How to Create Your Own Internship

8 minutes

Just because a company has not posted an internship position on its website does not mean that it does not offer internships. In fact, most do, or would be willing to, with the right proposal from a prospective intern. Do not be afraid to contact employers with a cover letter and resume and express your interest in an internship with their companies.


Image courtesy of InterExchange

Show Initiative

Most InterExchange interns found their internships by doing just that—they emailed or called employers, expressed interest in being an intern, explained why they were a good fit, and then asked employers if they would be willing to offer an internship opportunity. Demonstrating an interest in interning or training with a company shows that you have done your research and are a motivated candidate. There are many great reasons to find an internship on your own.  By taking the initiative and suggesting an internship program to an employer, you are showing your creative ability and excitement about working with the company as well as potentially creating a new opportunity that will fulfill your career objectives.

Define What You Want to Do

Deciding what you'd like to do isn't as easy as it sounds. Think about where you are now. In school? Working? Recently graduated? And then think about where you would like this internship to take you. Which specific skills do you want to learn or improve upon? What abilities do you already have that can be applied in a professional setting?

Before you approach an employer about interning, you need to have a solid understanding of what specific tasks you would like to do and what you hope to take away from the experience. Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

  • Why do you want to do an internship?
  • Is this internship required for school? Do you want to work on a particular skill? See what it's like to work in the field?
  • What responsibilities do you see yourself having? What would a typical day be like?
  • If you are studying marketing, do you see yourself doing market research? Working directly with clients? Online marketing or a social media-related role?

It is okay not to know all the specifics of what your ideal internship would be--part of the reason for doing an internship in the first place is to figure out what you like to do! Remember, you will be there to learn, and the company will be taking the time and responsibility to expose you to the industry and integrate you into the company. When approaching employers, you should have goals and ideas in mind regarding what you'd like to learn during an internship, but also be flexible and open to learning what the employer would like to offer you as well.

Where Do You Want to Do It?

Once you have identified the type of internship you would like to have, you need to research the field in order to begin to identify companies who do the things you are interested in doing. What types of opportunities are available for someone with your interests and background? Here are some resources to help you research companies in your field:

  • Online resources
    • Social Networks: LinkedIn, Twitter
    • Industry-specific blogs
    • Online job boards
    • General web searches
    • Professional association websites
    • Online business journals
    • News articles
    • Your school's Career Center website, if they have one
  • Your university
    • Does your school have a Career Center or Career Advising Office? Make an appointment with an adviser to discuss some ideas. Where have students interned in the past? Are there alumni from your school currently working in the U.S. in your field?
    • Meet with professors. They are experts in the field, so they will likely have some ideas for you. They may even know a U.S. colleague who would be willing to hire an intern.
  • Clubs/Professional groups
    • This is where you can meet and network with other students or professionals like yourself. You can find out where they have had internships or brainstorm names or types of companies relevant to your mutual interests.
  • Friends and Family
    • Discuss your interest in an internship with the people around you, especially if they have connections to your field or the U.S. For example, your family or friends may know people at companies with which you would like to intern or have ideas for identifying prospective companies. Networking is an important skill to have, and it is actually how most people find their jobs in the future, too. Friends and family members can sometimes send their colleagues your resume or maybe even help you get an interview.

Resume and Proposal

Your resume is extremely important when proposing an internship to an employer. It is how the company will evaluate whether you have the background and/or experience of someone they would be willing to train. Check out the InterExchange Career Training USA Resume Guide to learn how best to create or tailor your resume for U.S. employers.

Based on the information you gathered, prepare a written document outlining an internship you would like to do with the company. You may want to suggest a project for a particular department or position or for a particular need you know that company has. While flexibility is important, it's also important to be specific with what you would like to do and the skills you have to offer. A company is more likely to offer an internship to someone who has a plan and is goal-oriented as opposed to someone who will "do whatever" the company assigns. Also, the J-1 internship must be related to your academic and/or professional field and cannot be more than 20% clerical.  Doing administrative work, such as filing or getting coffee, is not the most beneficial for your career development, and anything beyond 20% of this type of work is not allowed on the program.

Along with your resume, your proposal should include:

  • A clear and concise description of what you would like to do for the organization
  • An explanation as to why you have chosen the specific company (this should be tailored to each company you contact)
  • Your goals and learning objectives for participating
  • How you think the company will also benefit from your internship role
  • Your specific knowledge/skills/background drawing on your education and/or previous experience and how they apply to your goals and the internship responsibilities
  • Your availability and time frame for the internship. J-1 internships and training programs must be full-time (a minimum of 32 hours per week) and can last from 1 to 12 months for interns and hospitality trainees and 1-18 months for all other trainees
  • Whether you are seeking a paid or unpaid internship (unpaid programs must meet the Department of Labor's six criteria)
  • An explanation that you've identified InterExchange, a J-1 Visa sponsor, who will assist with the process of visa sponsorship so that an employer can legally hire you despite not being a U.S. citizen

You can send your proposal via email to the company, either to a specific person with whom you've made contact or to the general Human Resources department. Check the company's website to see if they have a "Contact Us" section to find out the best way to submit your proposal. To find the best contact person, call and find out who handles internship requests or reach out to people who work at the company by exploring the leadership of the company or finding contacts on LinkedIn to see if they can direct you to the right person. It's a good idea to follow up within a week after you have sent the proposal to ensure it was received. Be polite and thank the person for their time in your follow-up.

Informational Interviews

If you contact an employer and your contact tells you the company isn't currently able to offer an internship, ask if you may have an informational interview instead. This will help you to learn more about the industry, and the employer may actually be able to refer you to colleagues or competitors who do similar work and may be interested in hiring an intern.

An informational interview allows you to learn more about a specific company or individual role within the company. At this stage, you will be seeking general career and industry advice rather than an internship. In other words, you are not interviewing for a specific position but are getting a feel for the company and evaluating whether you would be a good fit for a future opportunity there or with a similar company. At the very least, you will be learning more about your field and becoming better prepared for your future conversations with employers who are interested in hiring interns.

There is only so much you can learn about a company from its website, so informational interviews are a great opportunity to ask questions about the company and what it's like to work in the field in general. It also may be a good time to talk about the type of internship you are looking for and to get advice from someone who currently works in your field. Talking face-to-face, over Skype/videochat or via email with someone can provide you with valuable insight into industry news, what the industry looks for in its employees, typical career paths, what it's like to work in the field, and other topics.

Now that you have made a contact and hopefully had a valuable conversation, you can ask the person to keep you in mind if he is able to hire an intern in the future. He could also refer you to other companies who may be interested in your internship proposal. Remember, this person is taking time out of his day to talk with you, so it's important to send a note or email afterwards thanking him.

Learn more about informational interviews.

Moving Forward

There are many great reasons for finding your own internship, but creating your own internship is a great way to ensure a rewarding experience since it will be based on your own academic and professional interests and career goals.  Proposing and developing an internship takes time, effort and patience, and it is just one of many ways to find an internship in your field. Do not be discouraged if you don't hear back from all employers or if you do not receive positive responses. Many companies just don't have the resources or time to hire an intern at the time you apply, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to offer something in the future or refer you to someone else who could hire you. Be persistent and good luck!

More resources for finding an internship in the U.S.


Allison joined the InterExchange team in 2011 and holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Higher Education. She oversees the daily operations of the Career Training USA program where she has the privilege of working with students and professionals from around the world pursuing U.S. internships and training programs. Allison is originally from Massachusetts and studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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