6 Steps to Get Ahead on Job & Internship Applications Right Now

After snagging that internship this summer, you learned how to make the best of it, how to be a better intern and how to connect with your fellow interns. Now that you have the skills, you’re ready for your next internship... right?

It may sound crazy, but as one internship and job season ends, another begins. We spend the spring applying for summer opportunities and the summer applying for fall positions. Now that fall is around the corner, it’s time to see what’s on the horizon for spring and summer again! Come October or so, you may wish you’d done a few things for your internship or job application earlier. To save you from the feeling that you’re already behind, we’ve got some tips so you can begin the semester ahead of the game. Check out these six steps for getting your internship and job application process off to a strong start.

1. Map it out

Before you start doing any internship or job research, have a plan for what you’re going to do with the listings you collect. Having an idea of how you’re going to organize your findings will be so helpful as you continue to find opportunities! These internship websites and the Her Campus Job Board are great places for finding internship options. Browse the sites every couple of days to keep up with emerging positions and bookmark them as you go. Keep one Word document, bookmarked folder or even secret Pinterest board as a depository for all of your possible internships and add any opportunity that looks interesting. Later, you can go back and read the descriptions to narrow down which ones are actually a good fit for you.

Once you have a solid list of contenders, you may start to feel overwhelmed. With all the different deadlines, requirements and various contacts to keep track of, it’s hard to stay afloat. Stop the madness before it starts and get organized. You’ll be so glad you did!

“Last semester, I applied for 26 different internships (crazy, I know!),” says Hannah Orenstein, a recent NYU grad. “In order to keep them all straight, I made a spreadsheet so I could track when I sent each application, if they followed up with me, whether or not I was offered an interview and more.”

Having a list or spreadsheet like Hannah did will keep you on track and help you manage deadlines efficiently. “Once you apply to more than a handful of internships, it's impossible to keep all the important details in your head, so the spreadsheet really helped me,” Hannah says.

Whatever method you use to keep track of your internship or job opportunities, choose wisely. If your roommate is saving all of her internship deadlines in iCal, but you’re more of a paper and pen kind of girl, go with what works for you. The newest to-do list app or cute day planner won’t do you any good if you don’t normally use it, so stick with what you know!

2. Polish your online presence

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: to get an internship or job, you have to be presentable online, period. You have control over what people see from your personal accounts, so make sure they represent you accurately and in a positive way. From your social media accounts to your online portfolio, employers are always searching to see how you’re presenting yourself!

Kim Reitter, the director of Career Services at Saint Louis University, cautions collegiettes about what they make public on their social media profiles. “Never post anything that you wouldn't want a potential employer to see,” she says. “I always recommend editing as if your grandma is looking at your site. If you wouldn't want grandma to see it, delete it, or, better yet, never post it!” Eliminate any unflattering content from your social media profiles and update your portfolio regularly so that it continues to show up in search results online.

Another thing to consider is what comes up on the Internet about you that you didn’t post yourself. While the things you post are yours, the things your friends post don’t require your permission or your knowledge.

“It’s important to either periodically search yourself or set up a Google alert to monitor the use of your name online,” says Katherine Battee-Freeman, the assistant director for recruitment for the Office of Career Services at University of Illinois at Chicago. “Be mindful of what others put online as well because if they are associated with you, you may come up in a search unexpectedly. If your friend tags you because he or she wants you to see a picture of his or her latest party, then someone could Google your name and a picture of a drunken group of people shows up. That’s not good for your professional image.”

So keep tabs on what shows up in these scenarios and ask friends to remove potentially damaging material. To minimize your friend’s ability to tag you in compromising situations, you can update your privacy settings on Facebook so that you have to approve every photo tag that goes up. Reitter even recommends de-friending those people who you know have a tendency to post content that could cause a stir so that you can keep your associations online clean.

After tackling the big pieces of your public persona, zero in on the small stuff. To keep your information separated from your professional and casual life, Battee-Freeman says that “it’s good practice to use one email and set of social media accounts for your professional information and a different set for your personal information.”

A good rule of thumb for a professional email is to make it as simple as possible and align it in some way with your name. Whether that’s a straightforward “[email protected]” or something similar, set it up before you send in internship or job applications and check it regularly.

3. Change your voicemail

To really go the extra mile, it wouldn’t hurt to clean up your voicemail message, too—you probably haven’t changed it since you first got your phone! If recording a new voicemail makes you uncomfortable, write a script first. You may feel silly, but knowing what you’re going to say will help you keep an even pace and a consistent tone. This will convey confidence to a prospective employer. For example:

“Hi, you’ve reached the cell phone of Rachel Wendte. I’m currently unavailable, but please leave your name, number, and a short message, and I’ll return your call soon!”

The voicemail clearly states the name of the person who people are calling, so they won’t think they’ve dialed the wrong number. Plus, giving specific instructions to leave a message will encourage those looking to get in touch with you to say something and not just hang up.

4. Visit your school’s career center

You know the office that’s advertised in all of your school’s flyers? Chances are a professor, academic adviser or visiting alum has mentioned career services once or twice, and they’re not talking about it for kicks. There are tons of programs that you can take advantage of in your school’s career center that will help you navigate the internship and job searching processes. “Career services professionals love when people come in and make sure of all the services they have to offer,” says Battee-Freeman. “Don’t be afraid to start early!” Here are a few to consider:

Resume review

If you do nothing else, make an appointment to go over your resume with a career counselor. Erin Smith, who recently graduated from Towson University, says that this is one of those under-utilized services that can really make a difference. “My school's career center gave me tons of advice on how to make my resume stand out in a crowd, which helped me land an internship!” she says.

