The Quintessential Guide to Finding and Maximizing Internships
According to surveys, 95 percent of employers want their new-grad hires to have experience, and almost half of those prefer students get that experience through internships.
The Quintessential Guide to Finding and Maximizing Internships, published by the trusted career experts at Quintessential Careers, provides eight chapters that will help you decide what you need in your internship experience, tell you how to find one, give you the tools to secure one, teach you how to make the most of your internship experience, show you how to turn an internship into a job, and provide internship resources.
Reading Options: This book is available in three formats. The first format is a free Web version, and all you need to do to read the book is follow the links below. The second format is a nicely formated PDF version of the book, which is currently available for $9.95 via PayPal. Shortly after payment is processed, you will receive an email with instructions on how to access the e-book.
Title Page & Credits. Read Title Page now.
Introduction: Why Internships are Important. Learn why increasing numbers of students are completing internships, why employers believe intern programs are the best way to hire new grads, and why the vast majority of employers prefer new grads with experience. Read the Introduction now.
Chapter 1: Determining Your Internship Needs and Setting Internship Goals. Ask yourself about career interests; objectives you hope to gain from internship experience; industry, organizational, and geographical interests (including overseas); paid vs. unpaid internships; whether you’ll seek college credit for internship experience; and how many internships you need. Read Chapter 1 now.
Chapter 2: Finding Internships that Meet Your Needs and Fulfill Your Goals. Once you’ve set your goals, here’s how to identify the internships that will meet them. Read Chapter 2 now.
Chapter 3: Applying Job-Search Skills to Obtaining an Internship. Networking, resume, cover-letter, interviewing, and followup basics. Read Chapter 3 now.
Chapter 4: Sample Internship Resumes and Cover Letters. A collection of surefire resumes and cover letters that will help you secure an internship. Read Chapter 4 now.
Chapter 5: Making the Most of Your Internship. How to ensure that your internship is a success. Read Chapter 5 now.
Chapter 6: Turning Your Internship Into a Job. Converting your internship to a job can make your senior year less stressful and save you headaches at graduation time. Read Chapter 6 now.
Chapter 7: Internship Resources. Get more information on finding and succeeding in internships. Read Chapter 7 now.
Chapter 8: Internship Case Study. Meet a student who has propelled her career by doing several highly productive internships. Read Chapter 8 now.
Appendix: Internship Do’s and Don’ts. Key rules that you need to understand to make the most of your internship experience. Read Chapter 8 now.
Maximize your career and job-search knowledge and skills! Take advantage of The Quintessential Careers Content Index, which enables site visitors to locate articles, tutorials, quizzes, and worksheets in 35 career, college, job-search topic areas.
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Congratulations! By reading this chapter you are taking the necessary steps for achieving greater career and job-search success upon graduation from college. Internships are invaluable learning experiences for college students — and almost a necessity for any college graduate. Employers are demanding that college grads have “real world” experience, and internships are one of the best ways for college students to get that experience.
Determine Your Internship Goals
Before you can even start thinking about finding an internship, you need to spend time reflecting on your goals for obtaining an internship. Consider these questions:
- What are your specific career interests? An internship is a great tool to help you define your career goals. For example, if you’re majoring in history, but have an eye on a political career, you might consider an internship with a local or state politician. Or, an internship can help further refine your career goals. For example, if you’re a marketing major but not sure whether you want to go into advertising or public relations, you should consider getting internships in both areas to help you decide which is best for you.
- Why do you want an internship — and what do you hope to gain from it? There are multiple reasons for obtaining an internship, including answering the question above. Other possible reasons include learning new skills, gaining networking connections, adding work experience to your resume, and as an entry point that you hope leads to a full-time position with the employer when you graduate.
- What type of organization are you interested in? Organizations come in all sizes and shapes, from Fortune 500 companies to not-for-profit organizations. What are you looking for? Issues to consider include size, ownership, corporate culture, etc.
- What industry would be best for your needs? Even when you know exactly what you want to do, you can still be uncertain about the type of industry that best suits you. For example, if you are a natural-born salesperson, you really have the option of working in any industry, but pharmaceutical sales is quite different from selling insurance.
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- Where do you want to have your internship? If your internship is during the regular semester, you obviously need an internship close to your college campus, but during the summer months you may wish to have an internship near home so you can save on expenses (and enjoy mom or dad’s cooking/laundry service/etc.) or in a location where you hope to land a full-time position when you graduate — or just to experience a place in which you have never lived before.
- Will you consider both paid and nonpaid internships? It would be great if all internships paid, but in reality a large number do not – especially in certain industries. So, you need to decide whether you can afford to not get paid during your internship. One more thing: while it is not always the case, paid internships tend to be more professional (and you do less grunt work) because the employer wants to get its money worth from you.
