How to Land That Internship

‘Tis the season for frantically putting together cover letters, filling out hundreds of applications and scouring the internet for positions. Internship season can sometimes feel like you’ve taken on a second course or a part-time job. I know how time-consuming it is, and sometimes it feels like you're wasting time writing cover letters and doing interviews when a job isn’t even promised at the end of it. Despite this dreaded time of year, experience in our industries is something we’re all vying for - and internships are a great way to start. 

Erin Valois is currently the national director and digital editorial operations at Postmedia Network Inc. and has also been on multiple hiring committees. She came to Ryerson University to give advice to journalism students about how to get hired for an internship. Although Valois mainly spoke about internships within the journalism field, a lot of her advice can still apply to all industries. 

With some of Valosis’s guidance, I have gathered seven tips that will help you get closer to getting an internship this season.

 

  1. 1. Apply everywhere

    Coming from someone whose resume is filled with a long list of retail and service jobs, I pretty much would take about any job that’ll at least get my foot into the door of the industry. I’m spending $10,000 a year to study, so my first piece of advice to you is to apply everywhere, even if it’s not the company you want to work for. Nevertheless, it’ll give you experience, or at the very least, it'll give you something to put onto your resume and help you get closer to the job you actually want. 

    Even in an internship where you’re not doing anything related to your field, as long as you work hard, your employers will learn to trust you. Trust can help you move up in the company since most places hire internally, or it can get you a nice reference.

  2. 2. Don't use the same cover letter for every job

    Before we start talking about what goes into a cover letter, we should probably address the most common question: Are cover letters really that important? For entry-level jobs, the answer is yes - it is still very important.

    I know, making cover letters are time consuming and boring, but it allows you to be heard. Especially if you don't have much experience in the field, cover letters give you the chance to sell yourself and explain how your experiences make you a strong candidate for the position. 

    After completing that single cover letter that probably took you hours to write, the one you’re proud of and confident will get you an interview with the company, I hate to break it to you, but you should not use that same cover letter for every job. Valois said that companies realize when you’ve been reusing cover letters. They can usually tell because your cover letter is overly generic and not specific enough. If your cover letter looks like it was copied and pasted from an internet template, it’s likely going to be boring and dull, and the hiring manager would have probably read the same one about 200 times. 

    As a full-time student with a part-time job, I understand that you don’t have all the time in the world to spend crafting a new cover letter for every single job. But my advice to you, to make it slightly easier, take your single cover letter and use it as a loose template. In doing this, I don’t mean to simply swap out the hiring manager’s name and address for each application and call it a day, but do your research on each new company you’re applying for and cater to their beliefs and attitudes. You can discuss the experience you have in all of your cover letters, but modify each one to explain how it will benefit that company in particular, and not how it could benefit every single company. 

  3. 3. Make your cover letter personal

    Making your cover letter personal is the key to standing out among hundreds of applications. If you’re sharing your own story from your perspective, it will be something new and fresh that the hiring manager hasn’t read before. 

    Valois suggested finding your cover letter’s “anecdote: a simple, short and personal story that will help make you stand out and aid the hiring manager in gauging the type of person you are; besides hardworking, organized, have strong time management skills and universal skills highlighted in all cover letters.” 

    Valois said to use the first or initial two paragraphs to talk about your anecdote. It could be something inspiring or funny about what made you interested in this industry or a story that relates to why you want to work for their company. It doesn’t have to be anything overly climactic or emotional but just a simple story that is unique to your own experience. Remember to maintain your professionalism, so don’t be overly dramatic. If you’re personal with this and tell a story, the hiring manager will have a connection with you and understand where you’re coming from. 

    Chances are, they’ll appreciate you for your originality and it will be something refreshing among the basic cover letters they’ve been reading.

  4. 4. Do your research

    This may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s an important one that everyone needs a reminder about. Look past the surface level of the company besides what they sell, publish, or whatever the company does. Research their projects, including how they’ve changed over time, and form your own opinions into what you think they're doing well at and something you could critique them on, or how they’re different from other similar companies. 

    After doing your research, Valois suggested using it in your cover letter. She explained that the last paragraph in your cover letter should discuss what you like about the organization. The more specific you are, the more obvious it is that you’re being genuine and you’ve done your research. Saying something along the lines of, “I admire how your company serves the interest of Canadians,” may be flattering, but it’s vague, since essentially any company can do this. Point out specific projects the company has done and why you thought it was innovative or creative.

    Your research will also help you in the interview portion. The employer will ask you about their company, and you’re going to want to be prepared. By being familiar with the company, you won't be in the uncomfortable position of not knowing how to answer a question. Doing your research shows that you’re not lazy, you’re interested in the company, and you’re willing to do the work to get there.

  5. 5. Prepare three key points

    Interviews are nerve-wracking. I still get nervous interviewing for a retail positions even though I’ve done it a hundred times. The first interview I’ve ever done for an internship was truly a traumatizing experience. It wasn’t even an actual interview, but rather just a phone call screening before the actual first round of the interview. To say that my nerves got the best of me is an understatement, and I still get flushed whenever I think about it. 

    To help with this, Valois says to go into the interview with three main points you want to emphasize. This could be about your previous experience, the groups you’ve joined in school, what you want to contribute to the company, or your skills that would be an asset to the company. By preparing yourself this way, if you get nervous or if you don't necessarily know what to say, you can just fall back on one of these areas.

  6. 6. Be prepared for these common questions

    This tip is pretty simple, but I sometimes overlook look the common questions asked in an interview and I find myself being caught off-guard. Don’t forget to think about these questions:

    Tell me about yourself?

    How can we do better?

    Why do you want to work here?

    Do you have any questions for us?

    These are common questions, but you don’t want to give generic answers. These questions can open the door to more interesting conversations where you can sell yourself, you just have to steer it in that direction. 

  7. 7. Prioritize your mental health

    While I’m stressing that you should apply everywhere, I want to also stress the importance of prioritizing your mental health first. Applying for internships can be a long, exhausting process, and receiving rejection after rejection can take a toll on anyone’s mental health. If this internship season isn’t working out for you, don’t panic or stress, and don’t be hard on yourself. You can try again next season, and in the meantime, join groups and organizations at school. This will help you gain experience in your field, help you fill up your resume with relevant experiences, and it’ll help your chances in the next round.