There’s no denying that competition for internships is fierce for college students and recent grads in any industry. From marine biology majors to journalism students, collegiettes across the country are competing to stand out and snag a top internship to boast about on their resumes. However, it can take just one misspelled name, grammatical error, or pompous statement to turn off an employer and ruin any chances for an interview. To avoid getting tossed in the “no” pile, read on for HC’s 10 mistakes to avoid as you apply for your next internship.
Taking a nap while at work? Probably not the best way to get on your boss’s good side.
1. EMPLOYER PET PEEVE ONE: Spelling/grammatical mistakes
Unless you have an “in” at a certain company, your cover letter, resume and email are the only deciding factors in helping you land a job. If you forget a comma or spell the company’s name incorrectly, why would anyone choose you to take on more complex tasks? One anonymous internship coordinator removed a candidate with an impressive resume from consideration for not italicizing the name of a magazine. Sure, mistakes happen—but in such a competitive job market, a pristine job application is a necessity.
EASY FIX: Edit, edit, edit!
Before you seek a professional’s advice, use spell-check and read your document out loud. Then, head to your school’s career services center to have an extra set of eyes (or two) take a look at your documents. These experts can locate any minor/major errors in layout and syntax.
2. EMPLOYER PET PEEVE TWO: Not getting credit
If an internship is credit-only, there is almost no way around it. Don’t reach out to an employer, interview, or accept an offer unless you’re positive you can receive official university credit. “I have gotten students on the verge of tears because for some reason or another they accepted an internship position and without fully being informed need to renegotiate the offer,” says Laura M. Keegan, Internship Program Manager at Pratt Institute. This can be embarrassing for all parties involved—the school, employer, and the student.
EASY FIX: Confirm it first
“It’s really important for students to seek out information from their major’s department or career service office on what it means to be eligible,” Keegan says. This means getting confirmation of credit way in advance before you scope out an internship.
3. EMPLOYER PET PEEVE THREE: Generic cover letters
“Students should avoid sending the typical generic cover letter,” says assistant director at the Hofstra University Career Center, Kathleen Castro. “Employers can be very picky, so if they see a cover letter that is too general, they will just go onto the next one,” she says. A phrase like “your company” is a dead giveaway that you’re reusing cover letter templates and so is CC-ing another internship application in the same email.
EASY FIX: Keep it personal
If you really want an internship, you need to show how much you want that one in particular in your cover letter. Employers want interns who are passionate about their company above all others, not ones who are applying to anything and everything they see listed on Ed2010. Show you know the brand and have a personal connection to it with an attention-grabbing first paragraph. Then, feel free to reuse basic phrases like “Thank you for your time and consideration,” or “I will contact you within the next week.” Ultimately, this demonstrates your professionalism and gratitude for the opportunity.
4. EMPLOYER PET PEEVE FOUR: Lack of preparation
This can be at any stage in the application process, especially in scenarios like a career fair or networking event. “Employers are taken aback when students approach with no clue about what their company does,” says Keegan. She also says following simple applications instructions like including a PDF of five portfolio pieces as opposed to mailing over an entire binder of work have also proven to be issues for students.
EASY FIX: Do your homework
“Students really need to brush up the day before on who exactly is attending these events, from what sector, and what the mission of their company is,” Keegan advises.
“If the internship description asks for work samples in PDF format, don't send your entire portfolio,” the Pratt employee says. The internship program manager also recommends sending work samples that are adequate representations of your taste and skill in comparison with the internship job description and position needs. All of this preparation requires research and adequate attention—both of which will shine through if you utilize them correctly.
5. EMPLOYER PET PEEVE FIVE: Attachment agitation
In an overflowing email inbox of job applications, the candidate who emails more than once to include forgotten attachments will likely be axed.
EASY FIX: Attach one document
To make it easier for the internship coordinator (which should always be your mindset as an intern anyway) to print your documents, attach both your cover letter and resume to the email. Save both in one PDF rather than two and save it in a clear file name like “Gennifer Delman - Oprah Magazine.pdf.” Include a brief but polite note in the email thanking them once again for considering your application and sign it.
There you have it, HCers! Now you know how to get on an employer’s good side so you can snag your dream internship and rock your first day. Good luck!
Kathleen Castro, Assistant Director at Hofstra University’s Career Center
Laura M. Keegan, Internship Program Manager at Pratt Institute