We still have a few solid months to go before summer, but if you’re interested in securing an internship, now’s the time to start thinking about and planning for it. But before you turn your focus completely too online job boards and resume writing, take a step back and arm yourself with these tips on everything from where to find the best opportunities, to how to sell yourself, and the keys to making the most of the job.
It’s always worth it to go for what you want.
It’s a competitive world out there, and that competition is magnified when your social media feed is filled with #humblebrags about your friends’ and classmates’ accomplishments. But don’t let anyone or anything deter you from going after the internship you want. Whether you’ve got your eyes on a prestigious internship in your field or you have your heart set on making it in New York City, you owe it to yourself to go for it, even if you don’t have a resume padded with directly relevant experience. “If you are passionate about interning at a particular company, don’t hesitate to apply,” Essence Dashtaray, campus recruiter at Viacom (the parent company of brands like MTV, Nickelodeon, BET, and Paramount Pictures) told Teen Vogue. “At Viacom, we look for a range of different academic and an internship experience — it’s not one size fits all.”
Think outside the box.
This goes both for the types of internships you’re seeking out, and how you prepare yourself for those jobs. Want to work in finance? Don’t look only at banks or hedge funds. Every company has a financial team; think about things that interest you, find companies that do those things, and see if they need financial interns. And as you work to beef up your resume, don’t limit yourself to classes or extracurricular that is directly related to your desired field. There are certain universally valuable traits and skills that can help set you apart when it comes time to apply. “Students can give themselves an edge when applying for internships by building a portfolio that includes leadership, community engagement, and a strong academic standing,” Chrystal Stanley, professional and career development and academic achievement coordinator at Drake University, told Teen Vogue. “Employers are looking for well-rounded problem-solvers, who have the ability to communicate effectively.” But that doesn’t mean you should sign up for every club, sport, and fundraiser you come across at school. “We…encourage students to be thoughtful when selecting co-curricular activities,” Stanley said. “It is best for students to be truly involved in a few clubs or organizations based upon their interests or passions rather than to be simply a member of multiple organizations.”
You can — and should — include more than your GPA on your resume.
When creating your resume, start with the basics: Dashtaray recommends including education, relevant coursework, internship/jobs experiences, and organizations or clubs you’re involved in. But even if you don’t have a page-long list of those things, she notes you can still tell a compelling story by highlighting “relevant and transferrable skills.” For example, if you’re applying to a sales internship, but haven’t taken many business classes, think about how the things you have done can apply. Did you help plan a food drive at school? Then you’re probably organized and pro-active. Are you an officer in your sorority? Then you’re likely good with people. Once you’ve put together your stellar resume, read it over and make sure you’re conveying all of those skills and achievements in a professional manner. “It’s important to have a well-organized resume with no typos or grammatical errors,” Dashtaray said. “Your resume is your first impression — tries to keep it to one page, concise, and easy to follow. Showing your creativity through your resume can be a good thing, but remember that most employers want to read a well-written, concise presentation of your skills and accomplishments.”
You should always do your research.
“Preparation is paramount,” Dashtaray said. “Always conduct research on the company you’re applying to and the people who you are scheduled to meet.” Rather than use the same exact resume and cover letter for every application, tailor them to each position and company. Even minor tweaks, like adding a uniquely relevant skill to your resume, or writing a few sentences in your cover letter about the company, will show you’ve done your research and care specifically about that company and that job. That preparation will help you in the interviewing stage, too. Dashtaray recommends you practice responding to questions in advance — and while you’re at it, think about how you can work your knowledge of the company into your answers to really shine.
Networking might be the greatest tool in your arsenal.
While there’s nothing wrong with scrolling online job boards and submitting blind applications, it shouldn’t be your only strategy for finding and securing an internship. “The majority of internship opportunities are never listed on traditional job boards,” Stanley said. “Because of this, networking is a crucial tool in seeking internships and full-time employment…We encourage students to reach out to friends, family, faculty, and alumni in order to make connections.” Though it may feel uncomfortable to put yourself out there, whether you’re connecting with friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers, more often than not, you’ll get a positive response. After all, everyone has to start somewhere, and plenty of people who made it to the top did so with the help of others, and are happy to pay it forward.
And networking isn’t just a handy tool for seeking out new opportunities; it can help you stand out once you’ve submitted your application, too. Though, Dashtaray noted, most companies receive plenty of cold calls, an email to introduce yourself and follow up on your application could be beneficial. “It never hurts to submit an application and also send a LinkedIn message to connect with Human Resources,” she said.
You can make an impact before your first day.
Congrats, you got the job! Though it may be tempting to give yourself a break after the rigorous application process, if you want to make a stellar first impression, consider doing so before day one. “Interns are often accepted well in advance of their actual start date, so there is plenty of opportunity to stay in communication with your team,” Dashtaray said. “If they provide any on boarding instructions or recommendations, follow them carefully. Soon-to-be interns can also follow their future employer’s media coverage and keep well-informed of the latest industry trends and news.”
It’s up to you to make the most of your internship.
As an intern, it can be intimidating and overwhelming trying to find your place among the full-time employees and the hustle-and-bustle of the job — but that doesn’t mean you should keep your head down, do what’s asked of you, and smile and nod. Though that course of action may garner you some decent reviews, if you want to make the most of your role, and parlay it into greater opportunities later on, you should try to exceed, not meet, expectations. “Go above and beyond,” Dashtaray said. “Interns that stand out anticipate the needs of their department, bring ideas to the table that help the team, stick to deadlines, and make it easier for their team members to do their jobs.” Make yourself memorable not only by being a stellar intern, but also by connecting with and getting to know your boss and the other full-time employees, so you can maintain a relationship with them past your tenure as an intern.
You can and should stay in touch after your last day.
Landing an internship and succeeding while you’re there is great, but the best case scenario is that you use the experience to further your career in the future as well. When you say goodbye on your last day as an intern, don’t let that be your last communication until you reach out asking for a job or a referral. “Network and maintain relationships with the people you meet,” Dashtaray said. “From a happy holiday note, to sending them an interesting article that pertains to the work they do, there are small ways to stay on their radar and show that you appreciate the relationship fostered.”
There’s major value in bonding with your fellow interns.
Most internship come with a healthy dose of competition, but you can stand out among your peers while still bonding with them, and that bonding can be very beneficial. Having a group of people who know exactly what you’re going through is invaluable in any field: You can lean on each other for help, vent to each other when you’re stressed, bounce ideas off of each other when you’re inspired, and celebrate together when you succeed. And, though you and your fellow interns are all in the same position now, you never know who will end up where, and those peer connections can turn out to be just as crucial in the future as the connections you make with your superiors.
Your internship isn’t the end-all and be-all of your career.
Whether your internship is a smashing success or you realize it’s not for you, keep in mind that you and your career have a vast future beyond this experience. If you do well and want to continue pursuing that field, take advantage of your positive momentum and newfound knowledge to secure additional opportunities. And if you struggle with the job, don’t like the company or people, or maybe just decide you want to go in a different direction with your career, you can still use this experience to your advantage. “Internships are a learning experience and a time for you to figure out what you are interested in,” Dashtaray said. And even if you change career paths after your internship, chances are you gained at least some skills and experience you can use on your resume, anyway. Regardless of all of that, though, Dashtaray had one final piece of advice: “Most importantly, has fun!”
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