- Do you want college credit for the internship? Many colleges offer at least some college credit for internships. The plus side (besides earning the credits) is that there is usually an internship program with an established list of employers and internships available to you. The down side is that there may be more restrictions on the type and amount of work you can do based on the program guidelines.
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Find/Track Down Internship Sources
Okay. If you’ve gotten this far, it’s now time to find that ideal internship that perfectly fits all your goals and needs. So, where do you find internships? Try these resources:
- Career Services Office. Just about all career services offices have a list of internship programs, important application dates, and other sources of internship information. This office is a great place to start your search. Some offices even have a special internship coordinator.
- Major/Minor Department. Major-specific internship programs are frequently maintained by the department office. One or more faculty members may specifically handle internships, so make sure you investigate these sources. Faculty in general can be excellent sources of internship information.
- Networking Sources. Tell everyone you know that you are looking for a specific type of Internship; these people should include your family, your friends (at school and at home), your family’s friends, your professors, past employers, alumni, etc. Just as with job-hunting, networking may be one of your best sources for internships — especially for competitive internships. Don’t forget online networking venues, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and MySpace. Learn more about networking.
- Internship and Career Fairs. Most colleges (or college consortiums) offer at least one career fair during the academic year, and often one focuses specifically on internships. Even if you are looking for an internship in a different geographic location, go to the fairs and network with the recruiters. Many organizations have multiple offices — and you may later change your mind. Read our article, The Ten Keys to Success at Job and Career Fairs.
- Alumni Office. Many (if not all) colleges now ask alumni if they would be willing to sponsor current college students as interns – and these alums are a great source for internships as well as a networking source for other internships. Take advantage of this resource! This information may either be found in the career services office or the alumni office.
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- Company Websites. If you have already identified a specific set of companies where you would like to intern, you should consider going straight to the source by visiting the career section of each company’s Website. Try our Quintessential Directory of Company Career Centers.
- Internship Websites. There are a few general internship Websites, as well as a number of industry-specific Websites. A good resource, but internship sites have lagged behind the development of job sites, so don’t depend too much on these resources. Where do you find the best internship sites? Go to our Internship Resources for College Students.
- Books and Periodicals. There are some great print sources of internships. First, there are annual directories of internships, which you can find in our College Internship Books section. The other print source is trade magazines and newspapers published for your major or career field. If you are a member of a student organization, you may already have a subscription to at least one of them. Your college library should also have subscriptions to these publications — as should some of your professors. These publications often publish information about internship programs.
- Cold Contact. If none of these other internship sources work for you, or if you have a specific geographic location you want to target for your internship, consider using the cold calling method to find your internship. This process involves identifying a list of companies and writing them asking for an internship. Where can you get information about companies in a specific geographic location? Consider contacting that region’s chamber of commerce for a list of member companies — or just get your hands on a phone book for that area. What are some other sources? Go to our Guide for Researching Companies. And consider reading our article, Cold Calling: A Time-Tested Method of Job-Hunting.
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- Graduate Assistants. If you attend a college large enough to have graduate assistants who teach some of your classes, these folks can be good sources of internship information because employeres are advised to contact grad assistants to recruit interns. Grad assistants have often worked closely with students and know their capabilities.
- Classmates Currently in Internships. Recuiting guru Dr. John Sullivan advises employers to seek referrals from mtheir current interns of other students who would make good interns. Some employers even pay current interns a bonus or stipend for referrals. Ask classmates if they’re currently doing internships; they may have more incentive than you realize to tell their employers about you.
- Recent Alumni. We already mentioned your alumni office. But you probably don’t need to connect with that office to ask recent alumni about internships — because you know these alumni from recently being in classes with them. Sullivan suggests that employers may be asking their recent hires to recommend former classmates for internships.
- Student Professional Organizations. Employers seeking interns may contact the student chapters of professional organizations. That’s just one benefit of belonging; others include networking with other members to learn of internship opportunities and checking into the organization’s employment resources.
- Internship Placement Services. We would advocate paying someone to find you an internship only as an absolute last resort. If you would like to consider such a service– and these companies are far from cheap — a couple of them are University of Dreams and Fast Track Internships.
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Prepare/Polish Your Job Search Skills
As internships become more and more competitive, it becomes even more important for you to have a strong set of job-search skills.
Landing an internship — one you want with an employer you respect — is a bit like a mid-term exam for most college students. This chapter is full of key tools and resources to help you ace that mid-term and succeed in finding one or more internships.
Understanding and perfecting these 12 areas related to your job-search — from identifying specific jobs and careers to researching salaries — will give you both greater confidence and success as you seek the best job offer upon graduation.
