You’ve spent the last few months sending out countless resumes and cover letters to your dream companies, you’ve interviewed with hiring managers and you dutifully followed up afterwards with polite emails. But before you know it, summer is around the corner and that internship offer you expected to have is nowhere in sight! What happened?
We all know that the internship world is extremely competitive, and trying to land a summer gig at a big-name company can feel like trying to get an acceptance letter from Harvard. Even if you feel like you have the total package, there are a few things you might be doing (or not doing) that are standing between you and a job offer. Read on to find out which mistakes you might be making during the internship application process and how you can step up your game next time to make sure you get the job!
1. You didn’t research the company beforehand
One major thing that employers look for in a potential job candidate is knowledge of the company and the positin you’re applying for, so getting caught off guard by a basic question about the company’s values or mission statement is going to raise a red flag.
“A candidate can look fantastic on paper, but preparing for the interview is critical,” says Alicia Rodriguez, director of employer relations at the University of Miami’s career center. “Recruiters look for candidates who know the organization in and out and can speak to how [their] skill sets can benefit the organization.”
Tip for next time: Research, research, research! Knowledge is power, and knowing as much as you can about the company you’re applying to work for can only help you. Familiarize yourself with the company’s mission statement, know who the head of the company is as well as other important employees and be prepared to discuss the company’s values (and how they line up with your own). A great place to find this information is the “About” section on a company’s website, as well as its LinkedIn page.
You should also find out if the company has been in the news recently for any major accomplishments. Not only is this a great talking point, but showing that you’ve read up on the company is a surefire way to impress your interviewer.
2. You didn’t seem passionate about the company
If you can’t answer the question, “Why do you want to work here?” the employer has already mentally crossed your name off the list. Although you may be interviewing with several different companies, it’s important to convey to your interviewer the passion you have for this particular business.
“You need to have a personal story or connection to the brand and have good reasoning for why you want to work for that specific company,” says Lauren Berger, CEO of InternQueen.com and author of the upcoming book Welcome to the Real World: Finding Your Place, Perfecting Your Work, and Turning Your Job into Your Dream Career “You don’t want to say that you just found the job posting online and applied.”
Employers are likely to be turned off if you seem disinterested in the company or too concerned about what the company can do for you. “Too often, students may simply give the impression that they only want an internship for the sake of having one,” says Tom Dezell, author of Networking for the Novice, Nervous, or Naïve Job Seeker. “Or, they may want one at a well-known company, but not articulate what they offer the company in return.”
Tip for next time: When preparing for an interview, think about what it is that draws you to the company, whether it’s the company’s success, an employee you admire or similar values you have to the company. According to Dezell, you should also think about your long-term career goals and how a position with this company can help you achieve those goals.
Make a list of possible questions that you could be asked in the interview and come up with strong yet thoughtful responses. Practicing the interview beforehand with a friend or family member will help you build your confidence and is also a great way to get constructive feedback on your interview skills.
Keep in mind that although employers are looking for passion and drive, in a professional setting you have to walk a line between being passionate and overwhelming. “You don’t want to come across as a ‘fangirl’ or stalker,” Berger says. “You have to find that balance in how you present yourself.”
3. You didn’t sell yourself
Your ability to sell yourself to an employer is easily one of the biggest factors that can make or break an interview. “Students may not be showing the employer how they can add value to the organization,” says Vicki Salemi, career expert, coach and author of Big Career in the Big City: Land a Job and Get a Life in New York. “Yes, it’s important to showcase your skills and experience, but you need to make it easy for them to say yes. What are their problems right now? Why are they looking to hire you, and what are their ultimate needs? Show them how you’re the solution.”
Tip for next time: As a potential employee, it’s your job to present yourself in a way that highlights your strengths and relates your skills and experience to the position you want. “You need to point out the strengths you have as well as why they are relevant to what you will be doing,” Dezell says. “By relating how one’s strengths will help perform a role in the internship, it reflects that the student has taken the time to research the role and company.”
An internship interview is an opportunity to showcase your talents and show the employer how awesome you really are. Talk about your study abroad experience, the work you did with a student organization or at a previous internship—anything that you think will add to your value as a future employee. “This is where I tell college students I coach to brag away!” Salemi says. “Now is the time to toot your own horn.”
