Before you can find an internship or co-op, you need a clear understanding of what internships and co-ops are, and to be able to articulate that well to a potential organization. Please review the other pages on Internships/Cooperative Education before beginning the following steps.
With careful preparation, determination and hard work, you will be able to create an enjoyable internship/co-op, explore a career field, and strengthen your experience for future job possibilities.
You don't have to do this alone – WKU Career Services Center (CSC) is here to help students navigate this process. We also provide assistance to students in sending their letters of inquiry and application materials to potential employers. You will need to meet with a CSC career counselor to use this service. Contact CSC for an appointment by calling 270.745-3095 or stopping by DUC A-230.
Either prior to this meeting or after, you will need to research employers you are interested in and provide the organizational and contact information for your top 10 sites to your CSC career counselor. You can use this downloadable form included in the Internship/Co-op Employer Contact Form & Instructions to collect and submit the data to your CSC career counselor.
Step 1: Clarify Your Objectives
Be clear in your own mind about what you hope to accomplish in your internship/co-op. Your main task is to convince a potential employer/sponsor that it would be beneficial for him/her to offer you an educational experience. Be prepared to explain your basic goals for the experience in a few sentences. Some questions to consider are:
- Why do you want an internship/co-op?
- What kinds of tasks do you want to be involved in at the worksite?
- What skills would you like to use?
- What skills would you like to learn?
- What do you hope to accomplish by the end of the internship/co-op?
Since you must convince a potential sponsor that it is worth her/his time, and possibly money, to provide you with an internship/co-op experience, be able to tell the sponsor what you have to offer. In many cases, though you might not have related experience to offer, you can offer your energy, determination, ability to learn, and strong interest in a particular field. You may also have other specialized skills (e.g. computer programming, research, laboratory work, writing, video-production, clerical, accounting, or photography) which you can offer in exchange for obtaining more career-related, technical experience and skills from the employer/sponsor. Decide what you want to learn and what you have to offer in return.
- You may simply want a chance to have an inside look at the real world of work or the internal workings of a specific organization.
- You may want a chance to further develop a skill you already possess by using it in a new way or by working with experts.
- You may want to learn communication skills and build a network of professionals in your chosen field.
Initial objectives for your internship/co-op can be established in two ways:
- You can state your general objectives and then identify organizations which may fulfill your needs, or
- You can first identify the organization for which you want to work and then tailor your objectives to the needs of the particular organization.
A way of determining objectives for your learning experience can be accomplished by:
- Conducting an informational interview with professionals in the field you are pursuing
- Speaking to a faculty advisor or mentor about your experience
- Meeting with your career counselor at WKU Career Services Center to identify ideas, goals and objectives
Whichever way you choose to begin collecting ideas for learning objectives and projects, the final agreement on objectives and goals will have to be negotiated between you and your internship/co-op worksite supervisor and, possibly, your internship/co-op professor, if you are receiving course credit for the experience.
Step 2: Identify an Organization
An internship/co-op organization may be a business, non-profit group, government agency, citizens' group, public service organization, educational institution, or any other organized group working toward a common goal. Once you have decided what you want to accomplish with an internship/co-op, begin identifying organizations which may meet your purposes. You may already know the organization where you would like to work and can begin to contact people in the organization; see Step 3 below. If you aren't able to identify any organizations that might provide an internship/co-op, the time has arrived to do some research and creative thinking.
Decide on location. One way to make your search for organizations easier is to decide on a specific geographic location where you are most interested in working. Some students find they have to be in their hometown or a place where they can live without high expenses, while others prefer to "broaden" their search area (and possible opportunities), and/or try out new areas of this country or another! It may be better to "try out" an unfamiliar geographic area on a temporary basis rather than accept a full-time position in "unknown territory" after graduation.