- Identifying Specific Internships
Even though most college students finalize a choice of major by the junior year, a disconnect often occurs between choosing the major and then choosing a specific career path – and hence, internships – that relate to that major. Job-shadowing, informational interviews (see Informational Interviewing: A Powerful Tool for College Students), and career research are steps you can take to learn more about specific careers and internships — in or out of your major.
You need direction if you want to find an internship that you will enjoy; just having an idea of “something in marketing” will lead to a frustrating internship search with few or weak internship offers.
Consider some of the resources we have in our career exploration section of Quintessential Careers.
- Narrowing Geographic Locations
Whether you plan to complete your internship near home, near your school, or on the other side of the country, having a geographic focus allows you to really narrow your internship search to a select group of employers.
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- Developing Marketing Materials
You’ll need a resume, cover letter, and interview skills, covered in greater depth later in this chapter.
- Finding Prospective Employers
Chapter 2 provides suggestions for finding internship employers. Here are a few more avenues to explore:
- leaders in your career/occupation
- best companies to work for
- matching corporate values/culture
- companies for which you have a previous connection
How do you research prospective employers? Go to our Guide to Researching Companies, Industries, and Countries.
How do you know the companies you find are a good match for you? Take our Workplace Values Assessment.
- Seeking Career and Internship-Search Advice
If you’re struggling in your internship search, turn to the many resources available through your college or university — specifically your professors and your career center.
Consider reading: It’s Never Too Early — or Too Late — to Visit Your College Career Office.
- Using Network for Uncovering Internship Leads
The collection of people you know — and who know you (or know other people in your network) — amounts to your career network. And while the concept of networking is sometimes a mystery to internship-seekers, it shouldn’t be.
Networking — by a very vast margin — is the very best way to track down internship leads and career opportunities.
Take all the socializing you typically do as a college student, crank it up a few notches, and you have networking of the sort that can truly help you find an internship and later land a job upon graduation. When you first enroll in college, you don’t necessarily think about the kinds of hard-core networking activities that will really benefit your job search later on. But the earlier you start, the better off you will be.
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By the way, the networking activities discussed here should supplement, not substitute for, traditional activities, such as sending out resumes and using the Internet in your internship search.
Certainly freshman year is not too early to get to know your professors, especially your adviser. Getting to know your cohort students, a process that comes naturally to the collegiate experience, will also lay the networking groundwork in your first year. A good way to meet as many other students as possible is to participate in as many organizations and activities as your academic schedule will permit you to handle.
Be a curious friend; finding out as much as possible about your classmates and their interests, along with their families and parents’ occupations, can provide valuable information that you may want to recall as you approach graduation. Be sure to reciprocate with information that will help others. Freshman year is also the time to consider whether to join a fraternity or sorority. If you are holding down a job, establish relationships with your boss and coworkers.
By sophomore year, you are probably beginning to narrow your career goals, which makes your second year an excellent time to embark on a series of informational interviews that will help bring your career into focus. (For more about what an informational interview is and how to conduct one, see: Quintessential Careers: Informational Interviewing Tutorial.) Continue to forge ties with professors, other students, and people you work with.
If your career goal is well-defined at this point, sophomore year is a good time to join student chapters of professional organizations (or obtain a student membership to a regular chapter).
Junior year is key. Start your most serious networking push now by doing the following:
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- Develop your resume if you have not done so already (see later in this chapter). You should have your resume ready so that you can ask some of your network contacts to critique it. You also want to have it ready in case someone you meet asks for it. You may not be in a position to accept a job at this point, but you could gain an internship opportunity and great contact by having your resume ready.
- Begin to brainstorm a list of potential networking contacts. See if you can come up with about 250, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. Any number is a good start, and the list is sure to grow.
- Make a list of companies you’d like to work for and start thinking about whom you know who might be able to help you break into your dream companies.
- You are probably already a member of an online social-networking venue like MySpace or Facebook. If not, join, and also join LinkedIn. Then search for and contact people in your prospective career field and geographical preference.
- Find out if your campus career services office keeps a database of alumni that could be added to your network. Check the alumni files of your fraternity or sorority, too.
- Join one or more online discussion groups in your area of professional interest. Ask members’ advice on breaking into your field and finding internships.
- Step up the pace of informational interviews. People working in your dream companies are excellent targets for interviews.
- Consider creating a “networking card,” a business card for those not yet employed, so you have something tangible to hand out to people you meet. See our article, Networking Business Cards.
- Begin to introduce yourself to every guest speaker you encounter in classes. Give them your networking card, and, if appropriate, your resume.
- Continue schmoozing with professors, students, and employers.
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- Become increasingly active in professional organizations.
- Join professional organizations in your targeted geographic area. If it’s not practical for you to attend meetings, ask the membership chair for a membership list so you can contact members.
If you don’t know the best industry or professional organization to join, ask your professors. You can also use these tools: General Professional Organizations and Associations for Networking.
