How To Land The Internship You Want

The job market for recent college graduates continues to be brutal, but aspiring interns have reason to be hopeful. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers anticipate hiring 5.8% more interns this year than they did last.

If you’re vying for one of those coveted summer positions, there are ways to get ahead of the pack. Most important: When hunting for opportunities, make the most of your school’s career services office and job boards–but don’t rely entirely on them.

Don’t Rely solely on Campus Recruiting

Don’t depend solely on campus recruitment or postings on job boards.

The internships you find those ways attract the largest pool of applicants. Instead, identify companies you’d most want to work for and try to make connections at those places. Talk to relatives and friends to find out if they know anyone there, and then talk to the contacts you come up with about internship opportunities.


If you can, find out the name of the manager where you’d like to work, and contact him or her directly about interning. Make a list of the companies where you’d like to intern, and find a contact at each one. Reach out to your professors, family and friends to see if they can recommend contacts.

When you identify a contact, have your mutual acquaintance make an introduction and ask if the contact knows the name of the hiring manager in your department of choice. Also ask if that department has employed interns in the past and, if so, what kind of work the interns did. Résumés recommended by in-house employees often get first consideration.

“Recommendations for students go a long way,” says Shawn Vanderziel, vice president for human resources at the Field Museum in Chicago. “Any referrals receive immediate attention.”

Do Your Homework

Know about the company, its products and its customers.

Be prepared to discuss not just your work experience but how that experience will enable you to help the company achieve its goals.

If you don’t know anyone in-house, use resources such as LinkedIn, or just call the company to get the name of the relevant manager. Direct your résumé to that manager–in addition to sending it to the human resources department.

Have the Right Résumé and Cover Letter

Tailor your résumé and cover letter to each internship. Address the letter to a specific person (not just the generic sir or madam), discuss specifically how you can help the company and mention why you want to work for it in particular.

Learn as much about every company as possible, and tailor your résumé and cover letter to each one. Tell how your past experience has prepared you to help the firm achieve its goals. Hiring managers will understand that as a student you may not have professional experience, so discuss your time spent in part-time jobs or in leadership positions in campus organizations.

Allow No Room for Error

There’s no room to make a mistake in an interview. Be sure to be enthusiastic throughout the conversation, and remember to send a thank-you note afterward. Once you’ve landed an interview, prepare by doing more research on the company, its products and its clients. Also, run through practice questions with a friend or someone in career services. “You should understand what an employer is looking for and be ready to share examples of your leadership ability,” says Marie Artim, assistant vice president of recruiting at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
In some cases the interview will be conducted over the phone, since companies don’t usually pay to bring intern candidates into their offices. One way to convey enthusiasm during a phone interview is to smile as you talk–as silly as that may sound. At the end of the interview, ask about the next step in the process. That question will show that you’re enthusiastic, and it will also give you a sense of when to follow up in case you don’t hear anything for a long time.
Send a handwritten or e-mailed thank-you note that points out things you liked about the interview. Also use the note to smooth over any rough patches or weak spots in the interview. Salary is a touchy subject.
If your first-choice internship is in the nonprofit sector and getting that experience is more important than getting paid, then say up front that you’re willing to work for free. “It goes back to what is your goal,” says Shawn Vanderziel. “That determines whether and when to say you’re willing to work unpaid.”


Ngozi Dickson
Ngozi Dickson
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