In today’s cut throat world breaking into any industry is a slow, hard process. Whether you’re a budding writer or lawyer nobody wants to touch you unless you have experience. And therein lies the catch-22 of finding your first job. It isn’t fun and the pay is usually horrid, but an internship is usually the first step to landing a solid job.
With a good internship you can get practical work experience, network with professionals and fatten up your resume. But internships aren’t handed out at coffee shops either. It takes cunning and persistence to land your first internship.
The first step is research. There are all kinds of sites to help you find the internship you are looking for. Take the time to research a week or two before you apply to anything. Check out the staples such as www.craigslist.com and www.monstertrak.monster.com along with sites that are specific to the industry you are trying to break into. For example, in finding my editorial internships I frequented www.journalismjobs.com and www.mediabistro.com.
Once you’ve found your potential employer take the time to look at their organization. If you can’t display at least a rudimentary knowledge of what they are about in your cover letter they won’t take the time to learn why you are a good fit. This is also important because you should be picky about where you intern. Since you aren’t going into the job for money you should intern only for an organization that fits what you want and will give you the experiences you think you need to succeed.
I know it’s just an internship but the cover letter and resume should be just as high in quality as if you were applying for a CEO job. Employers appreciate it and expect it. I have personally heard from employers who received applications that misspelled their company name in the first paragraph. They couldn’t tell me much more than that, because they stopped reading. Don’t let that happen to you. Take the time to re-read your cover and give it to a friend too.
I know it’s hard not to, especially if you have no experience, but don’t be modest in your cover letter. Let your potential employer know why you are the best candidate for the job. Nobody wants to hire somebody that isn’t confident in their ability to get the job done. It’s difficult to do in a one page resume and cover, but you need to get across that you are a go-getter who can do anything, if you were only given a platform from which to jump. That is, after all, why you want the internship. You know and they do to.
If all goes well with the cover letter and resume you hopefully be asked to come in for an interview. I know a lot of recent grads who feel funny dressing up in a suite and tie just for an internship interview, but it is definitely a must. Don’t be self-conscious about it. The employer knows you are a recent grad who probably doesn’t dress in a suite daily, but they will appreciate it when you show up ready for business. It lets them know that you take the position seriously, even if you will be the lowest man on the totem poll.
Make sure to take an extra copy of your resume, any letters of recommendation you have or other pertinent materials (as a writer I always took writing samples with me). Make eye contact during the interview, answer questions with the same confidence you would in your cover letter and never show signs of weakness. Even if you are asked to criticize yourself find a positive spin to your answer. If asked when you could start, just say “right away,” (assuming this is possible). This is an internship so it probably needs to be filled quickly and efficiently. Most organizations won’t go without an intern for a month just to wait for a slightly more qualified candidate. Before you leave, make sure you get contact information and thank the interviewer for their time.
It never hurts to follow up an interview with a courteous email thanking the interviewer for their time and re-expressing your interest in the position. But at this point all you can do is sit and wait. If the answer comes back a resounding “no” don’t get discouraged. Internships aren’t easy to come by. They too are in high demand and a good internship is usually flooded with applicants who have graduated from the best universities all across the nation. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough or couldn’t do the job; it simply means that for the time being you weren’t the right fit. Get on the horse and try again.
Once you landed that perfect internship, make the most of it. Don’t get disgruntled if you have to do leg work. At this point in your career only good things can come to a patient person. But, always be ready to shine when the opportunity arises. Happy hunting.