- Meet with your adviser early in your senior year for an in-depth discussion of your career goals, and ask for his or her suggestions for people to contact.
- Continue to maintain contact with professors, students, employers, guest speakers, and folks you’ve “met” through online networking efforts.
- Find out if your university or academic department has a formal mentoring program and ask to be matched with a mentor. If no program exists, try to scout out a mentor on your own. Alumni often make especially good mentors.
- Fine-tune your list of potential network contacts and set a goal to contact a certain number each week or month. Arrange to meet with as many contacts as possible, and always ask each one for more referrals. Send thank-you notes, and update your contacts regularly on your progress.
- Continue informational interviewing.
- Begin to contact people with whom you conducted informational interviews earlier in your college career to tell them you are getting close to graduation and remain very interested in their organizations.
- When you land an internship – and later, a job, be sure to write one more note to all your contacts telling them about your new venture.
Also visit our networking resources to find valuable tools and resources.
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- Identifying People to Serve as References
More than ever, employers are conducting background checks and asking candidates – even internship candidates — for references. References are people who can speak to your strengths and abilities — and help sell you to the prospective employer. You should choose your references carefully — and ALWAYS ask people whether they would be willing to be a reference before you list them.Learn more in this article: The Keys to Choosing and Using the Best Internship References in Your Job Search.
- Attending Internship Fairs and Other Events
Career fairs aren’t just for post-graduation jobs; you can make internship contacts at a career fair, too. In addition, some schools and organizations offer fairs and expos dedicated exclusively to internships.
Even if you do not see any specific employers that excite you in an upcoming career or internship fair on campus, attend it anyway – to practice your elevator speech and gain confidence in speaking with recruiters. A career fair may also lend itself to developing additional networking contacts.
Learn more about the how to work career fairs in this section of Quintessential Careers: Job Expo and Career Fair Resources.
- Using Strategic Online Internship-Searching Strategy
While networking is still one of the best sources for finding a internship, you can devote a small percentage of your internship search to using a few specialized internship boards.
It can’t hurt to also search general job boards for internships, as long as focus most of your efforts on other methods in this chapter and Chapter 2. Here’s where you can find links to job boards on Quintessential Careers:
- Attending Internship Fairs and Other Events
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- Gathering Work Samples
One of the best methods of reinforcing your previous work experiences is by showcasing some of your best examples. These samples can be from previous class projects, internships, volunteering, and any other situation.If you have a large number of samples and awards and recognitions, you might consider creating a career portfolio, which you can then bring with you to internship interviews. Web-savvy grads can also create online career portfolios.
For more assistance and to learn more about the types of content you can put into your portfolio, go to this section of Quintessential Careers: Career Portfolio Tools and Resources.
- Strengthening and Protecting Online Identity
There’s no question many employers are looking at each internship candidate’s social networking profile as a tool to making employment decisions. While tightening security features is the minimum you should do to protect your profile, you may also consider cleaning it up once you start internship-hunting — just as you should change your voicemail message to something professional.
But don’t just stop at tightening the privacy settings on your accounts; take the next step and Google yourself. If nothing significant comes up, consider posting some thoughtful responses/reactions on prominent blogs in your career field — using your full name. While employers typically do not expect much for college grads, having any kind of (positive) presence in search engine findings can give you an edge over other internship candidates.
- Learning Internship-Hunting Etiquette
Just as with so many things in life, first impressions are critical in internship hunting. Your cover letter and resume make the absolute first impression of you as an internship-seeker (see later in this chapter). Once you get invited to an interview (more later in the chapter), the keys to a good first impression come down to dressing for the interview and knowing internship-search etiquette. Read more in this section of Quintessential Careers: Job-Hunting & Business Etiquette Resources.
- Strengthening and Protecting Online Identity
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Your Internship Resume and Cover Letter
Once you develop the core of a basic resume and cover letter, remember that this version is really just a starting point — because you should be adjusting each copy of your resume – and especially cover letter — that you submit, tailoring each to the specific employer and internship opportunity.
Powerful college-student resumes and cover letters have several things in common, so you can kill a number of birds with one stone with this list:
1. Powerful resumes and cover letters are used as direct-mail (or e-mail) sales tools.
It’s important to remember the purpose of a resume and cover letter. They don’t have to perform the task of getting you an internship since very few people are hired sight unseen. All they have to do is get you an interview. So the primary mission of a resume and cover letter is arouse the reader’s interest and sell yourself enough so that you get asked to meet with the employer.
The lesson here is to keep your documents concise and to the point. You don’t have to include everything about yourself, and you should not include anything that’s not relevant. You don’t have write your autobiography. Now, granted, some college students have the opposite problem. Instead of limiting the information they list on their resumes, they worry about not having enough. Others are tempted to list every class they’ve taken, every award, and every extracurricular activity. Many of these items may be worthy resume components, but for every item you’re considering inserting into your resume, ask yourself, is it relevant to the kind of job I’m seeking?
