How to Get an Internship (or at Least What I Look for When Finding Interns)

Internships are important.

You may think you want to live in New York City, but after a three-month internship in NYC you may decide otherwise. Or, vice a versa, you may fall in love.

Internships help confirm (or disqualify) assumptions, and help you determine what career path you may want to follow.

I have been fortunate at 20 years old to interview, review and help decide what interns our company brings in.

I do not have a lot of experience hiring, and most of what I am about to write is obsolete at enterprise companies. (Think of my suggestions as a good starting point for attaining an internship at a small business — less than 50 employees).

My hope is that by sharing how I screen, interview, review, and eventually vouch for an intern will expose the steps that you can take to gain an advantage during the process.

Prerequisites

I am going to make a few assumptions if you are reading this article.

  • You have a resume and cover letter written
  • You’re on LinkedIn
  • You really, really want an internship
  • Your academic advisor has told you that you need to get an internship this summer or else you will fall behind your peers 🙁
  • You have already identified open internship positions that you want to apply to

If you do not have a resume, or have never created one please read What Color is Your Parachute?

You’re on LinkedIn.

You’ve made it this far, you want an internship.

I’m sorry that your advisor put so much pressure on you.

Great! Let’s get started. (Check out indeed.com if you haven’t started looking).

Applying

My first objective when reviewing applications is to determine who are the “qualified” applicants.

I do this by looking for spelling mistakes.

This is ironic, because if I had applied for an internship two years ago I wouldn’t have had a chance. (I’m the guy who managed to apply to Depaul University with my last name spelled wrong, seriously).

Spelling errors on a resume, cover letter, or introduction email say two things:

  1. I am not detail oriented
  2. I do not care about the position I am applying for

Admittedly that is harsh and not necessarily true.

I doubt every hiring manager is as cold-hearted as I am when it comes to a poorly edited applications (this is just an internship), but the overarching theme here holds true.

You can automatically stand out by simply editing your introduction email, cover letter and resume. Get a friend to proof read your application. Ask mom, ask dad, get a lot of eyes to take a look at it.

At a small company an intern will most likely have some serious responsibilities instead of simply managing rudimentary tasks. With an error free application you appear organized, competent, and most importantly interested in the position. You can show a hiring manager (or whoever is reading your application) that you are capable of handling responsibilities by submitting an error free application.

If you can do this effectively than you automatically move on for further consideration in the hiring process.

Following up

I wrote an article a few months back about thank you notes and how literally no one ever sends them. You would be amazed at the positive sentiment a thank you note creates.

After applying for an internship you should absolutely send the hiring manager (or whoever your contact is at the company) a thank you note. Not a thank you email, but a real hand-written, signed card.

Please do this. Please, please, please do this.

Writing a thank you note does not guarantee you an internship offer, but it does differentiate you from nearly all the other qualified applicants. Plus, it’s polite and makes other people happy.

I would suggest sending a thank you note within three days of applying for the position. (This timing is not a huge deal, just send the thing). Writing something as simple as…

Thank you for taking the time to review my application for the ________ position. I look forward to hearing back from you in the coming weeks.

will leave a great impression on your contact at the company.

If you have scheduled an interview or phone screen with the company I would wait until after that to send the thank you note.

I have never had an internship applicant send me a thank you note. I have received a few thank you emails though, and even that went a long way.

Accepting an internship

If a company offers you an internship you need to respond within a week.

In my experience it is relatively easy for the company to be flexible with hours and scheduling. I understand what it is like to be a full-time student, most everyone does. Do not feel like you are jeopardizing your offer by negotiating hours that work well for you, the company will most likely accommodate.

Negotiate your pay. After receiving your offer you will most likely be told what your hourly pay will be. Try to negotiate, use this as a learning experience. Ask if there are going to be any bonuses or benefits beyond the hourly rate.

This is great practice for when you land your first full-time job. Take advantage of the relatively low stakes while you can.

And finally, before you accept an offer, make sure you think you will learn and grow through the internship. Just because one company has offered you a position does not mean you immediately need to accept it.

Conclusion

  • Write a resume and cover letter (help with that here)
  • Go to Indeed.com and find internships
  • Apply
  • Follow up
  • Make sure it is a good fit
  • Accept an offer

Good luck!

Published by

Zach Shefska

Entrepreneur, developer, blogger from Washington, DC.

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