How To Land Your First Internship

Eric Bykowsky with fellow interns at Proctor & Gamble

Eric Bykowsky, center, with fellow interns at Proctor & Gamble

It’s rare that a college freshman knows exactly what he or she wants to study. But for those who do, three years of summer internships present a career-climbing opportunity that’s rare after graduation.

At least, that’s according to Eric Bykowsky, a recent graduate from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. Bykowsky scored an offer from McKinsey & Co. last November. Shortly after, he went back to his high school in South Carolina to give a talk on making the most of college, and posted an article on LinkedIn outlining his formula for ensuring employment.

Bykowsky’s rise from a small internship to more prestigious ones each summer helped him understand what employers want, he said. The talk and the article were his way of sharing the lessons he learned.

“There’s no textbook that tells you what to do when you get to college, so people have to figure it out themselves,” he says. “I thought a bit of a roadmap would be helpful.”

HOW HE KNEW WHAT HE WANTED TO DO 

Before he got to Carnegie Mellon, Bykowsky already knew he wanted to study business. “I was pretty entrepreneurial from a young age,” he says. “When I was 4 years old I would go around selling ant killer to my neighbors for a dollar.”

The ant killer was just a concoction of stuff that he threw together in his room. He said he told neighbors it would kill ants, and they would buy it, because they thought his entrepreneurial spirit was cute.

He didn’t outgrow that spirit. In 11th grade he took a marketing class, and loved it so much he knew he wanted to go into business problem-solving. So when it came time to choose schools, he knew he wanted to go to business school, and he knew he should start looking for marketing internships.

A COLLEGE INTERNSHIP ROADMAP FOR NEW STUDENTS 

Bykowsky’s article outlines a lot, from what he thinks employers look for, to how to secure a high GPA, to demonstrating interpersonal skills. But perhaps most helpfully, he discusses how students can land their first internships.

“Start early and do whatever you can do to get internships, because every internship is an opportunity to lead to a better one the next year,” he says. “And it’s the only opportunity you’ll have to take steps like that.”

THE CAREER CENTER CAN GIVE YOU A LEG UP

He has three main pieces of advice: Visit the career center, network, and focus on your areas of interest.

Most schools have connections, and simply visiting the career center and asking for help can be enough to get an introduction, Bykowsky says. Getting to know the career center staff can give you a real leg up.

However, he also warns that even career center staff may not want to vouch for a freshmen with no work experience, so it’s good to look for other options, too.

NETWORKING IS EXTRA IMPORTANT FOR FRESHMEN 

Networking is key early on, he says, because the majority of freshman internships come from personal connections. Parents, friends, and friends of friends are all places to start asking around.