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Course work usually isn’t necessary unless it’s unusual or you have very little else to list in your resume. Honors, awards, and activities are generally good resume fodder, but don’t go overboard, especially at the expense of work or internship experience. We knew one new grad who had an impressive list of honors and awards. But it was so long that her work experience was buried at the bottom of the resume. Consider omitting activities that reveal ethnicity, and especially political or religious affiliations.
2. Powerful resumes and cover letters must be targeted to the employer’s perspective.
When constructing your resume and cover letter, put yourself in the mind-set of the employer. Ask not what the employer can do for you but what you can do for the employer. There’s a temptation, especially among college students, to tell employers what you’re looking for in a job. We frequently see that tendency in Objective statements. The old chestnut about “Seeking challenging position with growth potential,” is so overused that it is meaningless to employers.
Employers want to know what you can do for them, how you will benefit their companies, how you will impact their bottom lines. While they’re not totally oblivious to your career hopes and dreams, your aspirations are not their primary concern.
3. Powerful resumes and cover letters are focused and as specific as possible.
The sad truth is that resumes and cover letters are read for between 2.5 and 20 seconds. So you have only the briefest moment to catch the employer’s interest. The employer wants to know as quickly as possible: What do you want to do and what are you good at? He or she doesn’t have time to wade through lots of text to find out.
So how can you sharpen the focus of your resume and cover letter?
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- While objective statements have fallen out of fashion, you may still want to consider some version of this resume component to sharpen your resume’s focus and can read more about resume objective statements in our article Should You Use a Career Objective on Your Resume? The objective statement can be as simple and straightforward as the title of the position you’re applying for, which can be adjusted for every job you apply for. Or you can embellish the Objective statement with language telling how you’ll benefit the employer. Something like:
Objective: To contribute strong ——– skills and experience to your firm in a ——— capacity.In this day of being able to manage our own computer files, you could have several versions of your resume that are exactly the same except for the objective. A specific objective is always better than a vague or general one.
- Include a Professional Profile. A profile section, also known as a “Summary of Qualifications,” can help sharpen your resume’s focus by presenting 4-5 bullet points that encapsulate your best qualifications and selling points. It’s often a good idea to list relevant computer and foreign-language skills in this section instead of burying them at the bottom of your resume, as many job-seekers do. Most of our professional resume samples (which require Adobe Acrobat Reader) contain these sections.
- Tailor cover letters to specific jobs. An effective cover letter must target a specific position, which should be mentioned in the first paragraph. Don’t list several possible positions or say that you’re willing to consider any position. If you do, the employer will see you as unfocused or even desperate. Read more about cover letter specifics: Cover Letter Success is All About Specifics.
- Also consider specific tailoring for resumes. According to a study by the Career Management Alliance, employers want resumes to show a clear match between the applicant and a particular job’s requirements. A “general” resume that is not focused on a specific job’s requirements is seen as not competitive. Now it may not be realistic or practical to change your resume for every job you apply for, but you can change certain elements, such as the aforementioned Objective statement and the Professional Profile section. Another alternative is to have more than one version of your resume. Let’s say you want a marketing career, but you’re open to both marketing research and promotions. You could craft a version of your resume for each niche.
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- Consider adding a graphic. This suggestion is pretty radical, and it’s not for everyone, but a very small, tasteful graphic on your resume and/or cover letter could sharpen your focus. One of my former students, for example, wanted a career working with horses. She placed a tiny horse graphic at the top of her resume. Her career focus was instantly apparent. Another student pursuing a law career used a tasteful scales of justice graphic; another interested in international business had a small world-map graphic. See a sample with graphic here.
- Powerful resumes and cover letters make the most of your college experience.
Too many college students miss the opportunity to exploit valuable experience on their resumes and cover letter because they overlook unpaid experience. Experience is experience. It doesn’t have to be paid. Anything you’ve done that has enabled you to develop skills that are relevant to the kind of job you seek is worth consideration for resume and cover letter mention. That’s especially true if you don’t have much paid experience. The key, as noted in #1, is relevance. Consider the following in evaluating what experience and skills you’ve gained that are relevant to what you want to do when you graduate:
- Previous internships
- Summer jobs
- Campus jobs (work-study)
- Entrepreneurial/self-employed jobs
- Temporary work
- Volunteer work: school, church, club, not-for-profit organizations
- Research papers/projects
- Campus activity positions
- Fraternity/sorority/social club positions
- Extracurricular or sports leadership positions
And go ahead and list material from these areas under your Experience section. Don’t confuse the reader with a bunch of differently labeled experience sections, such as Internship Experience, Volunteer Experience, Work Experience, and Project Experience.
