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How to get an internship

Janelle Vreeland

How to get an internship and a headstart on your career

Invaluable educationally, internships are now seen as a vital element in the post-graduate job search. According to The National Association of Colleges and Employers , more than 75 percent of employers prefer to hire candidates with relevant work experience. That means that without an internship, nearly three-fourths of all employers have already eliminated you from their pool of prospective hires.

“I think its pervasive now and you’re definitely at a competitive disadvantage if you don’t have, at least, one internship under your belt by the time you graduate,” said Andrew Maguire, founder and CEO of start-up, a website that pools together small-to-midsized companies offering internships into a search engine.

How to get an internship

A key part in learning how to get an internship is understanding which one is most appropriate for your educational and professional goals.

Your choice of major was most likely based on one or several factors: your passion about a certain topic, expected salary upon graduation, a desire to learn a specific trade, and more. Your decision on what internship to complete should be based on a similar set of factors. An internship is a fantastic opportunity to explore your interests in a less time-consuming (and much cheaper) manner than changing your major or taking on extra course work.

Before you start pondering about how to get an internship, you should be thinking about which internship opportunities would be right for you. Which companies are really exciting? Which ones are accessible? Finally, how to get an internship with these companies?

“Pick five or six organizations where you’re really interested in what they’re doing and then you’re going to get a lot more bang for your buck,” recommends Maguire.

Don’t just look at the big names when considering to get an internship; look into the start-ups as well. Some big name companies’ internship programs will have you doing menial tasks, with no opportunities for actual mentorship, while smaller companies are more intimate and your internship responsibilities will complement those of full-time employees. When you consider how to get an internship, think what you want to get out of the internship experience and adjust your list accordingly.
How to get an internship with your resume and cover letter?

The resume should explicitly state your internship goals at the top. Employers look at your resume for little more than three seconds before they decide to keep reading or throw it into the garbage pile, according to Patrice Rice, author of “How to Interview”, as reported by AOL Jobs. An effective internship resume should inform the employer how you could benefit the company through an internship at the résumé’s top.

You should also avoid sending out the same resume for every position. “Tweak your resume to certain positions. Highlight the stuff that’s really relevant…and… the times when you’ve used certain skill sets,” Maguire said. 

Your resume should be in an easy-to-read format and free of spelling errors.

“It sounds small but it’s huge: not having typos on your resume… Employers will just throw it out immediately because it’s just indicative of carelessness,” says Maguire.

When learning how to get an internship, don’t forget the cover letter. Try constructing a brief outline before you begin your cover letter. During your research you should come up with two or three qualities the company will be looking for in an internship candidate. Expand upon the bullet-points in your resume to create an argument, supported by anecdotes.

The intention of a cover letter is to show how you can take those bullet-points on your resume and apply them to an internship. This is probably one of the most challenging aspects of how to get an internship. Ideally, the cover letter should clearly communicate your qualities and the research you’ve done on the company – in less than a page. “Cover letters should be short and sweet – for the simple reason that (companies offering the internship) have too many to read,” Maguire said.

One of the most effective ways to get an internship is to comprehensively review your resume and cover letter, and to read it out loud to yourself, as your brain is forced to process each word individually while you verbalize. This also helps you recognize odd phrases and terminology. Utilizing your campus career center or writing center will provide you with an informed opinion on your internship resume or cover letter.

How to get an internship by acing the interview

Conventional wisdom dictates that business professional is the way to dress for an interview – whether it is an interview for an entry-level job or for an internship. “You always want to err on the side of being more formal in your initial interaction. It’s the first in-person impression and a sign of respect,” Maguire said.

Being formal also extends to your general conduct. Begin by giving a firm handshake and introducing yourself to your interviewer. Remember your interviewer’s name. Stories abound of potential internship opportunities squandered because of this final question: “What’s my name?” Right after they introduce themselves, say it back to them with a “____, nice to meet you.”

While you’re interviewed, also pay attention to your body language, which is “enormously important in how well you do,” according to Maguire. “Giving a firm handshake and looking someone in the eye is… as important as what you say.”

Prepare a litany of answers to the most common interview questions that are supported by a variety of anecdotes. “Students will draw on the same set of experiences to answer all the different questions and it looks a little limiting,” Maguire said. 

The interview should cap off with some well-thought-out questions that reflect all the research you’ve done. Students are most impressive when they challenge “our basic assumptions or identified a problem that we have and asked ‘how are you going to deal with this?” Maguire said. “It demonstrates… that you have the ability to engage in original thought…and not just providing canned answers.”

After the interview, thank the interviewer for the opportunity. A follow-up e-mail, reiterating your appreciation and desire to get the internship, is generally expected and can go a long way in impressing the company. If you follow all these tips, you should easily get an internship of your dreams!

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