If you are graduating in 2010, don’t miss out on one of the biggest opportunities of the year: summer internship recruiting begins now! Clouds-and-building

Many corporate employers use internships as a primary pipeline for hiring for full-time positions. As a result, they will keep their internship programs strong even in a down economy. According to annual surveys conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, it's quite likely you'll land a full-time job from your internship: the percentage of interns converted to full-time employees increased from 35% in 2001 to 50% in 2008, with almost 70% of interns receiving full-time offers in 2008.

I spent over eight years working at campus Career Services offices where my job was to learn abou employer needs and help students apply for positions. In the process, I developed a few observations on how you can best prepare for the process:

If you haven’t started already, this is a great week to begin.
Many campuses don’t open for spring term until mid-to-late January, but a majority of staff at Career Offices are back at work. If your school offers individual counseling appointments or resume critique services, now is a great time to get a quick appointment. If you’d like outside help, you may also want to consider hiring a resume writer or career coach—but keep in mind that you will need to follow resume guidelines set by your campus.

Research potential opportunities. Given the high conversion rate of interns to full-time employees, you want to make sure you like the place you work enough to stay there full-time. Therefore, it is important to carefully evaluate opportunities. Read about career fields, position types, and determine the best work environment for you. Then research employers to create a short list of ideal organizations. Apply for multiple opportunities: don’t limit yourself to only those employers who are interviewing on-campus—apply for other internships as well. (In addition to your campus internship database, check out company websites and aggregators including indeed.com.)

Discount the myth that no one reads cover letters. Competition can be stiff, and employers often use cover letters to assess your writing skills and your level of interest. A great cover letter can help you get noticed.

Show that you understand the position and industry.
Contrary to popular myth, employers don’t always use GPA and major as the first screening criteria when evaluating internship applications. A little research on current company initiatives, products, or work environment can go a long way. News aggregators (e.g. Google News Alerts, RSS Feeds) and research tools such as Hoovers, Lexis-Nexis, and Factiva can help you quickly find items worth mentioning. (You may also want to look for key indicators on company health and performance—factors that can help you assess your long-term employment prospects.)

Write your materials from the employer’s perspective. In most organizations, employers scan application materials quickly to seek answers to the following questions:

  • How did you learn of this position? (They want to know if their ads are working!)
  • How do your skills and experience align with the job description?
  • Why are you interested in the position? How does it fit in with your long-term goals?
  • Why do you want to work for us? (What interests you about our company versus our competition?)

Quick tip to ensure you’ve written from the employer’s perspective: Count the number of sentences in your cover letter, than the number that start with “I.” Aim for less than 50% of sentences to begin with you.

These strategies are designed to help you “stand out” in the applicant pool while also demonstrating how you “fit in” to the company culture and organizational structure. Have any additional tips or success stories of strategies that worked? If yes, please share!