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- Powerful resumes and cover letters portray your skills as transferable and applicable to what you want to do.
You may think what you’ve done is not relevant to your future career, but you can probably spin the experience so that it demonstrates the transferable and applicable skills that most employers want:
The value of transferable skills is a major reason we urge students to list sports in the Experience sections of their resumes — because athletics so often provide the teamwork, leadership experience, and competitive drive that employers seek.
For more about transferable skills, see Transferable Skills — a Vital Job-search Technique. For more about portrayal of transferable skills in cover letters, see Emphasizing your Transferable and Marketable Skills in our Cover Letter Tutorial.
- Powerful resumes and cover letters focus on ACCOMPLISHMENTS, NOT job duties and responsibilities.
In the recent study by the Career Management Alliance, content elements that propelled employers to immediately discard resumes included a focus on duties instead of accomplishments, while documented achievements were highly ranked among content elements that employers look for.
Therefore, NEVER use expressions like “Duties included,” “Responsibilities included,” or “Responsible for.” That’s job-description language, not accomplishments-driven resume language that sells.
Instead, emphasize the special things you did to set yourself apart and do the job better than anyone else.
Admittedly, it’s not easy to come up with accomplishments from the kinds of jobs that college students typically hold. But it’s important to:
- Start tracking your accomplishments NOW.
- Start HAVING accomplishments NOW!
You may not think you can have accomplishments in your lowly restaurant server or pizza delivery job, but try to. Ask your boss what you can do to improve. Strive to win any awards (such as Employee of the Month) that your employer offers. Find ways to go above and beyond your job description.
For more about accomplishments, see For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments.
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- Powerful resumes and cover letters use action verbs and KEYWORDS!
Action verbs in your resume and cover letters increase the strength of your writing and make you sound dynamic to employers.
Luckily, there is no lack of sources for lists of action verbs; you can find them all over the Web (including Quintessential Careers’ Job-Seeker Action Verbs) and in nearly every resume and cover letter book.
Almost as important as using action verbs is avoiding weak verbs:
- Do. Try “conduct,” “perform,” or “orchestrate.”
- Forms of the verb “to be.” Instead of “was,” say “served,” “functioned,” “acted.”
- Work. Everyone works. Be more specific. Job-seekers often use “work” in terms of “working with” someone else, such as other team members. In that context, “collaborate(d)” is often a good substitute.
- Received. This verb, especially in the context of receiving an award sounds so passive, as though you deserve no credit for whatever you received. Always say you “earned” an award or honor rather than “received” it.
Threatening to overtake verbs in importance on resumes and cover letters are keywords. Employers are increasingly relying on digitizing job-seeker resumes, placing those resumes in keyword-searchable databases, and using software to search those databases for specific keywords — usually nouns — that relate to job vacancies. Most Fortune 1000 companies, in fact, and many smaller companies now use these technologies. Experts estimate that more than 80 percent of resumes are searched for job-specific keywords.
The bottom line is that if you apply for a job with a company that searches databases for keywords, and your resume doesn’t have the keywords the company seeks for the person who fills that job, you are pretty much dead in the water.
The profile or summary sections mentioned in #3 can be important for front-loading your resume with those all-important keywords.
To read more about keywords, see our article, Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume’s Effectiveness.
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- Powerful resumes and cover letters contain NO typos or misspellings.
This characteristic should go without saying, yet we still see resume/cover-letter typos and misspellings with alarming frequency.
Remember that it’s not enough to spell-check your documents because you may have used a perfectly spelled word — but it wasn’t the word you wanted. For example, a word frequently seen on resumes and cover letter is “possess,” but some job-seekers accidentally spell it “posses,” which is the plural of “posse.”
Proofread your resume and cover letter. Put them down for a few hours, come back, and proofread again. Then get a friend or family member with a good eye to proof them for you.
9. Powerful resumes and cover letters are reader-friendly.
The Career Management Alliance study ranks easy readability highest of all resume characteristics in terms of first impressions. The employers surveyed ranked use of bullets second highest.
Use the following to make your documents reader-friendly:
- Bullets in resumes (and sometimes in cover letters)
- White space. Make sure your documents have reasonable margins. In my opinion, the default margins in Microsoft Word are wider than they need to be (1.25″ on the left and right and 1″ at the top and bottom). Margins can be as narrow as .75″ if needed. Also make sure you have a line of space between all the jobs listed on your resume and between all resume sections. For cover letters, equalize the white space at the top and bottom of the letter so that it is centered vertically on the page.
- Type large enough to read (no smaller than 10.5 point).
