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College students take note: Internships are now considered essential for demonstrating work experience to potential employees and can significantly increase your chances of getting hired for a full-time job after graduation.

According to a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, (NACE), 42.3% of college seniors with internship experience who applied for a job received at least one job offer, while only 30.7% of seniors sans internship experience received an offer.  

Internships provide students a taste of the working world, and let them become familiar with a potential job sector. As more universities stress the importance of internships the market is becoming more competitive. Here are four tips career experts shared on what students need to know and be prepared for to land their dream summer internship. 

How/Where to Find Internships

While it might sound basic, career experts say that students often over look the best resource for finding an internship: their career center on campus.  Not only can students practice mock interviews with career counselors, but recruiters often alert career centers about openings for interns within their companies says Kaplan Mobray, career expert and author of The 10Ks of Personal Branding.

“Employers build relationships with those career service directors—they actively engage those offices and set schedules to come to campus to find great students,” he says.

Once you establish what contacts your career center has, Web sites such as Internships.com or SimplyHired.com can also be sources for finding positions.

If you are interested in interning at a particular company don’t be put off by not finding an explicit internship program.

“It's important to really target employers who individualize themselves for interning and working in the future and go after those employers,” says Lauren Berger, CEO of Intern Queen Inc,  a Web site that connects college students with internships. “Just because you can't find a job listing or an internship listing at one of your dream companies doesn't mean they're not available.”

Ask your family, friends and teachers about possible internship openings, you never know who knows who.

“Students should speak with teachers, family, former employers, clergy members, coaches, friends, parents of friends—anyone and everyone you can think of—and ask for contacts in their geographic and/or career fields of interest,” says J.P. Hansen, author of The Bliss List: The Ultimate Guide To Living The Dream At Work And Beyond. 

Time is of the Essence

However you choose to find internship opportunities, Jenny Floren, founder and CEO of Experience.com, advises that students begin the search well ahead of time.

“It’s crucial that students not wait until the spring to start researching summer internships because often times there are strict application deadlines and stiff competition to consider,” she says.        

Sell Yourself at the Interview

Berger, 26, stresses the importance of a strong cover letter that details your specifics (name, address, school, major, etc.) as well as your commitment to the internship if it’s out of state.

“That way the employer takes your application seriously,” Berger says. “The employers don't want to waste their time--their time is very precious.”

If you get called in for an interview, do your homework: know the company’s history, employees and outlook.

Run through practice interview questions and formulate solid, thoughtful answers.

“Practice the three P’s: prepare, practice and persuade,” suggests Hansen. “Research your target companies, practice interview questions and answers, and persuade with confidence.”

At the end of the interview, potential employers may give you a chance to ask some questions in return. Ask them.

Berger says to take advantage of this time to ask for a description of a typical day as an intern at the company, which can help the student get a feel of their duties.

“It's also going to tell me how much attention the company is putting into their internship program,” she says. “If the employer has nothing to say and can't tell you what an intern does it their company, that's kind of a red flag.”

You Got it! Now What? 

Once you land an internship, you need to treat it with the same respect as a full-time job. Mobray explains that all too often, college students get stuck in the mentality that they are “just an intern,” which can be unappealing to a prospective employer.

“The reality is, whether you are an intern or a full-time employee, you are an employee of that particular company or organization,” he says. “The quicker you can acclimate yourself from being a student who’s got an internship to, I’m working at a company and I just have an internship title, the more you stand out as someone who could be easily employable in a full-time [job].”

No matter where you work, there is bound to be some down time, don’t get discouraged. When things slow down, use the time to learn about different areas and employees of the company.

"The best thing that an intern can do is to build beneficial relationships so that when they need a job, they can reach out to their personal and professional networks and try to connect with someone who is hiring,” says Intern Queen’s Berger.