Finding an internship is only half the battle. Lots of students find internships –we even discussed how to find them in my last column –but for students to bypass the competition and gain that important experience requires some competitive skills that students may not learn in class.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Read the directions. It’s the best way to get inside the internship coordinator’s mind. Who is the ideal candidate? If anything is unclear, it’s best to call or e-mail the contact about it.
Write a great cover letter. Not everyone will require a cover letter, but it’s best to have one ready just in case. A cover letter introduces a student to the company and highlights achievements. Provide enough information that they want to read the resume but not too much. It’s just a taste of the applicant. For an idea of what kind of cover letter is best, students should visit http://www.resume-resource.com/covers.html . Remember to tailor the cover letter to the internship ad, address it to a specific person and demonstrate work skills and knowledge of the company. If a student wants to be proactive about it, he or she can follow up by calling the company. This makes management remember a person.
Have an updated resume. There are several ways to organize a resume, but I prefer the standard format of a student’s address, education, experience, honors and awards and three references. I know many people put an “objective” between address and education, but I think that limits a student. After all, what if the company had an intern position that a student might also have been qualified for, but the student only wrote down one internship objective? In addition to cover letters, resume-resource.com has examples and templates that students can try. This site lists resume ideas for everyone from entry-level business administration workers to music majors to technology managers. And don’t forget to keep the resume current. Each time I have gained some work experience, I add to my resume, even if I’m not looking for either an internship or a job. I like having it at my fingertips. This practice came in handy when I asked Cheryl Smith, the editor of Tampa Bay Illustrated, where I was doing my internship last semester, to look at my resume. Everyone’s busy these days, but since I had my resume right on the computer, she decided she could spare some minutes to proofread, which brings me to the next point
Have someone look over the cover letter and resume. Another set of eyes may catch some egregious errors, such as a bad design, misspellings or weird spaces. A professor or someone in the field can tell a student what exactly that internship coordinator is looking for. In my case, Smith said that I should put work experience before education simply because I had a lot of work experience and employers want to quickly skim what a student has done. If a student hasn’t had a lot of work experience, she suggested leaving education.
Have work samples ready. It certainly helps if the student applying for an internship has some work experience in the field, but if the student doesn’t, then there are a few methods to make him or her look more experienced. Students going into journalism or the arts should keep organized work samples, even if it’s just work from class. For example, I put my best clips for potential employers in a small plastic binder. It helps to keep things tidy. Another thing I did prior to my internships is volunteer work at an elementary school and a library. I kept a journal and wrote down all the activities I did.
Practice interviewing. USF’s Career Center has practice interviews and opportunity to tape interviews so students can get critiqued on their interview skills (or lack thereof). But that’s not the only way to get practice. An exhaustive list of interview questions for different fields and interview strategies can be found on http://www.quintcareers.com/intvres.html . Some of the questions it lists are “What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” and “What are two or three accomplishments that have given you the most satisfaction and why?” Both happen to be questions I’ve been asked on internship interviews, so why not practice answering them? And what better way to practice than with friends? After all, “practice makes perfect” didn’t become an adage without reason, so with a little practice, students can make their chances at getting an internship…perfect.
My next column: Make the most out of the internship by gaining contacts and advice.
Sherry Mims is a USF alumna and the former Oracle Features editor.