Get an internship: 9 things to not screw up

Does the internet really need another guide on how to get an internship? Well, it’s going to get another one (because there are some of you that are still not doing it right). I work at a startup company, and alongside my role in the Client Relations team as well as managing Digital Marketing projects, I’ve been the Intern Manager for about a year now. I am going to share some of my experiences from the other side of the conference table.

There are many things that I had no idea about when I first started interviewing, and I really wish that there was someone to guide me through this scary, soul-wrenching process. So, in a system where it feels like everything is stacked against you and there’s not much that you have within your ability to control, here are a few things to not screw up in order to stand out.

  1. Do your research.
    Look up the company and make sure that you can confidently answer the simple question of what the company does. Secondarily, with all of the online resources at your fingertips, why wouldn’t you try to know more about the people who work at the company? I don’t in any way mean deep stalk every employee, but if you know you’re applying for a Marketing internship, take a look at some of the team members and answer some general questions like: what kind of academic and professional backgrounds do they come from, where have they worked in the past, what other interests do they have. You  might find that you have some commonalities or shared connections, even.
  2. Read the job description.
    If this sounds like an obvious one, think again. I can’t tell you the many times that I’ve been sent incomplete applications or materials that I had not asked for. It’s great that you write poetry and you should definitely put that somewhere under “interests” on your resume if it’s a big part of your life. That said, if I didn’t ask for it, don’t send me your poetry portfolio. We can get to talking about it during the interview or if you score the internship, during one of our awesome team lunches!
  3. Follow instructions.
    Similarly, if I asked for a writing sample and specifically said, “500 word limit,” please don’t send me your whole thesis. It’s an amazing accomplishment that, again, I’d love to hear more about at an appropriate juncture. However, if you can’t follow directions, we won’t get to that point because I will not ask you in for an interview. Bottom line, along with #2, the hiring process doesn’t begin with the interview. Just because I didn’t specifically mention “attention to detail” or “able to follow instructions” in the job description, I’m expecting you to possess those qualities.
  4. Work on your resume.
    Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way: make sure there aren’t typos and keep the font to something standard. Mostly, my best advice is to keep it simple. If it’s not specifically for a design internship, I’d prefer the Microsoft Word template any day over an overwrought or colorful mess. Again, if you have design skills that you think could bolster your application for a PR internship, put those under “skills” in your resume. I’ll actually be far more apt to find it on the page if I can anticipate approximately where to look for that type of information. I’ve got a lot of other work to do, and it’s a lot better for you to make it easier for me. Also, another rule of thumb is: one page per 10 years of work experience. For most of you applying for an internship, that means one page only. Your ability to self edit will go farther with me than slapping everything you’ve ever done in a four page document.
  5. Ask questions.
    An interview is not a long time to get to know someone, and when I ask, “Do you have any questions at this time?”, I may be friendly, but I’m judging your candidacy. I value curiosity and willingness to learn very highly when I’m hiring, especially for an internship position given the emphasis on framing the role as professional training. Even at a startup company where the management structure is fairly flat, there’s the expectation that if you’re new, there is a lot that you have to learn. (Tip: no matter where you are in the hierarchy, there’s always a lot to learn).
  6. Don’t lie.
    I hope you don’t want to lie to me outright, but there are a couple of other little lies that I encounter often enough. Don’t overload your resume with half-truths. It’s not doing you any favors if I find out that you’ve flubbed something. Also, if you’re interviewing for an internship, I will make it clear that this is not a full-time, salaried position, and I will ask if you are comfortable with that. If you say, “Yes” in the interview, but then try to counter my offer and ask for a salary, you lied to me when you said you were comfortable with the terms of the internship.
  7. F*%k up gracefully.
    There are those times when you totally bomb an interview, and that’s ok. Remember that the person sitting across from you has definitely been there before, believe me. Take what you learned from that situation and do better next time, even if it feels like there will never ever be a next time. What you should definitely not do is pace around the building like a crazy person and bust back into the office unannounced and ask for another shot. There’s a time and place for redemption, and in this kind of situation, that’s going to have to come from within. It will not come mere minutes later and especially not from the person who is now considering calling the police on you.
  8. Follow up.
    If you do not thank me, you do not get an offer.
  9. Check in.
    You should definitely feel empowered to check in again if you haven’t heard from me and it’s been a few weeks since we last spoke (if you’ve thanked me after the interview, that is). Things get busy, and I wasn’t lying to you when I said it’s a competitive pool. It’s great to know that you’re still interested in our internship program, and when I’m making some hard decisions, that could push you over the top. There’s a fine line to this last one, but I’m a human, you’re a human, and I want this to be the smoothest experience for us both. Shoot me a friendly message asking for an update and I will absolutely value your interest and ability to advocate for yourself.

All in all, I take the responsibility of enriching our interns very seriously and there’s so much that I enjoy about managing the team. My goal is to give you new skills and opportunities to grow so that you can confidently go out there and take on your next professional step. There’s a lot that you can do to get ahead, and I’m certain that if you can nail these 10 points, you’ll be well on your way to getting that internship!

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