If you are a student outside the United States planning to pursue a U.S. internship, it is important to plan carefully and have realistic expectations. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you prepare to undertake the exciting adventure and experience of interning abroad:
1) Write an American-style résumé and cover letter.
Your résumé provides information on your educational background and work experience. It should focus on how your skills fulfill the employer’s needs, not your own career goals. Like any job or internship in your home country, you need to sell yourself and explain why you will be a good fit for the employer.
2) Be proactive!
Internships will not come to you—you must go out and find them! Search online job/intern databases, but most importantly, tell everyone you know—friends, colleagues, teachers, family—that you want to do an internship in the United States. You would be amazed how many people find internships through personal contacts and simple networking.
3) Brush up on your English language skills.
There is a lot of competition for internship opportunities, so it’s important that you express yourself clearly in the interview. You do not want the employer to use “poor English skills” as an excuse to choose someone else.
4) Have realistic expectations.
If you have never worked before, don’t expect to be given a lot of responsibility. If your English is not very strong, don’t expect to do a job that involves a lot of work on the telephone. Be sure to set reasonable goals for yourself. You can’t become a CEO overnight!
5) Plan ahead.
The process of finding an internship can take many months, so you should start at least 6 months prior to when you want to go to the United States. There are also a number of costs associated with a U.S. internship: visa sponsorship, airfare, housing, food, transportation, to name just a few. A paid internship will help cover these costs, but unpaid internships will not. Start saving money now so that you have money available to cover these expenses when you actually find an internship.
6) Think of the internship as an educational investment for your future career.
Since an internship implies “work”, many students expect to earn a lot of money. Most often that will not happen. Just as you need to invest in your university education to learn skills, you will likely need to invest money and savings to acquire practical, hands-on training in an internship, a “real-world” classroom that builds on your academic studies.
7) Think about different sizes of companies.
Most interns want to intern at a big company with a famous name because they think it will look good on a résumé. Though big companies offer quality internship opportunities, small- and medium-sized companies often give interns more responsibility and exposure to more challenging projects.
8) Explore different regions of the United States.
There are thousands of internship opportunities in locations other than New York, Boston, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Keep in mind that the cost of living (rent, food, etc.) is considerably less in the smaller cities. However, public transportation may not be as developed, which may require you to purchase a car or a bike (which would be a good green option!). The climate also varies so be sure to research the weather patterns.
9) Take initiative and be open to new experiences and challenges.
Students who possess these traits and understand the mutual benefits of the internship experience (for the intern AND the employer) have the most successful internships. If you expect everything to be done for you and think you won’t encounter any problems during your time in the United States, you should probably reconsider whether or not you are ready for an international internship and get more experience in your home country first.
10) Tell potential employers about the J-1 visa.
The J-1 visa enables you to legally intern in the United States for 3 weeks up to 12 months. We also sponsors for J-1 visa trainees, who can stay for up to 18 months. The Alliance for International Educational and Cultural Exchange provides a list of 23 U.S. State Department designated sponsors who can help you obtain a J-1 visa. Be sure to research these organizations to understand the J-1 process and to find the organization that best provides the services you need.
Good luck and enjoy the exciting and educational adventure of interning in the United States!
Learn more about internship opportunities in the United States.
A true believer in the merits of cultural exchange, Rob's interest in study and work abroad programs dates back to his very own experience as a high school exchange student in West Berlin in 1987.
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A true believer in the merits of cultural exchange, Rob's interest in study and work abroad programs dates back to his very own experience as a high school exchange student in West Berlin in 1987. Connect on LinkedIn
View all posts by Robert Fenstermacher
internships abroad, J-1 Visa, participant resources, U.S. Internship, United States, work abroad
A cover letter is an important tool to use when applying for a job because it:
- Introduces you to the prospective employer
- Highlights your enthusiasm for the position
- Describes your specific skills and qualifications for the job or internship, and clearly explains why you are a good fit
- Confirms your availability to start a new position
You should always include a cover letter when applying for a job unless you are specifically told not to by the employer. We recommend that you write a cover letter (aka letter of intent) after you have drafted and tailored your resume or curriculum vitae (CV) for a particular job description. For academic faculty and teaching positions, see cover letter instructions in Masters, Ph.D.'s and Postdocs section. When applying online and limited to uploading one document, you can create a single PDF document that includes both your resume and cover letter.
What to Include in a Cover Letter
Use the cover letter template and planner to get started. When drafting your cover letter, keep the following DO’s and DON’Ts in mind:
- Limit the cover letter to one page if possible, unless applying to academic faculty, teaching or research positions.
- Use the same font and formatting in the cover letter as you use in your resume.
- You might also want to use the same header in both a cover letter and resume. See header formatting examples.
- If providing a printed copy, use the same type of paper for both your cover letter and resume. Resume paper can be purchased at the UC Davis Bookstore or at an office supply store.
- Many tech companies prefer the cover letter not be attached, but uploaded as text in an email with the resume attached.
- Use formal, professional language in a cover letter. This is true when sending your cover letter as text in an email (above point).
- Personalize each cover letter to the specific position you are applying to.
- Address your cover letter to a specific person or the hiring manager whenever possible. If you don’t know their name, use one of the following examples:
- "Dear Hiring Manager,"
- "Dear [insert department here] Hiring Team,"
- "Dear Recruiter, "
- “Dear Search Committee Chair and Committee Members:” (used for academic teaching positions)
- "To Whom It May Concern: " Note, this last one uses a “:” not a “,”
- Check for typos, proper grammar and accuracy.
- Use spellcheck, but do not rely on it to catch all errors.
- Have multiple people review your application materials.
- Make an appointment with an ICC adviser to review your application materials before you apply.
- Unless told explicitly not to, you should always include a cover letter in your application.
- Don’t use text abbreviations or emoticons if you are using email.
- Don’t be too wordy or write just to fill the entire page.
- Don’t submit a generic “one size fits all” cover letter; tailor your cover letter to fit each position. Thus, none of your cover letters will be exactly the same, though a lot of content will be similar in each.
- Don’t repeat or summarize your resume in your cover letter. Instead, focus the cover letter on your enthusiasm for the job, excitement about working with that organization, to highlight unique skills that make you qualified for the position and a good fit for the employer.
- Don’t overuse adjectives or superlatives, especially subjective ones (e.g. “You are the best company in the world” or “I am the most hardworking student intern you will ever meet.”).
- Quantify when possible. "I've helped organize three club events, including two successful initiatives attended by 25 people" is a better descriptor then "I've helped organize several club events, including a couple successful initiatives attended by many people."
- Don’t exaggerate your skills or experience.
- Don’t use UC Davis letterhead, logo, or UC seal in your cover letter. [NOTE: For graduate students and postdocs, some departments allow use of department letterhead for tenure-track faculty applications. Check with your department before using.]