7 Ways To Help Your Teen Score a Great Internship

If he’s interested in spending his summer working next to (and learning from) professionals, an internship might be a good option. Follow these steps to make sure he lands a good one!



Your son wants to be a lawyer. But does he really know what lawyers do? Or does he think it all plays out  like a Judge Judy episode? 

An internship is a great way for teens to get a true taste of a job they might want to land after they graduate, and can really make the difference when it comes to getting into college.

“An early start in the working world gives students a competitive edge in the college admissions process,” says Alex Freund, a career coach and author based in Hopewell Borough. 

It also helps admissions advisors see how well kids have mastered skills required in college courses. 

“An internship will help the student show how he works in teams, solves problems, communicates ideas and influences others in the real world,” says Joan McLachlan, co-author of Get An Internship and Make the Most of It: Practical Information for High School and Community College Students and director of Internship Quest LLC, an internship consulting service. 

Beyond what an internship says to an admissions department, things learned in the real world can’t always be taught in the classroom. Doing an apprenticeship helps kids develop “soft skills,” says Eric Woodard, author of The Ultimate Guide to Internships. For example, kids learn that they can call colleagues by their first name or that they need to bring a notepad and pen to a meeting, he says. “These are things you pick up as a professional that kids don’t know,” says Woodard. 

Does an internship sound up your teen’s alley? Here is how to land the perfect gig.

Discuss What She Wants to Do

Start by talking with her about her interests and strengths. If she likes to write, see if a newspaper or magazine will hire her as a junior reporter. Has she always been good at math or interested in business? Find a small company that will help her learn how to run one. 

Remember Who's Actually Doing the Internship

“These conversations are about your teen, not you,” says McLachlan. “Be careful not to suggest or tell her what she should do." 

Ask Around

Like all things, internships are often about word of mouth and who you know. Start with the industry your kid is interested in. Then, together, ask friends, family and neighbors in that field if they’re hiring or know people in that line of work who are. “Don’t be shy about using connections,” says Woodard. “Use every advantage you can.” An added bonus: The process of searching for an internship benefits your child, too. “It introduces teens to networking and articulating what they’re interested in, which is a valuable experience,” says Colleen Georges, a career coach in Piscataway and the co-author of 101 Great Ways to Enhance Your Career.

Apply Even If an Internship Isn't Advertised

Have him search sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Indeed or LinkedIn to find businesses, government agencies and nonprofits he’d like to work for. (See our "where to find internships" below for more information.) But he shouldn’t get discouraged if he doesn’t see anything advertised. “Internships aren’t always listed,” Woodard says. Even if a company doesn’t have a formal internship program, they may be open to the idea for the right candidate. Woodward suggests students approach a potential mentor at a place they want to work.

Create a Clear and Clean Resume 

It should list her education, including related coursework, school activities and titles held, plus any jobs she’s had, volunteer work she’s done and relevant skills and talents (foreign languages, computer programs, etc.). And don’t leave anything out—she should even include part-time or summer stints like babysitting, lawn-mowing and life-guarding. “It’s really important for it to be authentic,” says Woodard. “Even at the high school level, kids have so many experiences.” The resume should look professional, too, free of typos or other errors. The best way to make sure it’s presentable? Have several eagle-eyed adults review it, including at least one who works in the industry she’s interested in. 

Nail the Interview 

Your kid should research the company and be armed with a list of questions for the interviewer. To get the most out of the experience, your teen should be on the lookout for a commitment that the company will take the time to train him. “He should be sure to say, ‘Here’s what I want and hope to learn,’” advises Woodard. Kids can get something out of fetching coffee, making copies and putting away files—which are often part of paying their dues—as long as some mentoring and on-the-job experience happen along the way, he says. He should treat the meeting like a formal interview, even if it’s not, adds Georges. “Dress the part, be prepared to present skills and qualifications and ask questions,” she says.

Though an intern is the low man (or woman) on the totem pole, the tasks involved can really teach a kid invaluable lessons on how an office functions, says Dawn Rosenberg McKay, a certified career development facilitator and author of The Everything Practice Interview Book and The Everything Get-a-Job Book. “He should make it clear, though, that he wants to get work experience, too,” she adds.

On interview day, your teen should be on time and dressed conservatively, but not too casually (try to weigh in on his outfit and appearance beforehand). “Look and act like an intern, not a student,” suggests McLachlan. He should project self-assurance by walking confidently and sitting without slouching, she says. It’s important that he gives a firm handshake, makes eye contact and speaks clearly and enthusiastically too. And he should follow up with a handwritten or emailed thank you note once the interview is over.

Don’t Get Discouraged—Either of You 

It will likely pain you as parent, but an internship may not fall into your child’s lap. She may get a few rejections. If she doesn’t hear back about a position she’s really interested in after a week or two (giving it longer if it’s holiday or vacation season), McLachlan suggests calling or emailing her contact to follow up. “Ask if they can tell you where in the process the application is,” she advises. “She may learn that she hasn’t gotten the internship she applied for. That’s why she needs to apply for more than one.”

Where To Find Internships:

•  The company's website

•  The high school’s guidance counselor or career counseling department

•  New Jersey’s Better Business Bureau, bbb.org

•  Idealist.org

•  Indeed.com

•  Internships.com

•  The professional association of your desired industry

•  Volunteermatch.org

•  Volunteer Centers of New Jersey, state.nj.us

•  Hoovers.com

•  Vault.com

•  LinkedIn.com

•  Inc. 5000, inc.com

•  One-Stop Career Centers in New Jersey, jobs4jersey.com

Stacey Feintuch is a seasoned print and digital writer and editor. She covers health and parenting for various publications.

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