Students sometimes pride themselves on juggling more internships than classes, but for those who have yet to step foot in the rat race, finding a position can seem daunting. Whether you’re a freshman salivating over the opportunity of running around Capitol Hill or a senior with a full résumé, here’s a quick guide on some of the basics to landing that dream internship.
There’s more to the simple résumé than meets the eye. For example, list high school activities or old jobs only if they are relevant or you had real responsibility – or if you haven’t had any new experiences yet. So if you’re a freshman and your summer job as a lifeguard is on there, then it may be all right. But if you’re a senior, it’s time to purge those high school newspaper awards.
Also, while it may be tempting to list 10 pages of accomplishments, stick to the one-page golden rule. According to the GW Law School Web site, the key for a résumé is to “prioritize, reorganize and use word processing editing tricks.” All those margin tricks you honed in middle school are going to be helpful, so stretch them as much as you can and don’t skip lines except for separating different jobs, if possible.
Remember that the key to a résumé is relevance: Just as you wouldn’t tell the Dairy Queen that you speak conversational Arabic, don’t tell a lobbying firm that you can scoop a perfect sundae. Prospective employees are curious what kinds of experience you’ve had that will make you an asset to their company, not everything you’ve accomplished in your life.
As for including your GPA, that is a personal choice. If you’ve only earned below a B+ twice in three years and you’ve made the Dean’s List every semester, it’s probably wise to include a GPA. But if you are barely above academic probation, you’re going to want to leave it out. And if you’re somewhere in between, decide whether displaying academic success will help you get the internship.
THE COVER LETTER
There’s one basic mistake many students make when writing the cover letter: restating what’s on the résumé. Your cover letter should explain how your accomplishments on the résumé will make you an asset to the company.
The cover letter is also a great opportunity to explain anything missing from your résumé. Light on relevant experience? Discuss how being a newcomer to the industry will allow you to learn quickly.
Perhaps the trickiest part is whether you should include what you will gain from the internship. Some places like to find out what each prospective intern is hoping to achieve. Others have heard the same line (“I want to really immerse myself in the industry!”) 100 times. One suggestion is to have a brief paragraph at the top about why you are applying for the internship, but if you’re really unsure about it, you can list it as a goal or objective on your résumé instead.
The cover letter is your chance to express both enthusiasm and competency. The employer wants to know what you can do for them. Also remember to be polite and use proper grammar. Only use “To whom it may concern” as a last resort, as it is better to personalize the letter with the name of the internship coordinator or the person in charge of hiring. Always thank the company for their time, offer to come in for an interview and say that references are available upon request, if not included with your résumé.
So the boss was blown away by your stellar résumé and cover letter, and you’ve been asked in for an interview. This is where you’re going to really prove yourself.
Sometimes getting an interview means you’ve really got the job and the company just wants to make sure that you are who you say you are, and sometimes it’s because your résumé and cover letter are extremely competitive with others. Because it is often impossible to tell, take the interview seriously. Dust off that old college interview advice – firm handshake, nice clothes, proper manners. Bring at least two copies of your cover letter and résumé and make sure you have references on hand.
Plan on arriving 10 to 15 minutes early – though an hour early looks a little overzealous. If you don’t know where you’re going, bring directions and the phone number of the company in case you get lost. If you’re taking public transportation, leave even earlier just to be safe.
Some of this advice may seem obvious, but if you follow it, you may get the internship. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
Information from the GW Career Center and GW Law School Web sites.