When talking about your past experiences, you should highlight the skills you developed as a result of those experiences and how those skills relate to the position you want. For example, if you chaired a committee or were the editor-in-chief of your school’s newspaper, talk about how your leadership skills, experience working on a team and ability to multitask will be beneficial to the company.
4. You didn’t ask any questions
Even if you answered those tough interview questions like a pro, not asking follow-up questions (or not asking the right questions) could pull you out of the running. There’s nothing more awkward than answering “Do you have any questions for me?” with nothing but a blank stare. Employers are looking for candidates who demonstrate interest in the company, and you not having anything to ask could be viewed as a lack of enthusiasm.
Tip for next time: “Prepare a list of five questions to ask, in case the interviewer answers a couple of them during the interview,” Berger suggests. A great place to start is by asking, “Can you describe a day in the life of an intern at this company?” which Berger calls the “magic question.”
You might be thinking, “I asked questions after all of my interviews and still didn’t get the job! What’s up with that?” Even if you’re following up with questions, it’s possible that you might not be asking the right ones. The questions you ask should be thoughtful and relevant to the position you’re applying for. This is your opportunity to find out exactly what the company is looking for in a potential intern and what you can expect from the position. Here are a few examples of great questions to ask:
- What do you enjoy the most about working here?
- What specific qualities are you looking for in a successful intern?
- What are the best things about this job and the biggest challenges?
As for what not to ask, “You don’t want to come across as being too concerned about what the company can do for you,” Berger says. “Instead, focus on what you can do for the company!”
Never ask question about the company that you could have easily found online or in the description of the position, and don’t bring up money, getting time off or how many hours you’ll be working per week. If the employer gets the feeling that you’re not totally committed to the job or that you’re more interested in how it can benefit you personally, they’re going to move on to the next candidate.
5. You didn’t have leadership experience
With the extreme competitiveness of the internship hunt, employers are used to seeing resume after resume filled with extracurricular activities. While being super involved at school is great, to truly stand out from the crowd, you need to have leadership experience.
“Employers care less about the number of organizations you’re involved in and more about the leadership experience on your resume,” she says. “They don’t just want to see that you went to a meeting, they want to see that you ran the meeting.”
Tip for next time: Instead of overloading your schedule with meetings and events, Berger suggests that students pick just two to three organizations on campus and get involved in leadership positions within those organizations. An employer will be much more impressed by the charity events you organized or your position on the executive board of your sorority than a laundry list of activities.
Berger also suggests picking diverse organizations for different reasons; for example, a sorority, a volunteer organization and a career-related group. Focus on what you’re passionate about and make the most of your college experience.
6. You aren’t using social media appropriately
Employers often use your social media profiles to get a better picture of who you are and to decide if you would be a good fit for their company. Good social media use is more than just posting fabulous selfies and retweeting celebrities; it’s a way to show employers that you can use sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn both effectively and appropriately. Your public profiles are out there for the world to see, and unfortunately, that includes those embarrassing drunk tweets and photos of you with a red Solo Cup in hand.
“The misuse of social media can still pose problems for students who are applying for internships,” Rodriguez says. “Inappropriate pictures and posts can and will be found by potential recruiters, so it’s critical for students to utilize social media wisely.”
Tip for next time: If you haven’t cleaned up your social media profiles lately, now is the time to do it. The last thing you want is for your killer interview to be overshadowed by something you could have (and should have) deleted months ago. What’s funny now won’t be as hilarious when it’s standing in the way of you and a job offer!
Look at your social media profiles through the eyes of an employer and get rid of anything that screams “unprofessional.” Of course, this includes those pictures from the party last night and 3 a.m. drunk tweets, but also bad language and whining or angry rants. Who wants to hire someone who’s constantly complaining? An easy way to clean up your online image is to use a site like Socioclean, which removes anything that could be seen as offensive to potential employers.
When in doubt, keep these three things in mind: Control your privacy settings, think before you tweet and use professional sites like LinkedIn to your advantage. It goes without saying that your LinkedIn profile picture should not be a photo of you on spring break! Instead, use a professional headshot and make sure that your profile reflects your experience, accomplishments and goals.
Remember, not getting an internship isn’t the end of the world! Check out these awesome things you can do this summer (instead of interning) that will still get you ahead in the career game.