“Basic services that let you better market yourself and/or simply confirm that what you are doing is on the right path can be very helpful at any point,” says Battee-Freeman. “These include resume and cover letter development and critiques.”

When you visit, bring along a few copies of your resume and questions for your reviewer. Questions about proper wording, ideal resume length and creative resumes are all good starting points.

Seminars

Sometimes career services will host professional seminars for students to prepare them for interviews and networking. Topics could include proper interview attire, etiquette dinners and how to ask for a raise. Take advantage of these great opportunities! Look over the events calendar in your career services center to see if any of these kinds of events are offered and grab some friends to go with you. It’s an easy way to learn new things and get answers to questions you’re unsure of.

Mock interviews

Taylor Emhart, a grad of the University of Maine, says her favorite resource at UMaine’s career center is the mock interviews. “Apart from reviewing your cover letter and resume, the career center tailors interview questions to the type of questions that would be asked. An interview for NASA would be a lot different than the local grocery store,” she says. “They videotape your whole interview, then watch it back with you. It's a great way to see how your body language is portrayed and to point out little mannerisms that you didn't even know you did.”

Battee-Freeman and Reitter say that most career services should have some sort of mock interview option available, but if your career center doesn’t offer mock interviews, you can achieve a similar effect by having a professor or friend interview you instead. Using the job description as a guide, have them ask questions related to the job. If they’re familiar with your industry, so much the better! They’ll be able to ask you more focused questions that will give you the chance to expand on your knowledge and experience.

5. Secure your recommendations and references

Depending on your internship, you may need recommendations or references. A recommendation is a physical letter and/or email from a professor or previous employer, while a reference is giving a potential employer permission to personally contact a previous employer or professor. To make sure you have a variety of recommendations that showcase you well, you’ll need to think critically about who ask, and ask them early! From past employers to professors, be conscious of their commitments and approach them in plenty of time.

“Request recommendations as soon as you know that you’ll need them and give a specific deadline by which you will need to receive them,” Battee-Freeman says. “I recommend asking to receive them two days before you need to submit them, if that allows the person at least a week to write the letter. If the time between when you ask and when you request to have them is longer than a month, remind the person one or two times before the deadline.”

Battee-Freeman also says it’s important to give the people writing your recommendations any extra information they’ll need to write the best letter. “Items such as your resume, personal statement, instructions from whatever you are applying to and examples of your volunteer and/or community services may be useful,” she advises. “If you want the person to focus on specific skills or experience you have, make sure to ask them to do so.”

References are a bit different because you’re asking the person to be willing to promote you well if a potential employer asks about you, so he or she needs to be prepared for a call at any time. To secure a reference from a professional contact, stay away from your computer! “Either call or ask in person if he or she would be willing to be a reference and for what purpose; e.g., graduate school, job search,” Reitter says.

When making your reference sheet for applications, Reitter says it’s important to verify your references’ contact information. “Make sure to ask your references what information they want you to put down,” she says. “For example, would they like to have potential employers contact them through [a] business phone or [a] personal cell phone number?” Basic information to include in a reference sheet would be the reference’s name, title, preferred contact information and their relation to you, such as a teacher or former supervisor.

6. Network, network, network!

How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? When it comes to jobs and internships, that statement could not be more true. The sooner you start cultivating a professional network, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

“Whether or not you are still in college, many universities have alumni or career center events that both students and alumni can attend,” says Reitter. “Many larger cities also have networking groups. Remember that every contact can be a potentially good networking contact, whether you meet that person at a formal event or at the grocery store!”

Phyu-Sin Than, a senior at Mount Holyoke College, has experienced chance encounters with great contacts more than once, so she’s always prepared. “I would suggest that college women make business cards,” she says. “I know that sounds weird, but they're extremely helpful when meeting someone on the go. I've met people on the metro or at a café with brief morning conversations that I wanted to keep in touch with.”

“Networking in an ongoing activity that occurs online and offline,” says Battee-Freeman. While both she and Reitter recommend LinkedIn for a professional presence, Battee-Freeman is quick to mention that networking occurs both online and in person, and that there are appropriate protocols for each.

“Online, connect to relevant groups and your alumni networks on LinkedIn, and if your university has an alumni database/network elsewhere, find out how to get involved in it,” Battee-Freeman says. “Offline, start talking to people about what they do and what you want to do including professors and community members. Make a note in your phone or notebook of those who are interesting and may be beneficial to learn more about or help you make the right connection.”

Finally, remember that networking is about the people you meet as well as your own professional development. “Be willing to be a resource for others as well,” says Battee-Freeman. The more people you can build a rapport with, the wider your career net will be. It can only help, and you never know where one of those people will end up one day!

Using this checklist, we know you’ll start the academic year confident and ready to wow in all of your internship and job applications. With a little organization, some rock-solid application materials, and a strong network, there’s no stopping you from another fabulous internship experience. Good luck!

Do you have any tips for job and internship applications? Tell us in the comments below!