I entered the “internship world” as a confused and fumbling freshman who thought, vaguely, that it would be good to look for a summer internship. I wasn’t really sure what to do or where to start.
One of the misconceptions I had was that I had to have everything figured out before I started applying for internships. The past three years have taught me just the opposite. As an intern or potential intern, it’s important to remember that you’re a student. You aren’t expected to know the exact path you want to take or know everything about a company — these are just things you learn along the way. The process of researching and applying for companies has taught me so much, even if I face rejections.
Here is my interview and internship advice for college students, from one human to another!
- Search EVERYWHERE. LinkedIn, Handshake, Glassdoor, Indeed, and Instagram are just a few places to start. Look up a company you admire, and see if they have an internships section on their website. If not, cold emailing is worth a shot — you never know what could happen! And to be honest, a lot of my research starts on Google: something like “communications internship summer 2021 los angeles.” Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to your existing community, whether that’s your professors, family friends, or older students at your school. If you are communicative and respectful, people who know you personally are usually more than willing to help out!
- If you can afford to, go broad, and keep an open mind. For Summer 2020 internships, I applied to 20 places and was accepted at one. The job titles ranged, too, from “Podcast Production Internship” to “Technical Writer Intern.” Once you get over the mental barrier of putting yourself out there, it gets a lot easier — and you never know ’til you try! (Hint: just like college apps, you can use the same answers for different applications with small change-ups). Despite the rejections, every application of the 20 was worth it to me — each taught me something new and gave me more confidence in the process.
- SPREADSHEETS are your best friend. I use this Internship Tracker Spreadsheet to keep track of the internships I have saved and applied to, as well as important dates and contact information. At your internships, keep track of everything you do each day on a spreadsheet as well. This will help you to have measurable and tangible responsibilities to put on your resume and LinkedIn, and can also help in interviews when you need to explain beyond your resume.
- Remote interviews: don’t let technical issues get the best of you. I think I have experienced almost every technical difficulty possible when it comes to remote interviews: faulty audio, faulty video, the light turned off in the middle of my interview, miscommunication of time zone, and miscommunication of video call vs. in-person. The great thing is, especially in #pandemictimes, people are quite understanding of technical issues! But there are a few easy things you can do to minimize the stress: Be ready for your interview at least 20 minutes beforehand. Make sure it is in a quiet place with no disturbances. If you’re in your dorm, tell your roommates/suitemates beforehand that you’re interviewing and let them know what time you’ll be done. Confirm your time, date, and location in your response to the interviewer (“Great, I look forward to speaking with you February 27 at 3:30PM EST on Zoom”). Know if it’s a phone screen (just audio), video call (both audio and visual), or self-recorded interview.
- Interviews are connections, not presentations. I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “sell yourself.” You’re not a product, you’re a real-life person having a conversation with another real-life person (unless it’s a self-recorded interview which is a WHOLE other story — those are the worst). Don’t be afraid to LinkedIn-stalk your interviewer beforehand, and prepare a document with information and questions you want to ask them. It really helps when you show genuine interest, so make sure your questions are about things you’re ACTUALLY curious about!
- You don’t have to be “the perfect fit.” You only have to be the right fit. Know the position you’re interviewing for. If you fit specific details of the job description, bring those in with specific experiences and keywords to support. If you don’t exactly fit the position, mention what you are actively doing to meet the criteria and what unique things you can bring to the table. Don’t B.S. experience. Talk about why learning about these skills or taking this position could be beneficial to you, share your broader understanding of the company’s importance and impact, and ask questions you really want to know the answers to. If you’re passionate and curious, it should show through naturally :-)
- Send thank you emails to your interviewer! Include specifics from your interview. If you and your interviewer(s) connected over a shared interest or passion, BE SURE to mention this. You’ll also score extra brownie points if you mention something specific you learned about your interviewer/the company/the position!
- Treat your internship like a full-time job. If you do land an internship (congrats!!), one of the best things to do is pretend it’s a long-term thing. Just like you did with your ex! Sorry that came out of nowhere, just trying to keep it interesting and see if you’re still reading. OK real talk: I’ve found that when I start seeing the internship as just temporary, my motivation starts to slip and I start to make excuses for myself. “Nah, I don’t need to know this, I’m leaving in two weeks.” But if I act like someone who’s onboarding permanently, I tend to be more invested in getting to know my coworkers, adapt to company culture and jargon quicker, and learn a lot more overall.
- Companies want to teach you too! You aren’t expected to know everything about a company or provide for its every need. A huge part of interning is learning and making mistakes while you still can, as a young person without many responsibilities. Also, your youth is an advantage! As a digital native, you have a lot of insight to share on a demographic that often bamboozles older employees.
- Try to find your “people.” Or, at least one person you feel like you can be yourself with! This can be anyone: a co-intern, your mentor, or even someone from another team who shares your same passion for Costco chicken bakes. This can happen based on your own initiation (which always helps) but can also happen randomly, so keep your mind open! At my first internship, I became friends with two coworkers from a different team because they saw me sitting alone at lunch every day, and asked if I wanted to sit with them.
I hope these tips were helpful for anyone going through the internship application process, or is in an internship currently! I wanted to share because I realized one of the biggest barriers in the internship/entry-level job market is simply the lack of knowing where to start.
I’m privileged to have a dad who has navigated his way around corporate spaces for the last 30 years, and I’m indebted to my really smart friends who have given me career advice and helped me prepare for my interviews. I’m also grateful for the past three years of failing, learning, and succeeding. So I wanted to share my own knowledge, in hopes it can help someone else out there, too!
Final thoughts: at the end of the day, you aren’t expected to be perfect. You’re not a robot, you’re a human. I’m a perfectionist and often beat myself up for small slip-ups, which only makes me even more nervous and choppy and robotic. The application process can suck the life out of you and reduce you to a piece of paper and 30-minute conversation, but I am reminding you (and please remind yourself) that you are so much more than that!