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Where to Intern If You Really Want to Be an Entrepreneur An internship is a great way to get career experience and find an industry you love.

By Jason Kulpa Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Being an entrepreneur can be challenging, exhilarating, and fulfilling. Running your own business requires unwavering commit, focus and determination. It's not an easy path, but for some people being an entrepreneur is a passion that can't be ignored.

There is no straight line to becoming an entrepreneur, but there are things you can do to set yourself up for success. Studying hard and getting good grades is a start, but nothing replaces hands-on experience. According to an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 91 percent of employers said candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions. Nearly half of surveyed employers wanted new-grad experience to come from internships or co-op programs.

Related: This Top Internship Pays Up to $8,000 a Month

Internships are key because they help you figure out what you want to do, or maybe more importantly, what you don't want to do. According to a report by Look Sharp, a national college recruiting organization, 81.1 percent of graduates reported that their internships helped them shift career directions by changing the focus of classes or majors.

An internship is a great way to get career experience and find an industry you love. Below are a few tips for finding the right internship.

Pre-internship research

The perfect internship actually begins with the search. Make sure to start searching a few months before you intend to start, since many companies will need time to review applications and interview candidates. Keep careful notes about the internship deadlines and requirements that you can refer back to throughout this process.

Internships for the sake of internships aren't worth it; you have to make sure that your internship gives you valuable insight and is worth your time. You want to intern at the sort of company that you could see yourself starting one day.

Related: Looking for a Summer Internships? Here's What You Should Know.

Check out local company websites in the industry you've identified. Look for leaders in your field or companies that have won awards.

Don't be afraid to intern for a small company. According to the Look Sharp report, preference for internships at startups jumped from 7.4 percent in 2015 to 9.7 percent in 2016. Startups are a great place to learn the business ropes for future entrepreneurs. After all, learning how a small business operates will serve you well when you manage your own company.

Study websites to get a feel for company voice and values. Many companies have a page that outlines intern opportunities, but don't be afraid to reach out even if there isn't an official internship application. Pitch yourself and explain why you are the perfect intern for the company. Explain why your academic skills, past experiences or passion make you stand out from all of the other intern applicants.

Company characteristics

Look for internships that will give you access to many different parts of the company. You want to learn as much as possible about how the company operates. As an entrepreneur, you will need to understand everything from HR to product development and everything in between. An internship is a great opportunity to see those departments up close.

Try to find a workplace that matches your vision for your future business. Do you envision your future company as a laidback startup or a large corporation?

Related: Every Entrepreneur Should Be an Intern First

Once you start interviewing for internships, look for someone who wants to teach as much as you want to learn. Your supervisor should be excited for you to ask questions and be open about explaining the inner workings of the organization.

You may also want to prioritize looking for internships that pay. The Look Smart survey found that 55 percent of internships were paid.

After the internship

Stay in touch with the people you meet during your internship. Offer to take mentors and former colleagues out to coffee or send a check-in email every few months. The connections you'll make during your internship will be invaluable as you continue down your entrepreneurial path and need to bounce ideas or questions off of people familiar with the industry.

Finding the right internship can feel intimidating, but you must overcome that fear. Almost everyone, including and maybe especially the most successful entrepreneurs, struggle with uncertainty and self-doubt. The best entrepreneurs open themselves up to a variety of experiences that will help them develop the skills that are needed to run a company. Remember that an entrepreneur is always growing and learning.

Jason Kulpa

CEO of Underground Elephant

Jason Kulpa is the CEO of Underground Elephant, a performance-based provider of online-marketing technology and customer acquisition solutions. Servicing multiple industries, including auto insurance, post-secondary education, health insurance and home services, Underground Elephant provides cloud-based SaaS marketing technology and platforms that deliver qualified calls, clicks and inquiries.

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