A 2013 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) showed that 63.1% of college graduates who completed a paid internship received at least one job offer upon graduating. The number of internships available continues to grow as companies see the importance of entry-level employees and the value of continuity.
Before you receive your first full time job offer, however, you have to nail your first internship interview. How do you stand out among a sea of students with the same goals and interests?
Do your research
Create a list of internships you’d like to apply for and learn more about each company. Review their websites and look for information like: history, mission, culture, locations, products/services, and newsroom. Is the company known for being a little more casual and creative like Southwest Airlines, or is it very formal? Is it a small start-up, or are there offices all over the world? Remember that you are selling yourself to the employer, so you need to figure out what is most important to them.
Visit with a career advisor on campus to create or update your resume. Take your research with you so can create a resume tailored to each company. Consider extracurriculars, projects or specific classes that prove you could succeed at the internship. Highlight your significant achievements and tie them to outcomes. For example, I served as chair of the event planning committee and increased attendance by 35%. I completed a 25-page report on social media marketing in business and received an A+.
Create a cover letter that is tailored to each company. If possible, direct it to the person who will be reading it. Proofread carefully and address the employer’s needs. Why should you be an intern there? What can you do for them that no other student can? These are your selling points. Be clear and concise, as hiring managers are very busy and can receive hundreds of applications.
Once you’ve secured an interview, it’s time to do more studying. Review your initial research. See if there’s anything you may have missed. Be sure to review the resume and cover letter you sent in and be prepared to discuss anything included in them. Print a copy of your resume and cover letter to take with you.
Prepare for the part
Be sure you know exactly where your interview location is. Arrive 5-10 minutes early. Being too early may actually interfere with other things going on in the office and being late is not acceptable. Be polite to everyone you pass or speak to on the way in. You never know who’s watching.
First impressions are everything and what you wear will affect the outcome of your interview. If you are unsure of the office environment, stick with something conservative. Solid colors and neutral shades are best. Women should avoid revealing clothing and opt for conservative suit with limited jewelry. Men should avoid anything too loose. A simple suit and tie is just fine. Some organizations such as nonprofits and start-ups will tell you up front that they are very casual, and you may even feel comfortable asking them what you should wear. If you are still unsure, however, it is better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.
Confidence is key
Once in your interview, speak with confidence. Answer the questions you are asked without veering off topic out of nervousness. Try to relate your answers back to how they can benefit the company, or make sure they highlight a quality or skill you possess that would be beneficial. You need to believe you belong there and you need to make them believe it too. Towards the end, ask if your interviewer has any concerns about your qualifications or interests that you can address.
Say thank you
Thank your interviewer and ask for a business card. Use their contact information to follow up with a brief email. Make specific reference to what you learned in the interview and how your experience or background is a good fit. Be sure to thank them for interviewing you one last time.
Although it may seem overwhelming, taking the above steps will insure that you are as prepared as possible for your first interview. Prospective employers want to know that you take the process very seriously because they are investing in you. Prepare, be confident and be grateful for the opportunity to begin your career outside of school.