By Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes.com
Special to Online Learning Tips
While the job market for recent college graduates is still anemic, aspiring interns have reason to be hopeful. According to an Internships.com survey, 53% of employers expect to hire more college students for summer internships this year than they did in 2012.
If you’re vying for one of those coveted positions, the competition may be fierce–but there are ways to get ahead of the pack.
Internships.com CEO Robin Richards shared with us the steps you should take to boost your chances of landing the internship you want.
Do A Self-Assessment
Assess your values, temperament, personality, and interests, Richards says. Internships.com and other sites offer free tools for completing this critical process — however, most students jump right into the internship search without a thoughtful assessment of who they are and what they want.
“The vast majority of students apply for internships by location first, area of interest second, paid or unpaid third, and by name brand of the company fourth,” Richards says. “Many have a hard time landing an internship because each step is less thought-out than what they’re going to do Friday night.”
A self-evaluation can lead to a better understanding of the career path you want, and the types of company cultures and environments that suit you best.
“You have to approach an internship like a marketing campaign for your future,” Richards says. “Figure out your targets, then think about which companies are a good fit.”
Find The Internship That Suits You Best
The best place to go to pinpoint your targets is the web. Richards suggests that you scope out internship sites with the greatest number of listings. Then, click around on the links to make sure they are active and up-to-date. Once you find a site that you trust, you can begin your search.
“Students think it might be cool to live in London for the summer, but that’s not always realistic,” Richards says. You have to first limit your search to locations that are practical and affordable. Figure out the cost of living in the areas you’re interested in, and think about ways to live inexpensively, since most internships are unpaid. For instance, a lot of people don’t know that colleges rent out dorm rooms over the summer.
Once you’ve settled on realistic geographical locations, narrow the search further by choosing your areas of interest. A lot of companies will pop up, so you may have to refine your search by “paid” or “unpaid.”
Some students can’t afford to work for free, but if you have the option, consider this: Only 34% of all internships are paid, and paid positions get four times as many applicants as unpaid ones, Richards says.
Now you should be left with a list of companies that meet your criteria — but don’t trust that they are all a good match. Next you should research the firms, and look at size, industry, reputation, and history, among many other things. Richards suggests internships seekers use databases and directories, or search engines to learn more about each company.
“This also helps you become a better interviewee,” Richards says. You have to do this homework at some point if you want to impress the employer — so it’s wise to start before you even apply to avoid wasting time.
You should then thin your list down to two or three companies and start networking. “The best way to get a leg up is to reach out to personal contacts,” Richards says. “Look to friends, family, and friends of family for connections to the companies you’re interested in pursuing.”
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are effective ways to find former or current employees at the firms you’re attracted to. “It’s fair game to request a chat with first degree friends about a company they’ve worked at,” Richards explains. “But it’s inappropriate to contact second degree friends without an introduction.”
Richards recommends that you ask the mutual friend to send an email to the person you’re trying to reach with a brief description of your intentions and your contact information. Then, wait for them to email you. When you hear from them, use the opportunity to ask questions about their experience and the company culture.
Apply For The Internship You Want
Compose a cover letter that addresses the job description and the company’s needs. “Cover letters are kind of an old school elegance that says you’re ready to join the work force,” Richards says. “In a cover letter, you want to show them that your education coupled with relevant experience lends itself to whatever job description they put forth.” If you don’t have relevant work experience, include any pertinent volunteer work, involvement in clubs, or other activities.
Always highlight leadership roles. If you can explain, with brevity, that you’re able to deliver a project without being told what to do every step of the way — and you have experience to back that sentiment — you should do so in a cover letter and on your rÃ©sumÃ©.
“Don’t take out any job experience from your rÃ©sumÃ© that may not be relevant to the job you’re chasing,” Richards explains. “Instead, point out that they are relevant by highlighting your leadership roles and project management experiences.”
Try to find good, free help before you submit your cover letter and rÃ©sumÃ©. “There are plenty of sites that offer a rÃ©sumÃ© review service,” Richards says.
Submit the rÃ©sumÃ© via the preferred method. “You’re too low on the totem pole to circumvent their path,” Richards says. “Do what they say to do!” This means you shouldn’t submit your rÃ©sumÃ© through an in-house employee. “When you’re in the interview you can mention the people you know who have worked there.”
That is, if you’re actually asked to do an interview. If you don’t hear from the company, it’s okay to follow-up and let them know you sent your rÃ©sumÃ©. “Tell know you’ve done a substantial amount of research on the company, and you would love to meet with them,” Richards suggests. “Then, we hope an interview comes next.”
Prepare For The Interview
If it does, you’ll need to prepare. How should you dress? “Always overdress. It’s that simple,” Richards says. “If you walk in and it’s casual, someone might tell you that, but you should say, ‘I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to be respectful,’ and that will set the tone for who you are before you even sit down.”
Richards says he’s interviewed candidates who looked like they hadn’t showered or were dressed inappropriately, and “they were out before they even opened their mouths,” he says.
If you’re dressed to impress, and you’ve already done your homework — then you’re ready to go. One way to ease your nerves (and to show you’re responsible) is to arrive five to ten minutes early.
Once you’re in the hot seat you’ll want to set the tone. “The tone for all good interviews is that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You should go in wanting to understand if this place is a good fit for you.” Richards compares companies to mentors. As a young professional, the places you intern will shape your future and provide you with knowledge and experience — so it’s important to ask them intelligent, forward looking questions.
Things not to ask: “How much will I make?” and, “How much will I have to work?” “These questions say you don’t really want the job.”
“Ask about the position that you’ll be assigned to handle,” Richards says. “This will be an opportunity to highlight relevant experience and show why you will be a good fit.” He also says you need to let the company know they can trust you to do good work. “Let them know you’re serious even though you’re young.”
Richards also says you should be willing to engage in conversations during the interview. There will be an opportunity to tell a story, he says, so talk about a time when you solved a problem. “Everyone remembers stories, and not everyone remembers answers.”
Something else to pay attention to during the interview: Body language. Look the interviewer in the eye, smile, sit up straight and respect personal space.
If you can get through all that, you’re almost in the clear. “Wrap up is very important,” Richards says. “You’ll want to ask for information about the process, what will happen next, and what the expected time frame is. This way, you’re planting the seed for the follow-up.”
Go home and compose a hand-written thank you note to the interviewer that day. This will set you apart from other candidates, and you will be one of the 3% to 4% who make this classy move. “It’s a great way to distinguish yourself from the pack.”
If you don’t hear from the employer within the time frame they gave you, wait two to three days and email them. If you really connected with the interviewer and they provided you with their phone number, you should call.
Deal With The Job Offer Or Rejection
If you’re offered the job, respond promptly and professionally. “Give them an answer that day or the next morning,” Richards says. “It’s at this time that you should voice your questions or concerns. Don’t wait until you’re hired!”
If you’re faced with rejection, use it as an opportunity to reflect on your approach. “Ask yourself what you could have done better, if you prepared enough, if you dressed appropriately,” Richards says. “If you go through a reflection process, you’ll know how to better prepare next time.”
This is an update of a story that ran previously.
Ready When You Are
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