The ABCs of Getting that Summer Internship
If you want to see the value of job experience, take a look at the difference in salary between a recent graduate, and someone at the height of their career.
Experience pays off.
Even so, getting an internship can be almost as hard as getting a regular job. You can maximize your chances by learning how to find internships, and how to prepare for an internship interview.
Why Get an Internship?
- Hands-on experience matters when it comes to landing a job after graduation.
There's only so much you can learn by reading hypothetical situations out of a book, and employers know it. In their 2017 report, High Fliers Research found that over one-third of recruiters say candidates without work experience "are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer." Internships make you a more attractive candidate because they show you’ve fine-tuned the skills that make you successful on the job.
- An internship can help you understand if a career path is right for you.
It’s hard to know if you like something without trying it. Plenty of people start careers that aren’t suitable for them. Getting experience helps you avoid this problem. Some people will find their internship saved them from years that would’ve been spent on the wrong career path. Others will love their work, and will finish their internship better motivated and equipped to achieve realizing their dream job.
- An internship can help you network and build valuable industry relationships.
Networking is an essential part of growing a career, and interns develop valuable connections within their industry. Industry relationships are potent references for your character and abilities. By the time your internship is over, the least you’ll have is experience and a few valuable contacts. You could also walk away with a job lead, a job offer, or a letter of reference.
A recent report asked several hundred college interns how they got their interview. Approximately 40% said they secured the interview through a family connection, 30% found a listing online, and 20% got in through a college career center. While these aren’t the only places to find internships, they’re mathematically the best places start searching.
- Ask family, friends, professors, and past employers about internship opportunities.
Coming from someone they know and trust, employers take job recommendations very seriously. According to Nielsen, 83% of people say they trust recommendations from friends and family. Networking helps you get your foot in the door because people trust what their friends have to say, which grants an applicant serious consideration. If you’re not sure who to ask for a lead, past employers and professors are often connected to internship opportunities you’d never find on your own.
- Look to LinkedIn, job boards, and research companies online.
Doing an online search for internships can be hit-or-miss depending on the time of year. College internships tend to crop up over the summer when companies know many students have time on their hands. But depending on where you live, LinkedIn may have a wealth of internship opportunities. In addition to browsing public listings, you can try contacting the HR representative for companies you’d like to work for.
- Visit your school’s career center.
Colleges want their graduates to be employed, and growing companies want to snatch-up promising students as they graduate. Career centers are where these two groups collaborate, and where you can find companies advertising internships aimed at students from your school. Be sure to keep an eye out for information about career fairs, which are another valuable source of internships and networking connections.
Getting the Interview
Landing an interview is about perfecting how you present yourself to potential employers. If you’re applying for an internship, you probably don’t have much experience to focus on in your resume. Instead your resume should be focused on demonstrating soft-skills like leadership, communication, and work ethic.
But don’t just pick any soft skills, choose the ones that matter most for the job you want. Applying for a sales internship? Highlight experiences that helped you develop interpersonal skills. Maybe you’ve taken part in a club, or have worked customer service in the past. Whatever your experience is, translate those experiences into the skills that matter. And after your resume is settled, keep preparing with our Career Planning Resources.
Answering the Tough Questions
Internship interview questions can throw you off guard, but even weird questions have right and wrong answers. Interviewers are looking for a better sense of your abilities, and a better sense of who you are as a person. Understanding that can help you navigate through any interview question.
Combined with a little preparation, you can ensure your answers help you stand out, as opposed to making you look uninformed or thoughtless.
- “Tell me about yourself?”
The interviewer doesn’t want to hear the intimate details of your personal life, they want to know how your experiences can contribute to their department. Develop a 30-second summary of who you are and where you see your career headed.
The focus of your answer should be your value as a candidate, but this question is also an opportunity to provide a glimmer of your personality. A few remarks about your interests may help you make a personal connection with your interviewer. Hiring managers aren’t solely concerned about your skills, they also want to know how well you’ll fit on their team.
- “Why do you want to intern here?”
This question is an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve researched the company. Many employers aren’t looking for just any intern, they’re looking for someone who wants the available internship specifically. Your answer should reflect your career goals and your level of interest in the field. Do you want a senior position someday? Why did this company make your list and others didn’t? The idea is to express genuine interest.
- “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?”
When asked about your strengths or weaknesses, don’t deliver a laundry list of generalizations. Failing to be specific leaves too much to the imagination, so show rather than tell. Don’t tell an interviewer you have great problem solving skills, show them by preparing a one-minute story about a problem you encountered, the action to took, and what happened in the end.
The same goes for your weaknesses. If you tell someone you’re not good with people, they’re left to assume the worst about your social skills. Instead, provide an example of a skill you’re still developing. Your example will communicate a clearer picture of what your weakness really is, and give you the chance to address how you’re working on it. Strategies like this are far superior to pretending you don’t have weaknesses, which may be seen as failing to answer the question or a lack of self-awareness.
- “You participate in a particular club, activity, or organization - tell me a bit about that.”
Questions about your experiences are an opportunity to talk about the specific skills you’ve acquired so far. Like with strengths and weaknesses, use a short story to demonstrate how your extracurricular activities helped you develop a skill. Talking about extracurricular activities is another chance to show off your personality, or make a personal connection with your interviewer. In short, you should infuse a skill-oriented answer with a sense of who you are.
Beating the Crowd
Getting a competitive internship is about standing out. As hiring managers force their way through hundreds of applications, applicants begin to blend together. When you’re working on your interview answers and resume, do your best to avoid clichés and unoriginality. The more you sound like everyone else, the more invisible you are as a candidate.