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!


Career Chronicles (part 2: Putting the Start in Startups–Boston, MA)

This is the story of my first brush with the #startuplife (and how it almost put me off that cray shit forever…and how it actually didn’t).

Back in 2010, a month shy of finishing up my undergrad, I figured I should probably start thinking about the next step. Since September, everyone around me had been working on securing those few, coveted positions at those places or preparing to go to graduate schools. It was April, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

I knocked around the internet for a while, asking Google what it thought I should do with a Sociology major. It was terrifying–even the brightest, most ambitious students were having a tough time getting a job. That senior semester, I delighted heavily in distractions in attempts to mitigate the fear of moving on. I had coasted blissfully through my liberal arts experience, passing by departments and picking a fruit or two from the abundant trees. It was safe that nobody was going to accuse me of taking it all too seriously.

I came across a job posting for what sounded like a marketing position for what looked like a fun, “dynamic,” small company (I couldn’t quite understand why martial arts skills were listed under required). I clearly didn’t know a thing about startups. What I didn’t know then was: this startup had, a few months prior, raised a healthy round of Series B funding from Google, having clearly met with some success and was positioning to scale.

Well, that’s what 2015 Claire knows and knows how to find out. The me five years ago had never heard of CrunchBase and hardly considered even giving it a good Google search. I sent out my resume and recommendations and heard back a few days later for a phone call. I successfully convinced a perky woman on the other end of the call that I was articulate and energetic and sufficiently not psychotic, so they invited me in for an interview. It was a simple sales pitch. I spent a few minutes going over the materials they had sent me and collected some courage.

I drove over and waltzed into the spiffy office. I honestly didn’t realize that other candidates would be there when I arrived, but somehow I wasn’t thrown. There were some impressive people in the room: a handsome Harvard grad student, obviously a few ambitious, Asian Ivy Leaguers, a few guys from sturdy state schools, and little ol’ me. I don’t actually remember any other females, although I’m sure there ought to have been one or two from Tufts or somewhere like that.

There was also another person in the room. We were told to come comfortably as ourselves, but this chick was a bit too far out there, especially in a room full of kids who came in suits anyway. I think I was naive enough to actually take the advice and wore jeans, which probably inadvertently worked out well for me.

This girl had come running in after we had all arrived. She was late and frantic. She was wearing something that seemed like it was from Spencer’s at the mall, half toddler Halloween costume, half college geek. I didn’t buy it. It reeked of some kind of stunt. I watched as people reacted to her. She was chatty to the point of nails-on-the-chalkboard annoying, and it was equal parts funny and uncomfortable to watch the more anxious kids get agitated. Some even told her not-so-politely to leave them alone. They were trying to be serious.

Others simply ignored her, turning away. I opened to the opportunity. I kindly tried to help her calm down, asked some questions about where she was from and how she came to be late. I even asked where she got some of her unique articles of clothing. Most of the other kids were cramming or trying to calm themselves down. I didn’t get why everyone was so stressed. I had written and memorized a script and had the confidence to rely on the fact that I’m a quick study and could rattle off the factoids and numbers they had provided for me in the interview invite e-mail. I also knew my personality would help drive the sale.

The others looked at me like I was crazy. I knew what they were thinking, “What if someone is watching? Why would you want to be seen associating with the psycho?” I knew what they didn’t, somehow. They were already watching. In particular, she was the one watching. The interview started in the waiting room and I was winning this round.

The pitch went fine. I was adequately adorable and ambitious enough to win a second interview. (I also honestly didn’t know there were multiple rounds of interviews). I came back and the funny girl wasn’t there. I sized up the remaining candidates. Only one of the Asians, the Harvard grad student, and me. This time I hadn’t been given any instructions. I was set up for a “situation” which I considered to be an opportunity to show my “problem solving skills.”

I tanked it. They sat me down in a room and yelled at me for 20 minutes with a timer in front of me and everything–high pressure. I didn’t have the experience or poise to pull it off. Hey, it was my first “real” interview. I totally think I cried after. Who would want to be so mean and why would I ever want to work for a group of those kind of people?

