Internships are a vital part of every student’s time at university. Even before university, internships are becoming more and more common. If you are a student, you might want to do an internship to get some relevant work experience or to figure out what you want to do after university. Unfortunately, landing an internship isn’t that easy. Often, the selection process for an internship can be as competitive as the hiring process for a full-time job. That is why I will share with you my tips and tricks for landing your dream internship.
Why internships are important
Before we look at how you can get that internship that you’ve had your eye on, let’s first discuss why internships are important.
- Firstly, it’s important to get some work experience in your chosen field or fields so you can figure out what you want to do after university. You don’t really know what it’s like to work at a specific organisation or to be in a specific line of work until you experience it
- Secondly, you kind of have to. For most, if not all graduate jobs, you need experience. Internships provide you with real-life experience that you can put on your CV and talk about during job interviews and in cover letters
- Thirdly, internships are also great for your own personal and career development. At an internship, you can learn from experience and feedback. You’ll learn the skills that are necessary for your future job and you’ll get to practice with transferable skills, like communication and taking initiative in real-world situations
- Lastly, internships are a great way to network and meet interesting people in your field. You can find your mentor or make potentially life-long connections with people who may be able to give you advice or even put you forward for future job opportunities
How to land an internship
So, now that we know why it is so important to intern, the question remains: how do you get an internship?
It is difficult but students get internships every day. If they can do it, so can you! Here are some tips and tricks that I learned while applying for my internship.
Seek out opportunities
Actively seek out opportunities. You can’t land an internship if you don’t apply. So go online and look for internships in your area. Or go to the careers centre at your school, college or university. Make sure you know what’s on offer and that you stay on top of it.
Build the skills that are necessary for the job. I’m not just talking about the internship. Imagine you are applying for the actual job you want to do. What skills and knowledge do you need? Before I applied for my internship, I took online courses to learn the skills that were important for the job I wanted to intern in. It gives you an advantage over those who don’t do this.
You don’t always need experience to be able to get an internship, but it does help. And with unique but relevant work experience on your CV, you make yourself stand out amongst the other applicants. It’s usually easy to get relevant experience before your first internship. You can volunteer in a relevant position. Or maybe you can get a relevant part-time job. Even after-school activities might provide you with relevant experience. If you want to go into politics, participating in your school’s model UN programme might give your CV the boost it needs.
Write an original and authentic cover letter
In my experience, those are the most important traits of an amazing cover letter that stands out and intrigues the reader. Originality and authenticity. Depending on your job, you might be able to deliver your cover letter in a different format. Students have been known to record videos and even write cover letters on cakes! However, you can’t know beforehand whether the person hiring will appreciate those types of gimmicks. It might be better to be original in what you write and how you write it.
Authenticity means being yourself. Being authentic is about giving the answer that is the most true, not the answer you think they want to hear. Because they don’t want to hear that answer. They want to get to know you.
Write a great CV
Writing a CV isn’t just about marking down your education and experience. Your CV will be much more valuable to your future employer when the experience and education are relevant.
Before applying for my internship, I did not have much experience in that line of work. I had been at the regular student jobs: fast food restaurant, shop, cleaning, etc. Not at all relevant for writing and marketing, right?
That depends on how you look at it. You gain transferable skills at every job. I did not just learn how to make milkshakes at that restaurant, I learnt communication and leadership skills. I didn’t just learn to clean a kitchen at my job as a cleaner, I learnt how to work under pressure.
I’m not saying you should make stuff up. Think about what you actually learnt from those jobs or volunteering roles that you had. Write that in your CV. Write about how you learnt that skill and what impact you made. That is how you make all of your experience count.
Prepare for the interview
You have done the work and applied yourself, you have now made it to the interview stage. There are a few questions that are asked in almost every interview that you should have an answer ready to:
- Why are you interested in working for us?
- Why did you apply to this job in particular?
- What do you want to achieve with this internship?
- What are your goals?
- What do you want to learn or experience, and why?
- What experiences do you have that would prepare you for this role?
But you should also prepare for less predictable questions. You can’t know beforehand what the interviewer will ask you, but there are some things you can do to prepare for those questions as well:
- Prepare stories that highlight your strengths. When did you take initiative? When did you assume a leadership role? When did you work well in a team? Be ready to talk about that.
- Prepare stories where you failed and learnt lessons. Or where you were met with an obstacle. Employers, either for internships or full-time jobs, don’t expect you to be perfect. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody meets hurdles along the way. What the interviewer will want to know is how you overcame those obstacles or what you learnt from your mistakes. How did those experiences change you?
- Prepare questions that you want to ask the interviewer. This takes some hidden preparation: research the organisation and your role. You want to show that you are interested in the position by asking insightful questions. Not only do you gain the information you need or want by asking questions, but you show that you understand the job description and the organisation by asking the right questions. Maybe the most important questions I asked were about the future of the organisation. Where were they headed? What would they need to get there and how could I help in that process? That way, you can put your role in perspective. How is what you do affecting the organisation at large? Those questions show that you care and that you will take initiative. You should always be thinking about how you can add value to the organisation. That is how you stand out as the perfect candidate.
Lastly, build trust. The interviewer will likely not know you. They won’t know whether you are going to come through on the promises you make in your interview and your cover letter. They also do not know whether you will actually try hard or ever show up at all. They may just be wasting their time.
You have to convince your interviewer that they can trust you. Here are some things you should always do if you want an internship:
- Have a good and up-to-date CV and/or LinkedIn profile. If you have a LinkedIn profile (which you should), add the link to the CV you send.
- Have recommendations that you can show. This can be on LinkedIn, where former employers can leave recommendations, but this can also be in the form of a letter from a teacher or a recommendation from a former employer, teacher or mentor.
- Be honest about your expectations. Don’t sell yourself short, but also don’t make promises you’re not sure you can keep.
- Timely responses. When they e-mail or call, get back to them as soon as possible.
- Show that you are eager, qualified and curious. It’s okay if you don’t have much experience or many skills that apply to the position you’re trying to land. Internships are for learning and finding out what you do and do not want. The interviewer will want to see that you are eager to learn and motivated to try your best.
So, if you prepare well, show authenticity and motivation, and take initiative, you can land that all-important internship of your dreams. So take charge of your career and start preparing now.
Do you have other tips and tricks for getting an internship? Leave it in the comments!
Written by Merel Melchers