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Internships | Applying and Landing | September 2012

How Do I Get An Internship?: 8 Tips from StudentAdvisor

By Taylor Cotter |

1. Personal Branding

Personal branding isn’t something that’s taught in college classes, but it is integral to getting an internship. Think about how other people think of you, how you think of yourself, and 8 Tips for Landing an Internshipdefine it in three words or fewer. Do you want to appear smart, forward-thinking and creative? Or, would you rather appear generous, kind, and hard-working? Decide which labels best define you, and how you can package this and sell it to an employer. Once you’ve defined the “mission statement” of your personal brand, use your resume, cover letter and interview to portray this concisely and clearly. Remember, an employer might not necessarily remember that you’ve taken seven business courses when another applicant has only taken five, but they will remember how you come across. As long as your personal brand is genuine, you shouldn’t have trouble sticking with it throughout the internship application process.

2. Don’t Just Rely on Listings

Your college probably has a database of internships and alumni networks that can help you find places to apply and give you a foot in the door. This is a great first step and works for many – if not most – students while they apply for an internship. However, think more critically about where you want to intern before accepting whatever positions career services offers you. Are you obsessed with working for a tech startup? Would you rather work for a boutique PR firm? It’s likely that if companies are small or new, your college doesn’t have them on file. Perform some independent research. Find company websites – the most reliable source for up-to-date information – and see what positions they have available for interns.  

3. Paid or Unpaid

Decide before you apply: are you looking for a paid or unpaid internship? Will your internship count for credit? Putting yourself in a precarious position of applying for and potentially accepting an internship that doesn’t fit your needs is not a good idea. Taking a paid internship might seem ideal, but if your unpaid internship can count for credit, you may be able to graduate earlier than planned. Weigh your options and only apply for internships that work for you.

4. Cover Letter

Having a great resume is key, and there are countless resources to help you out with that. However, what about the oft-overlooked cover letter? Make sure your cover letters are clear, concise, and explain the reasons why you want to intern for a particular company or organization. Reusing cover letters is common, but it is risky. I recommend taking a few minutes to rewrite your cover letter for every internship. You’ll avoid the search-and-replace mistakes that are all too common, and force yourself to thoughtfully consider why you actually like the company. If they interview you, you’ll have an answer prepared for why you want to work there.

5. Social Media

Twitter: Many companies post job listings on Twitter, in addition to sharing news about the industry and their latest projects. Following a company on Twitter is a huge way to show that you’re interested, and be updated on their most current news.

Facebook: Facebook pages usually give a decent amount of information about a company. The Timeline feature gives important information about when the company was founded, and some of their major accomplishments. “Liking” a company’s Facebook page is a great way to show interest.

LinkedIn: Explore those with whom you correspond on LinkedIn. You can see their photos, their work history, and their exact responsibilities with the company. This will give you a huge advantage in the interview. While you don’t need to memorize everything about the company’s staff, you can have a better idea of where you fit. Maybe your interviewer is a fellow alum, math major, or you’re from the same hometown – LinkedIn can give you some insight into this. Many companies also list job openings on LinkedIn and share industry-related news.

6. Apply Early

The earliest you should apply for an internship is one semester (or about four months) before you would like to start. This may even be too early for some companies, but by sending your materials over in September for a January position, January for a May position, and May for a September position, you can demonstrate a serious interest. If a company suggests that you apply later, apply at the earliest date that they suggest. This will put you in the door for an early interview so you can know as quickly as possible whether you received the position. Don’t let a company keep you hanging – follow up and ask for a decision in a reasonable amount of time, especially if you’re working your class schedule around the position.

7. Dedicate As Much Time As You Can

During your interview (or possibly earlier) you will be asked for your availability for the year. At schools like Northeastern University, you’re given an entire semester off to pursue internships or co-ops full-time. However, if your school doesn’t offer this option, you’ll want to dedicate reasonable blocks of time to your internship. The best situation is to dedicate at least two 8-hour days. If you can’t make this work, four or six hour blocks are crucial. Even if you’re coming in every day, two or three hours will likely not give your employer the dedication they need, and won’t give you the real-life experience you are looking for.

8. Think Outside the Box

Can’t find an internship in your field? Are the internships you’ve found not paying enough, or won’t count for course credit? Think outside the box! Is there a volunteer opportunity for a cause that you’ve always liked? Is there an office on-campus that aligns closely with your professional goals? What about taking a temp job, or freelancing opportunities? When I was too late to apply for internships for one semester, I helped out with content for a podcast I enjoyed. It wasn’t a 9-to-5, but it was a resume item and one of my most fun professional experiences. There are many great resume-builders, even if you don’t have the exact title of “intern.” Explore options and try to find a way to get experience in your field by doing something you love.

Any tips for students applying for internships? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

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