How to Land an Internship (The Right Way!)

For college students, the word internship is one with a lot of weight attached. Everywhere you turn, it seems you can hear fellow students talking about/discussing/desiring/angst-ing over a coveted internship. So what exactly is an internship anyway?

According to Vocabulary.com, an internship can be defined as “a temporary position with an emphasis on on-the-job training rather than merely employment, and it can be either paid or unpaid.”

It’s pretty easy to see why in today’s economy something like an internship might be considered of utmost importance. If you have friends or family wading through the job market (or if you’re looking for a full-time position), chances are you know that job requirements often include years of prior experience. Well, where do they expect prospective employees to have gained this experience, given that they’re likely coming straight out of school? Truth be told, that is a very good question and one with no clear answer—which is frustrating to no end (but a good example of a “Catch-22”!). While you may not feasibly have enough time to rack up years of experience before applying to an “entry-level” position, at least an internship can provide some skills and know-how when it comes to working in a potentially interesting field!

Read on for eNotes’ top eight tips for landing yourself the perfect internship!

Double, triple, and quadruple check your resume and cover letter.

We cannot stress this enough. In fact, we advise you even go further than relentlessly checking your own work and say that it may even be beneficial to have a friend, family member, or a well-educated stranger look over your work. It’s actually proven that the more time you spend looking at something, the more likely you are to become desensitized to errors—particularly in your own work. Be sure to look out for spelling errors and grammar taboos, from the glaring mistakes to itty-bitty misuse of language.

Further, eNotes employer, Samantha Burton would like to note that it is important to proofread not only for language mistakes, but also for bigger, certainly more awkward errors, i.e. who the cover letter is addressed to.

I’ve been there,” Samantha said. “Mass applying to dozens, if not hundreds, of jobs/internships hoping to land an interview, so I understand that you’re applying to other companies—but don’t send a cover letter meant for another company! You’d be surprised how often this happens, and you can guess it doesn’t bode well for the applicant even with an impressive application.”

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Experience can come in many forms.

Even when applying for internships, there are some companies that look for “related experience.” Since it’s likely you’re applying for an internship, it’s probably fair to assume that the employer isn’t necessarily looking for work experience, at least, not in the traditional sense.

Particularly when you’re applying for your first internship, you may look at the phrase “related experience” with some trepidation, after all, you’re a student, what kind of experience can they expect from you? But what about student experience? Have you been involved in any relevant clubs? Have you engaged in clubs/classes/group projects with any sort of leadership roles? Is there a project you’ve undertaken either through school or in your own time that lends experience to a relevant skill? If so, by all means put that information in your resume or cover letter. Even when you’re applying to a full-time position, these little tidbits about your life outside of the workforce can serve to make your application stand out from the crowd.

Be mindful of application guidelines. 

When applying for a job, pay attention to how the company requests you go about applying. That is to say, if the given employer requests an application, a resume, and a cover letter—don’t just send in a resume and a cover letter, even if a lot of the requested information is already on your resume. Employers will assume that if you can’t follow simple directions when it comes to applying to their company, chances are you can’t or won’t follow any other directions either… *throws application away.*

“Unfortunately, we don’t even look at applications that blatantly don’t follow the application submission guideline process,” Samantha said. “It gives the immediate first-impression of, believe it or not: not [being capable of] following simple directions.”

For goodness sakes, be honest.

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the advise that “stretching the truth doesn’t count as a lie,” at least not when resumes are concerned. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. Sure, everyone embellishes a little bit on their accomplishments and skills, we get it, but when it comes to work experience you’ve had and other crucial information, an unimpressive truth is better than a boast-worthy lie.

For instance, if you worked as a cashier at Subway: by all means, play up the phrasing, it’s true that you handled monetary exchanges with customers! However, it’s probably not true that you were involved in “financial management.” This kind of “truth-stretching” may get your application discarded, or even get you fired if you’re fortunate enough to land the job, no matter how otherwise qualified you may be.

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Just… Just don’t be creepy. 

Follow the cardinal rule that if you wouldn’t say something to someone in person, don’t write it in your cover letter either. You may think that this principle is common sense, but you would be mistaken. Not to name any specific examples, but eNotes has received some applications with questionable cover letter topics and inclusions. Maybe you’re trying to be quirky in an effort to jump off the page with the force of your personality, but if you’re saying too much about inappropriate subject matter, you make prospective employers, for lack of a better word, nervous.

Research a company before you interview.

Better yet, research a company you’re interested in before even beginning your application. A lot of applicants simply send out the same resume and [pretty much] the same cover letter to all of the companies they apply to—this is a mistake. Yes, any company that is hiring is well aware that most potential employees are sending out countless applications to just about any prospective employer—but employers are interested in applicants who are interested in working for them, so if you can be specific in why you want a particular internship right off the bat, you’re already ahead of the competition.

Often, a company’s website will have an “about us” section that details some of the finer points of an organization and explains what it is that the company hopes to achieve. If you can tailor your resume and cover letter to (honestly) be consistent with a company’s ideology, you stand a better chance in getting an interview.

Take a look at your social media, because you can bet that employers will.

To a lot of younger people (I myself am a millennial, but as the one giving this advice, I will take the liberty of generalization), the concept of potential employers checking out Facebook and Instagram to analyze potential employees sounds like something your parents tell you to try to keep you in line. As it turns out, parental meddling is only half the battle—employers really do look at applicant social media pages, and they do make personality judgments based on what they find. For example, if you have a bunch of pictures of you drunkenly dancing on a table or holding three beers and a margarita, there’s a high likelihood that you’re going to be overlooked for the applicant all dressed up at their grandmother’s garden party.*

*The above examples may be gross exaggerations, but they are at least based in fact.

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Thoroughly prep yourself for your interview.

Congratulations! Your resume and cover letter were interesting! An employer sees how qualified you are, and now he or she wants to meet you! *Gulp.* Okay, now it’s time to think about more than how you look on paper, and start thinking about how you come across in person.

First, surely you’ve heard the expression, “you only get one chance at a first impression.” Well, it’s true, and interviewers tend to put a lot of stock into these first impression when it comes time to make a final decision on who to hire. With that in mind, remember that the interview doesn’t start when you open your mouth; it starts when you open the door. Dress appropriately for the position you’re applying to—whether that’s business formal or casual (and when in doubt, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed).

Then comes the talking part. More important than how you look, is how you speak and what you say. Be prepared to not only answer, but also to ask plenty of questions. Interviewers will ask you questions relevant to the job you’re applying for, but they most likely will hit you with a bunch of open-ended questions as well, (where do you see yourself in five years? What about this company is particularly interesting to you?). These types of questions are geared toward finding out more about you as a person to see if you’ll fit in with the company, not just the job they’re looking to fill. Interviewers are also expecting you to ask questions of your own. Not having any questions about the workplace or your specific expectations basically screams that you’re just looking for any job you can get—and no company wants to hire an employee like that, even if it is true.