Career Advice

How to Create Momentum On Your Internship & Job Applications

If you’re like many people, you procrastinate on important tasks. Now the deadline for several key internships is looming – and you haven’t even started anything.

So kick yourself in the backside and start today. Anyone who wants to create a successful career has to build momentum and market themselves regularly, no matter whether you’re touting your GPA or your Alumni Office social media work or your project management savvy.

Block off two or three hours three times a week to research job or internship possibilities, apply for them and follow up.  Then add one or two hours of networking and outreach time – some of it in person. Then dive into these six tricks and tips to land a summer internship or first or second job after graduation:

Create a real resume. You may only have ever held one paying job in your life (and that was at Wendy’s or McDonald’s) but you still need a professional resume. So come up with something that you did at that fast food restaurant that had real impact, or was far superior to the average 19-year-old burger flipper.  Then fill up the rest of your resume with volunteer experience and projects at the university, or other impressive moves. Leading a group of students to create a TedX conference or starting a fundraiser for a homeless charity demonstrates a lot of skills, from collaboration to problem-solving, which will look good.  Consider labeling one section of your resume “leadership” instead of “activities” and it will be “much more powerful,” said Mark Lyden, a college recruiter and author of the book College Students: Do This, Get Hired.

Then use this as your general or base resume, and take 30 to 45 minutes to tailor it to each internship you want. Use the description and add in some of the key words and phrases into your resume, he said. Without this, your chances of landing an interview “are slim to none,” he said.

Create real connections.  The internship coordinator must be flooded with applications this time of year, and she also receives dozens of follow up emails. So you need to be the candidate who cares. Find out when she’s going to arrive on campus and then show up to help with set up. Or pick up a half dozen Mrs. Field’s gift cookie cards and mail them with a short note to the intern recruiters or directors you most want to hire you. Craft a note that uses the cookie or sweet treat references, but don’t overdo them. The key here is not the cookies, but creative ways to build connections and rapport.

Create more options.  Identify seven more internships that work for you. Look for them on such internship sites as YouTern and as well as your internal college career website. Many companies post their internships at the end of January or in February after they’ve finished their budget and reviews, said Lyden. Then pick two or three best and spend an hour researching the company, its products and financials. Create a document on each one so you have the pertinent details at hand to review just before your interview.

Develop great answers. Besides the occasional oddball questions, the inquiry is likely to be fairly predictable for internship interviews. Tell me about yourself. Describe your biggest strengths and weaknesses. “We’re looking for a structured answer,” said Lyden. “It needs to be 60 to 90 seconds long” and use the situation, behavior, outcome formula. Often young people are not succinct enough. So he recommends timing yourself and creating a “very organized story” to tell recruiters and hiring managers.

Create a backup plan. If you missed the deadline to apply for a wonderful internship, contact the hiring manager and express interest in being the backup if someone declines, suggests Lyden,  “I would also let them know that their company is at the top of your list to intern with and that you are both willing and flexible to consider any other internship position.”

Ask for the job. Remember too that when you have an opportunity to raise questions, one of the biggest and best things to say is that you really want to be hired. This is especially important if you’ve been nervous during the interview, which may give the impression that you are not so interested in the position. When Lyden interviews ten people, he figures only one will ask for the job. “It completely makes you stand out,” he said.