When it comes time to start your career, what can you do to stand out from the nearly 4 million students who graduate college each year? How can you gain real-world experience before you’ve even graduated from college? If you didn’t already guess from the title, the answer is internships.

Internships are an important first step in anyone’s career path, but, unfortunately, many students miss out on these great opportunities either because they do not proactively seek them out or they haven’t come prepared with their interview “A” game.

Here are some tips to help you rise above the rest and land an awesome internship.

Start Looking

You’re never going to get an internship if you don’t start applying. Too often, students talk about wanting to be an intern, but when asked where they’ve applied, their response is “nowhere yet.” You must put yourself out there.

A good place to start is the career development center at your university. They’ll have great opportunities from businesses in your area and can offer advice on how to construct your resume. You should also be looking for listings online and attending any on-campus job fairs your university provides.

The First Impression

Interviews start the moment you walk in the door. Surveys show that hiring managers sometimes make their hiring decision within as little as 30 seconds of meeting an applicant. A good first impression is one of the most important things to get right when interviewing for a position.

Dress the part. Some applicants choose to ignore this one, even though it’s one of the most important factors that will lead to whether or not you get the job. When it doubt, go for business dress – for guys, this means a dress shirt, tie and slacks, and for girls, this means a knee-length or longer modest dress or a similar-length skirt and a nice blouse or sweater. You can also feel free to ask ahead of time what the dress code is so that you can make sure to dress appropriately.

Be confident, and if you’re not, fake it. Look the interviewer(s) in the eye, give a firm handshake, and smile. Remind yourself that they are just people, this is just an interview, and you’ve got this because you prepared, which brings us to our next topic.

Be Prepared

Even if you nailed the first impression and things are already looking good, there’s more to an interview than the first 30 seconds. You are about to be asked a lot of questions and given the chance to show them what a valuable employee you could be. This process will go a lot smoother if you put in some pre-interview work.

Practice. Dip into your diverse network of friends and family and find someone who has worked in human resources or at least has some experience with hiring employees. Have him/her sit down with you and conduct a mock interview. He or she could have a good idea of some questions that could be asked and can offer valuable feedback to your answers. If you can’t find anyone willing to practice with you, you can always find example questions online.

Research. Find out as much about the company as you can beforehand. They will assume you’ve checked out their website and are likely to ask what you think of it as well as other items like the company mission statement. You may not get a call back if you answer with a blank stare.

Stand Out

The truth is that most interviewees are going to dress appropriately, and a good number will check out the company website beforehand. If you want to go beyond the shortlist and land the internship, you’ll need to stand out.

Converse. You need to come across as a person as well as a potential employee. Try to make the interview seem more like a conversation and less like a trial before a judge. Always be positive and friendly.

Show credibility. Even though the point of an internship is to get experience that you don’t have, employers still want to know that you can bring something to the table. Think of some experiences at past jobs that could be relevant to the position you’re currently applying for. If you have hard copies of past work, bring them along and be prepared to talk about them.

Follow up. It’s always a good idea to send your interviewer a thank-you email to thank them for their time and consideration and reiterate your interest in the position. It won’t make you seem desperate; it shows that you care about getting the job.

Most importantly, keep trying! If you don’t get the internship you wanted, keep adjusting your approach and applying for other opportunities as they arise. Students don’t always get the first internship they apply for; the worst thing you can do to yourself is give up.