Don’t have an internship lined up for the summer? Take a deep breath. It’s not too late–so long as you’re willing to put in the work.
It’s true you’re a bit behind, as deadlines for applications at many companies with formal internship programs have already passed. But there’s good news: There are still internship opportunities up for grabs.
“Many small and medium-sized companies don’t realize they need interns until April or May rolls around,” says Lauren Berger, CEO of InternQueen.com, “so they post their internship openings relatively late.”
Since you’re in a time crunch, you’ll need to ace the application process. You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right. Easier said than done.” Well, not necessarily–if you follow these steps.
The last thing you want to do is panic and spend your time applying to every single internship you can find. “You need to take a targeted approach,” says Sharise Kent, author of The Internship Manual: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Internship of Your Dreams.
“If you’re a freshman who is applying to internships typically reserved for juniors, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage,” says Kent. Focus on programs that fit your skills and level of experience.
Moreover, make the best use of your time. Before you spend hours applying to two- to three-month-old internship postings, pick up the phone and ask the company whether the position is still available, suggests Stephanie Waite, senior associate director of Yale’s Office of Career Strategy.
Recruiters and hiring managers can tell within 10 seconds if you’ve sent a generic application, says Berger. To stand out, you’ll need to tailor your resume and cover letter to each internship–and by focusing on five internship applications instead of 50, you’ll have time to do this.
Incorporate language from the job posting and the company’s mission statement into your resume, says Berger. Using the right keywords will help your resume pass through an application tracking system.
Use this same strategy to help you write a killer cover letter. “It’s all about dropping the company’s name throughout the letter,” says Berger. “That way, when the hiring manager reads it, they feel like the letter was written just for them.”
Keep the cover letter brief; Kent recommends writing three to four paragraphs. “It doesn’t have to be a full page,” she says.
Some companies simply don’t have established internship programs. Many startups, for example, can’t afford to hire an internship coordinator. Meanwhile, “a lot of companies haven’t hired interns before, but they’d be open to it,” says Waite.
If this is the case at one of your prospective companies, take initiative by creating your own internship at the organization. Find recruiters either through the job posting or on social media, and reach out to them directly. Be mindful of your approach, though. Ask about the company’s needs and whether they’ve ever considered hiring an intern, rather than immediately requesting an internship.
Even better: Identify problem areas at the organization and show how you can provide value, says Kent. For example, if the company isn’t active on social media, offer to help develop their strategy.
If you’re short on time (e.g., the application is due tomorrow), you may have to pull an all-nighter to get the work done or—gasp!–spend the weekend in the library.
But for the right internship opportunity, it’s worth putting your social life on standby, says Eric Woodard, director of the office of fellowships and internships at the Smithsonian and author of The Ultimate Guide to Internships: 100 Steps to Get a Great Internship and Thrive in It.
This might sound obvious, but when you’re under time constraints, you’re more likely to make typos, Waite says. Hence, you need a second pair of eyes–ideally from someone who is an expert in the field.
Have a mentor or a professor proof your resume, since the person knows the industry lingo, advises Waite.
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.