6 Real-World Tips to Help You Land Your Dream Internship

Last fall as her classmates were preparing to return to campus, America Mason ‘22 was headed to Hawaii. Mason, who is earning a degree in hospitality management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., was jetting off to an internship at the Fairmont Orchid: five months at a luxury resort in paradise, plus college credit (and a paycheck to boot!).

How did she get so lucky to land an internship in paradise?

View from property of Fairmont Orchid Hawaii

"Even my friends were like, ‘She went to Hawaii, that’s so crazy!’,” Mason began, “but the process I went through was like any other. I just picked the place and thought, why not?"

Depending on the college you attend, completing an internship may or may not be a requirement to earning your bachelor’s degree. At Johnson & Wales, it is — and the research shows again and again that it’s a good way to position yourself for career success. Mason said, “I thought it was a really cool thing about Johnson & Wales that they require you to do it, they help you do it, and they really want you to have some in-person experience before you’re just thrown into the deep end of your career."

Here are some benefits of interning:

  • You gain valuable professional experience before you graduate, adding to your skillset and knowledge of your future field.
  • Having an internship could make you up to twice as likely to land a good job immediately after graduation, according to a Gallup-Purdue poll.
  • Your work experience during your internship can help you identify what you’d like to pursue long-term.

Throw in that you could potentially travel to a new city or exciting corner of the world, and it seems wise to at least consider if an internship can fit into your higher-education plan. If you’re a college student and you’re starting to explore your internship options, take a cue from Mason and try her tips to make your dreams a reality.

How to Land your Dream Internship

Here’s the path that Mason followed to secure her internship in Hawaii. Whether you’re in the hospitality industry like her or looking for career experience in another sector, these tips should help set you apart and allow you to find exciting opportunities.

America Mason in front of Fairmont Orchid sign

1. Research your options.

There are several ways for you to discover internships that match your aspirations. First, make sure to check out any available student resources. At JWU Providence, Mason has access to Experiential Education & Career Services (Ex Ed), an award-winning team that’s dedicated to preparing students for their careers. “They’re amazing,” she said. “Their whole job is to help me get a job."

Networking is a great way to research too. Mason used her connections on LinkedIn to help figure out what she was looking for. 

2. Don’t limit yourself.

If you’re able, why not consider your internship a chance to gain full-time work experience and see the world? “My mom’s a big believer in dream big,” Mason said. “She suggested that I could go anywhere for this internship, not just someplace close by."

While internships in hospitality and tourism that include lodging make this idea potentially more possible, this tip is a good reminder to look into expanding your horizons and experiences, even outside of the office you’ll be working in.

3. Narrow your focus.

The world of hospitality is massive: hotels and lodging, tourism, event planning, food service management, and more. Mason knew that she wanted to work in hotel operations and the continuing pandemic made her focus on the US as a location. From there, she zeroed in even more on openings with luxury brands, thinking, “With that level of professionalism and that level of service, I felt that even if I don't end up in luxury, I've created this awesome foundation for myself that I can build on,” she said.

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Try to identify the exact area that you’re interested in or at least an opportunity that could be beneficial to giving you insight into your future career. Make your internship work for you!

4. Polish your résumé and cover letter.

When it came to the actual application process, Mason worked with the Ex Ed office to make sure her application was “top-notch.” Use all the resources you have — campus services for mock interviews, even a friend to proofread your draft before you submit — to make sure you are setting yourself up for success out of the gate.

5. Apply for the off-season.

Mason interned during the fall semester, September through December, instead of the typical summer season. “In order to sell myself, I even offered to stay all the way through the Christmas season and a few days after New Year’s to help the hotel during the holiday rush,” she said. “It was a little different to not have a white Christmas, but at the same time, it was so nice not to shovel my snow!

If you have flexibility with your schedule, consider applying outside of competitive seasons like summer.

6. Don’t just be interviewed; interview your employer too.

You may find an amazing internship with the right focus in an amazing location … but that doesn’t mean the experience will be necessarily amazing. One way to gauge the opportunity is to realize your interview is a glimpse into the company’s culture. For example, JWU impressed on Mason to go into interviews prepared, and she expected the same from the hiring staff. She was looking for a certain level of professionalism and took casual interview experiences as a warning sign. At the Fairmont interview, she said, “I felt that they had put as much dedication and effort into me as I had into them before we even met."

What Does a “Dream Internship” Really Look Like?

Once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

If you pictured Mason on the “Big Island” of Hawaii snorkeling with manta rays, zip-lining through waterfalls and parasailing over the Pacific, all while living steps away from the beach, you’d be spot on. One of her favorite spots overlooked a hidden cove where turtles crawled up on the sand. “The locals told me about it, and I’d go there after work at 2pm,” she remembered.

America Mason on an adventure in Hawaii

Exposure to positive work culture.

But it wasn’t all wild adventures and wildlife. She got to know the local culture and even a few phrases in Filipino from coworkers. “The aloha spirit is real,” she said. “There was just genuine warmth radiating from everyone. You can feel it. I know I worked in hospitality, but there was genuine care and compassion. I really got to see what it means to be part of a company with dedicated employees."

"I really got to see what it means to be part of a company with dedicated employees."

Increased knowledge and direction.

More than anything, Mason says that the internship gave her confidence. “I walked away from my internship just feeling I discovered a career path. Before I was doing really good in school and I had a great job. But the idea of taking a management role, which is what we're training for and hoping for the end of the degree, was overwhelming,” she began. “But now, I know I am ready to enter the workforce, and I am ready to take on a position where, yep, I might not have all the answers, and I might be on a learning curve. But that's OK. I think that's what I needed was to know that when I graduate, I am ready to take a job. That’s all I wanted."

After finishing her amazing hospitality internship, Mason returned to Johnson & Wales for the spring 2022 semester to complete her bachelor’s degree and begin classes for her MBA - Organizational Leadership through the university’s accelerated master’s program. She believes this business foundation, paired with her dream internship, will set her up for her dream career. “While I was in Hawaii, I was in charge of auditing rooms, which is going through with a fine-tooth comb to see if they meet the set of standards that they have to meet in order to be qualified as a five-star five-diamond resort–I absolutely loved that!” Mason said. “It's one reason I'm so grateful for my internship because I don't think I would have really thought about that until I tried it."

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