Begin your research. Think creatively; try to identify as many different internship/co-op opportunities (employers) that might fulfill your objectives as possible. Utlilize any of the following:
- WKU TopJobs, employer and job listings www.wku.edu/career/topjobs.htm
- WKU Career Expo or Spring Job Fair events and employer listings
- The Yellow Pages or local phone book
- A local newspaper, The Bowling Green Daily News, WKU Herald
- Human services directories
- Internship or other experiential education directories
- Networking – talk with friends that can help you discover and identify different organizations that might offer opportunities
- Chambers of commerce might provide additional information about organizations, businesses and services in communities of interest (many have information available on their website)
- Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce – http://www.bgchamber.com/
Networking. When you are trying to identify organizations, talk with faculty members and the people you know for suggestions—parents, parents' friends, friends' parents, and others you know. "Networking" is one of the best ways to find someone who might be willing to take you on as an intern/co-op. Starting the conversation with family and friends - let people know what you are trying to do without specifically asking them to sponsor you. Ask for their advice and information. By approaching them in this way, you aren't putting them in the position of having to say no to you. Instead, you give them some time to think without pressure, and to reflect on the good impression you made while talking with them. Be patient and respectful. With time to consider without pressure, they may decide they would like to offer you an intern/co-op position with their firm/group, or they may be in a position to recommend you to someone they know. If you are financially able to pursue internships/co-ops at any location and with any organization, your task might be a little more difficult. You'll have to narrow your focus by type of organization and/or by location to identify possible opportunities. The "sky is the limit" when considering where you might end up for your internship/co-op.
The WKU Career Services Center has a number of directories to help you identify potential internship/co-op opportunities. Stop by the office today in DUC Annex, room A-230
Step 3: Identify the Person to Contact
After you have decided on firms, agenicies or businesses where you might want to work, make contact with those organizations. You will be much more successful in your attempt to create an internship/co-op position if you communicate directly, by name, with a specific person within the organization.The person with whom you communicate should also be in a position to make a decision about your proposal. This means you will need to contact the director, president, or the head of the department where you want to work. You could also speak directly to the person with whom you would like to be working during the internship/co-op. If he/she likes the idea, he/she will usually be able to sell it to the organization's decision-makers. If you do not know anyone in the organization, do some research. Names of appropriate personnel can be secured through a number of sources:
Step 4: Contact
Now that you have completed the research, you are ready to begin communicating with the person for whom or organization with which you would like to work. The following are ways to initiate contact:
Writing a professional letter of inquiry
One of the best ways to begin is with a letter, even if you already know the person to whom you will be writing. In the letter, ask if you might meet the person to discuss the possibility of doing an internship/co-op with her/him. Some tips for letter writing are as follows:
Do not ask directly if he/she can offer you an internship/co-op. By asking to discuss the possibility of an internship/co-op, you give him/her some time to think about your proposal before responding.
In your letter, briefly explain what you mean by an internship or co-op, how you can help the organization, and what you hope to accomplish with the experience. Indicate clearly if you are looking for a paid experience.
Emphasize the advantages to the organization of having you as an intern/co-op. The letter should be an outline of what you would like to discuss in person. Indicate that you will be calling to set up an appointment to talk in more detail about your proposal.
Scheduling an appointment for meeting the contact
Once you have secured an appointment, begin to confidently sell your idea to the organization. Your goal during this meeting is to interest them enough to agree to investigate the possibilities. If you are lucky, they'll agree to offer you a position on the spot, but be realistic. They very well may need time to decide, or ask for others' support in the chain of command. For the initial meeting/conversation, be prepared by:
Being able to clearly outline your objectives, why you chose their organization, how you can help them, and what they can do for you
Completing additional research about the organization so that you are generally knowledgeable about their mission, services, customers, etc.
Speaking to your faculty member prior to meetings with organizations so that you can provide the potential internship/co-op supervisor with details about your course requirements (if seeking course credit)
Preparing questions to ask the organization contact
Providing a resume of your skills and background
Presenting a portfolio of work related to the field (especially important for photography, teaching, writing careers, among others)
If the organization is not interested or is unable to offer you an internship/co-op, ask for names of other organizations that might be interested in your proposal and for any suggestions they have to help you in your search.
Follow up after meeting with potential employers or internship sites
Step 5: After Obtaining the Internship/Co-op
When you identify someone willing to offer you an internship or co-op, be sure you and your supervisor both clearly understand what you will be doing. Discuss your expectations of the organization and the organization's expectations of you. The WKU Career Services Center (CSC) requires that an internship/co-op student complete a set of forms before you start your internship/co-op, one of which helps a student and the internship/co-op supervisor outline expectations, job responsibilities and learning objectives for the experience. Once you've secured an internship/co-op, sign up for a group internship/co-op meeting, or call or come by the office to obtain the forms and directions from your CSC Career Counselor to help you be successful on the job. Contact Information: (270-745-3095, DUC A-230, firstname.lastname@example.org)