In the finance world, the work experience you have when you graduate from college can make or break the start of your career. That's why landing a solid internship can be essential for starting on the right foot upon graduation. With all the options out there, how do you land the right internship? In this article, we'll give you a few tips on how to find and choose the best one for you.

Why Internships Are King
If you're a college student interested in financial careers, you have no doubt heard an earful about internships. And while internships might just sound like a bunch of extra work for very little reward, there are some pretty good reasons to consider going after the experience. Internships offer a gateway to real-world work experience, full-time jobs and networking opportunities that would be tough to get anywhere else.

Real Experience
The work experience you'll get from a good internship trumps anything you'll get making coffee at Starbucks or flipping Big Macs, and it probably pays better too! Even though knowing how to make the perfect latte is a pretty nifty skill, for an accounting major, it can't compare to knowing how to draft financial statements or audit procedures. On top of that, working in the industry will give you perspective on what you really want to do with your career before you're stuck in a job you may not enjoy.

Future Prospects
Leveraging a simple internship into a full-time job is another reason to go after and internship. Many firms approach intern candidates as they would applicants for a "real" job - they're looking for people who can fill a more permanent role after they graduate. As a result, many large financial firms make full-time offers to a large portion of their interns after they complete their programs and degree work. Indeed, firms like Deloitte, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) are known to offer full-time positions to many of their interns. It's definitely not a bad idea to have a secure job lined up before you graduate from college.

Expanding Your Contacts
Networking is another big reason to pursue an internship. Interns often do the same work as a first-year professional and get the same chances to interact with senior employees. Having a good relationship with higher-ups could mean a quicker path to promotion in the future; and even if you decide not to take an offer with the company you interned with, saving a manager or recruiter's business card is a good move if you decide to hit the job circuit later on.

Applying to the Right Companies
One of the biggest keys to having a successful intern experience is picking the right company to join. When you're mulling over your options, make sure to focus on companies and jobs that you'd be sincerely interested in working at as a career.

As with your college hunt, prestige should be a factor when you're trying to pick a company to intern for. If you're interested in banking, working as an intern at a big-name like Bank of New York Mellon Corp (NYSE:BK)and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) is probably going to carry more weight than if you work for your local Savings & Loan over the summer. For most, going with a top-tier firm for an internship will make you a more desirable job candidate.

Don't disqualify a company from your search just because it's not in finance. Even though Google is a technology company, they've got some stellar internships for financial analysts. Most larger organizations have internships in finance, so if you love the corporate culture at Apple or Disney, remember that you may have options there too!

Unlike full-time jobs, which could be available all year long, many internships have strict deadlines that you'll want to stay ahead of. Lots of internships take place during the summer, so deadlines tend to fall in the later winter and early spring. If you're considering working for a particular company, find out whether it has any deadlines looming.

Recruit a Recruiter
One of the best ways to get your foot in the internship door is by developing a relationship with a recruiter. Top-tier financial firms get inundated with applications and resumes, so having a real person to contact is a great way to make your name stand out. Lots of companies now have online internship applications that prefer the "don't call us, we'll call you" approach to job applications.

Don't hesitate to look up a recruiter's name (this can often be found on the contact page of a firm's website), and send an email. If you're lucky enough to get multiple offers, but are still waiting for that one firm, make sure to let recruiters from your top choices know so that you can speed the process along.

Selecting the Offer
When all your research and applications have gone out and you're starting to hear back from a few employers, now is the time to really figure out what you can and want to do.

Time Expectations
Your schedule is very important when considering an internship offer. If you'll be taking classes during the internship, don't overwhelm yourself - if either work or school performance suffer, you could inadvertently make yourself less likely to be offered a full-time position or to even graduate.

Paid or Unpaid
Pay is especially important if you've received more than one internship offer. Intern pay can vary quite a bit from company to company (most financial internships pay between $12 and $30 per hour), but many firms pay interns about the same as what their first-year professionals make. There are some unpaid internships out there, so make sure that the rest of the job adds value to your resume if you can afford to go the volunteer route.

Additional Perks
Don't forget about perks! Many of the more competitive internships have some pretty nice perks that go along with them. Posh parties, free dinners, complimentary gym memberships - you might be surprised about the perks top firms offer. Google interns get free meals cooked by the company's corporate chef, while interns offered full-time work at PricewaterhouseCoopers even get a trip to Disney World!

Start Searching!
If the prospect of having a high-paying, perk-laden, full-time summer job sounds like a good deal to you, it's never too early to start your search. While most firms prefer hiring rising seniors, it's definitely not unheard of for interns to land summer spots after their freshmen or sophomore years.

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