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Getting That Internship

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Apr. 09, 2015

Some people would say that I’m “lucky” all because I’ve been graced with an internship opportunity every summer since my freshman year, and my work has been well-paying and very good for my professional development. I have a few friends who are in similarly happy positions, and they all shared a similar process with me: Lots of applications, lots of interviews, and lots of reaching out to any connection they could find. No magic formulas.

I began my first internship with a large insurance company’s actuarial department after my freshman year. As a freshmen, I didn’t have a lot of work experience on my resume. So I marketed my potential – my room for growth, and the difficult classes and club responsibilities I took on early in college. For those of you without much work experience, this is the angle you want to pull as you apply for jobs – you are working for experience, and have the dedication to succeed! With that in mind, here are the steps I took to land those interviews and offers, and I hope they’ll be helpful to you.

1. Use every resource your university provides you. This is especially true for freshmen who don’t have large professional networks yet. If your school has a career center, create a resume and get it reviewed there. I went 3-4 times during my freshman year to help shape an awesome resume. Most schools should have company presentations and job fairs – you need to make time for these. These are the primary ways students find internships.

I started looking for opportunities by joining clubs related to my major. This not only gave me professional connections through company events but personal connections with upperclassmen. These folks are the most knowledgeable on what companies hire which students, and how you can stand out. Go to these events and find upperclassmen to befriend. Then, go to the professional events.

The company I worked for had an informational presentation to this club at the beginning of the year. I attended and sat up front, asking questions during the event. I also went up to speak with the recruiters at the end of the presentation.

Signing my name on the attendance list wasn’t enough – I knew I was competing against other students, so I made sure they knew my name.

They didn’t ask for my resume at that first meeting, but I wasn’t dissuaded. I visited them during our career fair and toured their facility during an open house the week later. Now they had my name on three events, and recruiters recognized my face.

2. Plant a seed, even if they won’t hire you right away. At this point, I should say that though this one company seemed interested in me, dozens turned me down in the process. Some just weren’t a good fit, others had more qualified applicants. A few said they just didn’t hire freshmen/sophomores.

The people who get discouraged by these things are the ones who don’t get the competitive internships.

The same companies that turned me down my first year were very interested the next year, after I had an internship with their competitor. Planting a seed is just as important as nailing an interview. If they don’t take you on your first application, apply the year after. Make sure the recruiters know you’ve shown interest for multiple years. Companies like Google get thousands of applications per day from equally qualified candidates. How many of them get weeded out by people who took one rejection and never applied again? I’ve personally heard from recruiters in other companies that they respect candidates who apply repeatedly and show that they’ve improved and gained experience between each season.

3. When meeting the recruiters, be genuine while knowing what they’re looking for. This includes the interview itself but ANY interaction beforehand (emails, casual presentations, and more). By November, I had begun interviews with about five companies. Remember that they can see through fake attitudes and want you to be yourself (while being professional). Don’t be afraid to ask for the dress code of a meeting. For an interview, always assume business professional (suit and tie for guys, pant suit or skirt suit for girls) unless specifically told otherwise. Practice your handshakes and speaking clearly. Other than that, let your character shine during the interview as much as your skills.

4. Following up is crucial. It is common courtesy to thank an interviewer for the opportunity to meet them, usually with an email. After a company presentation or any professional interaction, always ask for a business card. I actually have a collection of over 30 business cards from networking events on my shelf. You will never know which connections will get you an internship, so utilize them all. It’s important not to be overbearing either. I keep my follow-up emails shorter than a paragraph, with three components: a) Express gratitude for the interaction b) Share something professional/academic about myself that they didn’t get to hear today c) Ask a question or two about them or the company, if you have any. This changes the thank-you into a continued correspondence.

5. The internship-hunting process is a chance for YOU to size up the COMPANY, not just the other way around. This means doing research on each company you apply for, asking specific questions about life as an employee, and sincerely thinking about the companies you apply to. It is TOTALLY OKAY to turn down an offer that doesn’t suit you, or to apply to companies outside of your specific major. I encourage both of these. I turned down a return offer from my first internship for an offer from their biggest competitor for the next summer. My reason? I preferred the location of the competitor in Chicago, the city I want to start my career in. And I’m very happy with that decision!

I hope you find this advice helpful. Discouragement is your biggest enemy in the internship hunt – but as long as you are building connections, growing yourself, and planting seeds, opportunities will appear. The best opportunities come to the ones who work the hardest to find them!