5 Tips for Landing the Perfect Internship by Kate Moore '12
October 10, 2011
The “perfect” internship looks different for every Hamilton student, but regardless of what career interests you, the perfect internship should be one that inspires you. For me, that meant interning for the National School Climate Center in New York City. I was able to spend the summer after my junior year working with talented people, at an organization that motivated me to give 110 percent and helped me settle on a career path. But another reason why interning with NSCC was so rewarding was that I had to work really hard to be offered a position there! Landing the perfect internship is not the result of a great resume or interview (though they certainly help). Finding the right opportunity can take years of building up your career-related experience and knowledge. The good news is there are a few things you can do to speed up the process and make it go smoothly!
1. Start early
First, you need to start early in your college career. Yes, many employers will be hesitant to hire an intern who has just completed his/her freshman year of college. At the same time, many smaller companies or local organizations will be thrilled to have your help and introduce you to their fields of work. You face a paradox when trying to secure an internship, because in order to gain career-related experience, many employers want to see that you already have career-related experience. The smaller internships you have during your freshman and sophomore years can help you land “the big one” as a junior.
Second, you need to start early in the academic year. Come December, you’ll be worried about finals and walking across campus in 4 feet of snow. Summer may be the last thing on your mind, but there are a limited number of internships out there and they fill up quickly. Start making a prospect list in the fall; narrow it down and send out applications over winter break; set up interviews over spring break, and have an internship lined up by May.
These are the steps I took to land a position as the Public Relations Intern at Cincinnati Museum Center during the summer after my freshman year.
2. Don’t overlook local opportunities
Part of the reason you need to start early is that many students, especially underclassmen, are going to be at home over the summer. This means that you essentially have 4-6 weeks at home to find an internship before you are back for the summer. Staying home during the summer does not limit your opportunities; in fact, it may help. Use your personal connections to find a position with a family friend or neighbor. Think of prospective opportunities at companies and organizations you are familiar with. In truth, there are no “small” internships. If you work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, that small local internship could turn into a big step on your path to the perfect internship.
Due to health reasons, I had to spend the summer after my sophomore year at home working a part-time job. My position as a caretaker at a local daycare may not have been my dream job, but it was better than having a blank spot on my resume and it showed my employers at NSCC that I am passionate about working with children and can handle a hectic work environment.
3. Use all the resources available to you
So how do you go about making a prospect list? My advice is to use all the resources available to you. As a freshman and sophomore, I knew I would be looking for internships close to my home in Cincinnati, OH. That meant that HamNET, the online job and internship database, would be no help to me. HamNET is a wonderful resource if you are from the East Coast, but you’ll need to look elsewhere for internships in regions of the country. Try websites like internships.com, indeed.com, and careerbuilder.com.
I found my freshman internship on volunteermatch.org, and a part-time job by hanging up fliers at the local business where I worked in high school. I found my job after sophomore year on Craigslist. (Yes, Craigslist! Use ALL the resources available to you!)
4. Emphasize extracurriculars and personal interests
When you apply for an internship, you have to consider that you may be competing with hundreds of your peers for that position. What makes you stand apart? In many cases, it’s not going to be your transcript, but your extracurriculars, that “wow” your employer. Whether you have a leadership position in Student Assembly or volunteer at the local animal shelter, your activities are what make you unique, and therefore uniquely qualified for the position for which you are applying. If an activity or interest is important to you, find a way to fit it on your resume. You never know when it could be your ticket to the perfect internship!
After several years of putting together dozens of applications, I’ve learned how to make my extracurriculars relevant to my career. When I was offered the spot at NSCC this past summer, my supervisor told me that she was particularly impressed with my extracurricular experiences as a mentor, tutor, editor and college employee. My boss at CMC told me that he had been hesitant to hire me because I was only a rising sophomore, but that my responsibilities with The Spectator had impressed him and convinced him that I was intelligent, talented and responsible enough to work in public relations. It also helped that we made a personal connection during my interview. My boss already knew who I was because he had connected with my interest in magical realism novels. Those three words at the bottom of my resume made me memorable and probably helped me land the local internship that got me to New York City two years later.
5. Go the extra mile (literally!)
I knew the moment I came across the HamNET post for the NSCC internship that this was the opportunity for me. I was ready to work in a major city, and the organization fit with my career goals and personal convictions perfectly. So when they told me I could interview by phone or in person, I bought a train ticket to New York City, informed my professors I would be missing class, and woke up at 5 a.m. to drive to the Albany Amtrak station. Going the extra mile really paid off; my boss later said he knew I was dedicated when he found out the lengths I had gone to to interview in person. Cover letters and phone interviews can be great ways for communicating your interest in an internship, but sometimes actions do speak louder than words. Go the extra mile whenever you can, whether that means interviewing in person, bringing a portfolio of your work, or following up on an application with a phone call.
In the end, if you give yourself enough time to put in the hard work and creative effort, you will land the perfect internship. You will have to be patient, and you’ll probably make some sacrifices, but it will all pay off when you have the chance to work with the people and the company or organization that inspire you.