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WRITTEN BY:
Ellen Zacarias

How to Get the Internship You Want

Prepare, Practice, and Manage Your Nerves

Summer Internship Program
Source: Maryland Gov Pics via Flickr
Caption: Summer Internship Program

Summer is coming in three months, so the time to go internship hunting is now. Internships are great for beefing up your resume and also to sample a field to see if it is a good match for you.

For example, are you interested in public relations but not sure if working for a PR firm is the right thing for you? Try an internship over the summer. You’ll pick a few skills, become a bit more worldly, and at the end of the internship, you have something good to talk about in your resume.

Below are some tips on how to get the internship that you want, especially if it’s your first internship.

1. Create a Resume Kit

If you don’t have a current resume, be sure to update your old resume and make a new one. For a resume, cover letter, and personal recommendation contacts, there are a lot of great, professional-looking free Microsoft Word templates.

Ingredients of a basic resume kit:

  • cover letter

  • resume

  • list of contacts who can recommend you.

Cover Letter

The cover letter is a letter to the recruiter telling them about your interest in the position, and also why you’re a good candidate. Keep it brief, as a lot of hiring managers don’t have the time to read mini-manifestos. My own first cover letter was embarrassingly long and gushy.

Resume

There are lots of guides on writing resumes. Two things to aim for are visibility and brevity. Since you’re likely fresh in terms of experience, keep your resume to one page. At this point in life, the recruiter doesn’t need to see your middle school awards or how well you did in your AP World History exam.

List of Contacts / References

Reach out to people who you know can put in a good word for you, via email, Facebook, via phone, or in person. Ideas: professors, leaders or supervisors in organizations that you’ve participated in and contributed to, colleagues / teammates that you’ve worked closely with.  

Ask them if you could use them as a reference for your internship or job hunt. Add their contact information (name, phone number e-mail, position, company) to your list of references. Aim for three.

Get someone to look over your resume kit for errors and ways to improve it.

2. Tailor Your “Resume Kit” for Each Position You Want

Sending the same, generic resume to all the internships you apply for is the equivalent of spamming.

Make it personal. Each company is different, and each position will have slightly different expectations. Do your research and find out which parts to emphasize in your resume and cover letter.

For example, maybe you’re considering a medical training internship. You’d probably want to play up that medical volunteering trip in Peru in your cover letter rather than your short, two-week stint as a live poet in an underground bar.

Another example: going into a technology-oriented job? Emphasize your computer literacy and other tech-oriented skills in your resume and cover letter.

In short: tweak your resume and cover letter for each position and company that you apply to.

3. Network: Ask Around

Your school probably has an awesome career services center--hit it up. Career services centers typically have tons of printouts of useful information on many different career paths and possibilities. Career centers also host seminars, workshops, and speakers in fields that you might be interested in. These events could be great for meeting people.

Places to Look for Internship Listings:

  • College career services website - Many colleges have a database in which internship opportunities are posted exclusively for students.

  • Your major department building -- Ask the front desk if there is a bulletin board of internship listings. This is a great place to look because the internships posted will most likely be related to what you’re studying.

  • Craigslist -- Granted, some of the jobs can be sketchy, such as the insurance-selling positions. But there are some cool gigs that pop up, and you never know when a juicy opportunity might show up suddenly. Keep your mind open and keep checking.

Ask Your Network

Your network of friends, classmates, acquaintances, colleagues, and professors is your treasure. Unless you’re competing for some hard-to-get-in, exclusive and specific internship, let people know that you’re looking for an internship. Someone might be able to point you towards an opening or a resource, or even hook you up with a position. 

Networking Tip: Your major department probably hosts “social” or “happy hour” events every now and then. Socials might or might not be your thing, and some socials can be a bit boring, but think of it as a way to increase your visibility in the department. You can talk to and develop relationships with professors who can give you a heads up about opportunities later on. Maintain these contacts by emailing them every now and then, and inviting them for a cup of coffee if they’re nearby.

4. Apply Early

Applying early is a great way to stand out as an applicant, especially when many applicants turn in their stuff a few minutes before the deadline.

Some positions, especially the Craigslist internshi or job opportunities without an application deadline, get snapped up a few hours after being posted. Sometimes it’s good to be fast.

5. Create Your Elevator Speech

If someone asked you to talk about yourself for 30 seconds, what would you say?

Who are you? What are you about? What do you do?

The term “elevator speech” comes from the idea that we occasionally meet powerful people in an elevator, and in that time, we get a short amount of time to market ourselves towards a potential opportunity with this person.

Figure out what you’re going to say. An elevator speech is like a cover letter, but presented orally and in person. Practice it. Rehearse it so many times that you can launch yourself into the elevator speech whether you’re at the grocery store, at a social gathering...or in the elevator with the CEO.

6. Perfect Your Interview Skills

Research and Prepare to Ask Questions About the Company

Research the company and the internship position you are applying for, and create (and even print) a list of questions to ask the interviewer. This shows a strong and genuine interest in the company. You can find out info on the company by going to their website and social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.

Internalize the Internship Description

Know what they are looking for, internalize it into your system, memorize the ways in which you are a good fit for the internship description, and be prepared to talk about it. Being familiar with the internship description will give you an edge and also confidence in knowing how well you fit the position.

Practice

Hold mock-interviews with someone who can give you feedback. I find it best to do it with good acquaintances because they can be a bit more objective than a close friend or family member would be. Paul Michael from Wise Bread has posted a useful guide on “How to Answer 23 of the Most Common Interview Questions.” Encourage your mock interviewer to throw you some less common interview questions, to keep you on your toes.

Manage Your Nerves

Being prepared and practicing goes a long way in managing your nerves. But oftentimes you might feel super nervous anyway. It’s all in the head. In her free PDF guide, How to Prepare for an Interview, Alison Green shares some great tips on tweaking your mindset so that you can perform optimally at the interview. Good luck! 

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