I sometimes check to see what the startup has been up to. They’ve since repositioned. I think things are going well? Even if they aren’t, things are going well for me. It was not until later that I grasped the whole thing. I took me a while to learn what I had learned and to finally love startups, but I’m so glad I’m not one to be easily scared off from something, or anything.

After getting some travel miles in, coming back to NYC to dig my teeth into a few startups, despairing in that and joining the corporate struggle, despairing in that, and then coming back around again, I am so glad for my first experience with a startup.

Here’s a list of things I learned:

1. It’s totally OK and probably better not to take yourself too seriously, even if everyone else around you is freaking out. Be brave and do YOU, because it’s super boring and inauthentic to do anything else.

2. Know what it is, very seriously, what you do well. Be proud of those qualities and hone them like you’re training at the gym. Stay sharp. Remember that once you’ve leveled up, you can’t unlearn those skills.

3. Know what it is, very seriously, what you suck at. Own it. I did very well in the preparation and personality, and I had a hard time with the assignment involving the unknown. Work on it. You can push back against your weaknesses. If you let it, this exercise in accepting and overcoming your weaknesses can become a very safe and comfortable place. Sounds counterintuitive, I guess, but trust me here. Be Midas–turn your shit into gold. Seriously, it takes work, but once you’ve got it you can sit in a sea of your riches.

4. Be confident, kind, and actually care. Those three things, right there, won’t be everything, but they’ll get you a lot of places. Believe me.

Career Chronicles (part 1: Best Worst Boss–Nolita, NYC)

I love Nolita. I outlined the very basic reasons why I ended up here previously, but there’s another story to tell. One of my first internships in NYC as an ingenue (yes, I was intentionally wearing Tory Burch) was right around the corner from where I currently live. I worked–very briefly–for a fledgling all-girls ad agency, headed by an interesting woman with roots in robotics and a strong female-forward platform. It was not as horrible as it sounds; there were tensions and tears. Although the experience was short-lived, it was a wonderfully instructive stage in my career development.

The best days were when my boss decided to take the afternoon off with us. The internship was not necessarily directly consequential in terms of my career trajectory (it didn’t even go on my CV), but these outings almost made it worth being unpaid. Much of this education-of-sorts crafted my creativity in terms of a career, drove my interest in technology, and developed my identity as a female entrepreneur.

I had, up until then, only been a student of creativity. I’d never taken it out for a round in the “real world.” I wasn’t responsible for much at the ad agency, but I got to flex some of my writing skills, learn about design standards, and develop my digital aesthetic. I also got to experience a startup for the first time. Although I had no real place at the agency, I broadened my idea of what kind of boss I hoped to be one day.

My boss was, and I suspect still is, spunky and stylish. I remember one excursion very well. A girl had just quit, and she came to collect her last check (and cry). It quickly became clear that we would not get much work done that day. Once the dust had settled, my boss took me out for a walk. We grabbed a cupcake at The Little Cupcake Bakeshop (featured image), and meandered about Mulberry Street. We stepped into Qlosette, which has recently just closed its doors, and then she showed me around Spring Street.

Unfortunately, at the time, I did not see the value in this experience. Neither did many of the others, apparently. I cruised the Glassdoor reviews from previous employees, and it’s kind of a shitsmear. I hate to see this. A personal philosophy of mine, especially professionally, is that what happens in your experience and how you choose to feel about something should be private. Take ownership of it, process how you must (that can include sharing with a select confident), and move on. Nobody is being noble by calling someone out like that, especially on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I felt much of the same frustrations as the reviewers…at the time.

But you know what? I quit early and didn’t cry–two facts that I’m quite proud of. It didn’t take long for me to identify what was going wrong by knowing confidently what I actually wanted. Yes, it was tough to tolerate at times, but I took the obstacle as an opportunity, didn’t look back once, and moved to London and Paris soon after. C’est la vie. But if you complain, lash out, and consistently search for external validation, your version of that “vie” will suck and you will be more miserable for it. Trust me (or don’t), but it’s not worth it. Wallowing is not the way. Smile for the woman you are in that very moment, and for the one you will be when you walk out that door knowing yourself that much more.