to get bold!
Getting bold - the unsolicited approach
Writing to the Human Resource (HR) Department, HR Manager or HR Director is, sorry but this is very unlikely to yield any success. You might be lucky but the HR department probably received heaps of unsolicited applications every year - it is their job to receive them and deal with them. The response, if you are really luck will be positive and a followup but more likely a polite outright rejection, a 'thank you, we have no vacancies but will hold your application on file' to no response at all. If you do go down this path and receive no response don't take it personally, they do it to everyone!
No, a better approach is to do your homework! Look up the company and in particular find out which department it is within the company you want to work for and be able to answer why that particular department. Try to find out who the manager of the department is. You may need to really dig around here but it can often be found out relatively easily. Now comes the getting bold bit - write to that person directly, in person. Introduce yourself, tell them why you want to work in their department and tell them what you can offer and what you want. Not keen on that idea? Time to get bold, nothing tried nothing won! Your letter may just fall on the desk of a manager who has an idea or two they want to do sometime but don't have the resources to do, you could be the answer to their needs!
Your letter needs to be short but direct and obviously polite - if you can flatter the person so much the better but it needs to be factual and real other wise your letter will hit the waste paper bin fast. At the end of your letter tell them you will call in a few days to see if you can talk to them about possibilities or, if they have nothing, whether they have any advice to offer you to find an internship!
If you have a few companies you are interested in, or for that matter only one, try sending a letter to not your first choice first - try a dummy run, see what response you get and adjust your approach based on what happens. But don't give up on your quest - just remember door to door salespeople have a success rate (and it is not 100%), their strategy is along the lines of every failure is one step nearer the next success.