Now, about the one-page “rule.” Job-seekers, especially new grads, are often cautioned to keep resumes to one page. And it’s good advice. You should keep it to one page if at all possible. But if your experience is exceptional, don’t sacrifice readability just for the sake of keeping the resume to one page. We’ve seen job-seekers use nonexistent margins and tiny type just to squash their resumes onto a single page. At the same time, if your resume spills over to fill just a small part of a second page (less than half the page), it’s probably best to condense to one page by cutting content. Read our article, The Scoop on Resume Length: How Many Pages Should Your Resume Be?
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- Powerful resumes and cover letters include every possible way to reach you.
Powerful resumes and cover letters do no good if the employer can’t reach you. Most college students wisely list both their campus and home addresses and phone numbers on their resumes. A surprising number of the resumes we see omit an e-mail address; these days, an e-mail address on your resume is a must. Don’t forget your cell phone number, if you have one. In fact, don’t overlook any way an employer could reach you.
When you’re in internship-hunting mode, make sure the outgoing message on your residence-hall answering machine or voice-mail sounds professional. I’ve called many students in their dorms and gotten some pretty outrageous messages that would likely turn off employers.
A good way to ensure you have all relevant contact information on both your resume and cover letter (remember that the two could get separated) is to use the same “letterhead” on both documents, which also makes for an attractive package. It also never hurts to repeat your most important contact information in the last paragraph of your cover letter.
After you’ve found several internship possibilities and applied to them, your work is not done. Just as with job-hunting, you must follow-up with each company. Don’t call the companies every day, but be persistent. The old adage about the squeaky wheel getting the grease rings true here. Follow-up your initial contact with a phone call, follow-up your interview with a thank-you letter (more later in this chapter), and follow-up your thank you letter with a phone call.
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Interviewing for Internships
Here are the keys to successful employment interviewing. Follow these simple rules and you should achieve success in this important phase of securing an internship.
- Do take a practice run to the location where you are having the interview — or be sure you know exactly where it is and how long it takes to get there.
- Do your research and know the type of job interview you will be encountering. (See types of job interviews.) And do prepare and practice for the interview, but don’t memorize or over-rehearse your answers. (See our some of the best collections of interview questions.)
- Do dress the part for the job, the company, the industry. Don’t dress down just because you’re interviewing for an internship rather than a job. And do err on the side of conservatism. If you’re not sure, you should consider reading our article, When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success.
- Do plan to arrive about 10 minutes early. Late arrival for an interview is never excusable. If you are running late, do phone the company.
- Do greet the receptionist or assistant with courtesy and respect. This is where you make your first impression.
- Don’t chew gum during the interview.
- If presented with a job application, do fill it out neatly, completely, and accurately.
- Do bring extra resumes to the interview. (Even better, if you have a job skills portfolio, do bring that with you to the interview.)
- Don’t rely on your application or resume to do the selling for you. No matter how qualified you are for the position, you will need to sell yourself to the interviewer.
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- Do greet the interviewer(s) by title (Ms., Mr., Dr.) and last name if you are sure of the pronunciation. (If you’re not sure, do ask the receptionist about the pronunciation before going into the interview.
- Do shake hands firmly. Don’t have a limp or clammy handshake!
- Do wait until you are offered a chair before sitting. And do remember body language and posture: sit upright and look alert and interested at all times. Don’t fidget or slouch.
- Don’t tell jokes during the interview.
- Do make good eye contact with your interviewer(s).
- Do show enthusiasm in the position and the company.
- Don’t smoke, even if the interviewer does and offers you a cigarette. And don’t smoke beforehand so that you smell like smoke. And do brush your teeth, use mouthwash, or have a breath mint before the interview.
- Do avoid using poor language, slang, and pause words (such as “like,” “uh,” and “um”).
- Don’t be soft-spoken. A forceful voice projects confidence.
- Do have a high confidence and energy level, but don’t be overly aggressive.
- Do avoid controversial topics.
- Don’t say anything negative about former colleagues, supervisors, or employers.
- Do make sure that your good points come across to the interviewer in a factual, sincere manner.
- Don’t ever lie. Answer questions truthfully, frankly and succinctly. And don’t over-answer questions.
- Do stress your achievements. And don’t offer any negative information about yourself.
- Don’t answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no.” Explain whenever possible. Describe those things about yourself that showcase your talents, skills, and determination. Give examples.
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- Do show off the research you have done on the company and industry when responding to questions. (See our Guide to Researching Companies.)
- Don’t bring up or discuss personal issues or family problems.
- Do remember that the interview is also an important time for you to evaluate the interviewer and the company he or she represents.
- Don’t respond to an unexpected question with an extended pause or by saying something like, “boy, that’s a good question.” And do repeat the question aloud or ask for the question to be repeated to give you a little more time to think about an answer. Also, a short pause before responding is okay.
