We all picture different concepts when we hear the word “internship.” Some envision a summer making copies at a parent’s office as “professional development.” Others think of incredible opportunities in a big city with an established corporation or international experiences that leave an indelible impact both personally and professionally. For college students, it can be difficult to take that abstract image of an internship and actually translate it into reality. Summer plans remain up in the air, but landing the job seems impossible. Intimidation stops them in their tracks when they log into LinkedIn, and the search is put off yet again.

Are you afraid to take the next step? Here are a few encouraging tips:

Obtaining an internship doesn’t have to be terrifying. Whether or not it’s a requirement for your degree program, internships can be invaluable bridges from the comfort of college into the young professional world. They provide a safe space to fail (and succeed), a broad look at potential interests, and automatic connections with people who have lived a little more life than you.

Your internship doesn’t have to be headline-worthy. With the right leadership, interns can get an equally valuable experience in their own home town as they can across the globe. Sure, big names might get you noticed, but that’s not all you need. One supervisor or coworker who is passionate about your field and eager to share a wealth of knowledge with you is enough. Their direction will carry you further in the long run than a name on your resume.

So I’ve talked you off the ledge. You’re not going to resign yourself to Minecraft or building sandcastles as your day job (though I hope you still do those things too)! What now? How can you land the internship?

  • Do your homework. Decide where you want to live this summer and what your short-term professional goals are. Look for companies that align with those aspirations. Ask friends and network connections for recommendations if you aren’t sure. There aren’t many “wrong” places to apply, but there are definitely ones that may be a better fit.
  • Make it personal. Once you have a general idea of a few places you’d like to work, get a pulse on the culture of that organization. Do you align with its values? Is there someone on the team who shares a common interest or experience? Use those pieces to build your initial contact because they show you already connect with workplace culture there. Especially in competitive situations, a personal connection will tip the balance for equally skilled candidates.
  • Be persistent. Borderline creepy if necessary…okay, not really. But almost. Send an email or a LinkedIn message, and be ready to provide an appropriate follow-up. Ask network connections if they would be willing to send a recommendation in addition to your own initial contact. After an interview, send a HAND-WRITTEN thank you note. Begin following the company on social media. (Don’t go back and retroactively like/comment on all its posts. That is creepy.) Let your actions speak for themselves – if the company doesn’t choose you for the position, make sure it’s not for lack of trying.

Believe it or not, you’re really ready for this. The right time to take the next step is NOW. Take the leap and land that internship!