- Do always conduct yourself as if you are determined to get the innternship you are discussing. Never close the door on an opportunity until you are sure about it.
- Don’t answer cell phone calls during the interview, and do turn off (or set to silent ring) your cell phone and/or pager.
- Do show what you can do for the company rather than what the company can do for you.
- Do ask intelligent questions about the job, company, or industry. Don’t ever not ask any questions — it shows a lack of interest.
- Do close the interview by telling the interviewer(s) that you want the internship and asking about the next step in the process. (Some experts even say you should close the interview by asking for the job.)
- Do try and get business cards from each person you interviewed with — or at least the correct spelling of their first and last names. And don’t make assumptions about simple names — was it Jon or John — get the spelling.
- Do immediately take down notes after the interview concludes so you don’t forget crucial details.
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- Do write thank you letters within 24 hours to each person who interviewed you. (You can see some sample thank-you letters here.) And do know all the rules of following up after the interview.
- Do ask at the end of the interview when the employer expects to make the hiring decision.
- Do be proactive and consider follow-up a strategic part of your internship-search process. Followup can give you just the edge you need to get the job offer over others who interviewed for the position.
- Do use these follow-up techniques to continue to show your enthusiasm and desire for the position, but don’t make it seem as though you are desperate.
- Do obtain the correct titles and names of all the people who interviewed you. (Ideally, do get each person’s business card.)
- Do write individual thank you notes or letters to each person who interviewed you — within two business days. Each letter can be essentially the same, but try to vary each a bit in case recipients compare notes. Don’t ever fail to send a thank you — even if you are sure the job is not for you. And do write thank you notes after every interview.
- Don’t worry so much about hand-written versus typed thank you letters, but don’t make a mistake by sending it through the wrong medium; make sure you know the best method of reaching the employer, whether by regular mail, email, or fax.
- In your thank you letter, do show appreciation for the employer’s interest in you and do remind the employer about why you are the perfect person for the position. See some sample interview thank you letters.
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- Don’t ever have any errors (misspellings or typos) in your thank you letters.
- Do alert your references — if you have not done so already — that they may be getting a phone call from the employer.
- Don’t stop internship hunting, even if you feel confident that you will get an offer. Do continue to interview and attempt to find other opportunities.
- Do follow-up with a telephone call to the employer within a week to 10 days (or sooner, if the employer had a shorter timetable) to ask about the position. And do continue to build rapport and sell your strengths during the phone call.
- Do be patient. The hiring process often takes longer than the employer expects.
- Do continue following-up, especially if the employer asks you to. Remember the adage about the squeaky wheel getting the oil. Just don’t go overboard and annoy or bother the employer.
- Don’t place too much importance on one internship opportunity or one interview; there will be other opportunities for you.
- Don’t burn any bridges if you do not get an internship offer. And do try and turn the situation into a positive by bringing the interviewer(s) into your network, possibly even asking him or her for referrals to other contacts. Read more about the art of networking.
Still need help securing an internship? Check out all the tools and tips we offer in our Internship Resources for College Students.
Chapter 5: Making the Most of Your Internship – Page 31
This chapter provides the 12 keys to internship success. Follow these guidelines and you should be well on your way not only to a successful internship, but to a successful career.
- Set Personal Goals. While some internships are very structured, others are not, so you need to spend some time before you start the internship setting goals that you want to accomplish. Maybe it’s deciding on what area within marketing that you want to specialize, or learning new skills, or building your network. Whatever your goals, you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment once you achieve them. Hint: Setting unrealistic goals could make even a good internship seem bad, so make sure your goals are realistic and attainable in your internship.
- Have Regular Meetings with your Supervisor(s). Sound obvious? Well, maybe, but you may get a supervisor who never schedules meetings with you or travels quite a bit, so you have to make sure to have regular meetings where you can share experiences and lessons learned — both good and bad — as well as give progress reports. Hint: While you want to keep your supervisor abreast of your accomplishments, remember to also be a good listener and learn as much as you can during these meetings.
- Tackle all Tasks with Enthusiasm and a Positive Attitude. In just about every company, the new hire/intern is going to have to “pay his or her dues.” You will undoubtedly be given some grunt work to do, such as making photocopies, but the key is to complete all your work assignments with the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism. Hint: You might also consider working extra hours (beyond the required number for the internship) to show your work ethic to your supervisor(s).
- Avoid Negativity. The quickest way to kill a good internship is being negative. So, avoid complaining, being rude, disrespecting coworkers, arriving late, leaving early, being closed-minded, missing deadlines, appearing arrogant, wearing improper attire, acting unprofessionally, appearing inflexible, and taking part in office politics. Hint: A common mistake among interns and new hires is treating secretaries and clerks as being beneath them — avoid this behavior at all costs.