How To Get An Awesome Internship
There are a jazillion websites, blog posts, articles, books, seminars and YouTube videos on how to land an internship.
Chances are, you’ve read or heard 98 percent of this advice before: edit and proofread your resumes and cover letters, clean up your social media accounts, dress appropriately for an interview, be 15 minutes early to an interview, send thank you notes, don’t be too shy, find a way to stand out, look people in the eye, have a firm handshake, build your network. I don’t want to dismiss this advice, but I would call it common sense. Job applicants who aren’t doing these things are little leaguers trying to get an invite to the Olympic trials. If you’re in your twenties and this is new information, a really good article to read is here.
A lot of people tell you how to get a gig, but not the gig. Unlike jobs, internships (in general) are fairly easy to land, because some small shop in some small town or suburb will let you work for them for free. As a consequence, all internships are not created equal. Some internships, unlike the humdrum nobody-knows company internships, are the golden ticket that take you up the glass elevator to the economic penthouse, getting interns a substantial starting salary position come graduation, which means security and not having to live with their parents- every soon-to-be and recent college graduate’s dream.
How do candidates get THOSE internships? With such a high application volume, and having all the crème candidates all applying to their shop, how does anyone stand out? What makes them pick a resume out of the pile?
I asked three jackpot companies what it takes to be an intern. I interviewed intern managers from Linkedin, mtvU and Facebook to get the juice on how to score an internship at some of the most famous and influential companies in the world. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Do your Research
This is advice that I would also put in the common sense file, but my sources mentioned this as a common mistake, I’m going to write it.
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Spending 20-30 minutes looking at a company’s website is not research. That’s skimming the material before a test when you haven’t bothered to go to lecture in awhile.
“The first question I always ask is, ‘How much do you know about mtvU?’” says Jordana Cohen, manager of mtvU Marketing and Distribution. “I’m shocked candidates will answer, “I don’t know anything” or tell me about their favorite MTV shows. “
MtvU produces original content, independent from MTV and reaches nearly 9 million students over 750 college campuses nationwide. They have a website, mtvU.com that gives access to everyone who may not have the channel.
Research includes not only the company and its products, but the business itself. Who are the major league companies and who are the minor league companies? What are they known for? How are they doing in the stock market? Have they been in the news lately? If yes, then why? What sort of people work there? What are their backgrounds? What are their products? What product is most popular? Which is the least popular? If people are writing about those products, what are they praising and what are they criticizing?
Potential interns who get noticed in an interview or on the job are the ones who have an opinion- they aren’t afraid to speak up, give input and contribute to brainstorming sessions. But in order to have effective and credible input, one has to put in the time and do the research.
These are the questions you should know the answers to, not word vomiting a mission statement or telling them how much you love The Real World.
2. Use and know the product
I like to think I’m the brightest bulb in the tanning bed as much as the next girl, but I hope I’m not the only person who thinks this is painfully obvious. But as my dad used to say, “Some people need 8 x 10, color glossy photos with paragraphs and arrows on the back.”
There are certain things you can wing in an application or in an interview. But being unfamiliar with the product, web site, whatever your dream company’s schtick is, is fatal- because they’ll know.
“We can generally tell when they really love Linkedin, we see them being proactive, sending inmails, Linkedin groups,” explains Doris Tong, University Relations manager, aka the intern manager. “They’ll share insight and knowledge, they’ll have stories about how Linkedin has helped them in their career and lives as students, how they’ve benefited, how they’ve used our product, connected with alums, etc.”
Tong also told me a story about how an intern candidate for their mobile app went on and on in his application and interview about how much he loved creating apps. When she asked what he thought of Linkedin’s mobile app, he said he didn’t know because he hadn’t downloaded it.The light bulb flickers on sooner for some than others, I guess.
Most interviewers are bound to ask you why you want the internship. Answers like “I love procrastinating on Facebook,” “I’m the next Mark Zuckerburg,” “I want to hang out with celebrities at the MTV events” or “I’ve heard so many good things about Linkedin,” are like eating dessert for dinner. It seems like a good idea at the time but it won’t satisfy the interviewer or your metabolism.
“The most successful answers to the question “why Facebook?” are things you’d really like to change about Facebook – whether it’s a feature you wish existed, or a bug you’d like to fix, or just a design you think we got wrong,” says Jocelyn Goldfein, a Director of Engineering at Facebook. “ If you get an internship at Facebook, you get the same access to the source code that all of our full-time engineers do. We want to hire people who’ll use that access to make a big, positive impact.”
3. See the Big Picture
The single most important thing about seeing the big picture is to know where you stand in it.
In the process of researching your desired business, the companies within that business, companies’ individual products and the internship you want, you start aligning what you have with what they have, what you want with what they want, and begin to figure out which company’s shoes you believe will fit you best.
Once you have done that, you can break down to an interviewer what you’ve done, and demonstrate the qualities you possess that go hand-in hand with the company. Because during the application process your job is to illustrate what you can do for the company, and why you’re the best choice. And in order to effectively do that you have to know a great deal about the company, a great deal about their products, and have an unwavering belief in yourself and your abilities.
“Prepare an answer to the question, ‘what makes you stand out?’ that actually makes you stand out. One candidate, who I hired, talked about how he loved how mtvU gives opportunities to students to launch their career goals in a different way than his university did,” says Cohen. “We loved that he understood, on his own, the big picture of how and why we partner with universities, and that was a big factor in him getting the position.
4. Passion Beats GPA
Many candidates see passion as giving fiery speeches or being a huge fan. To an extent that’s part of it. But college students don’t get an internship at Google because they Google everything. Infusing passion into employment requires the passion to manifest itself during spare time. What does that mean? It means an applicant would do their job even if they weren’t paid to do it, and it becomes a part of everything else they do.
“For example, an engineer who builds applications and tools in their spare time,” says Tong. “If they like playing guitar, they’re creating an app to help them practice guitar, they’re integrating app building into their other interests.”
How do you showcase this in your resume and/or cover letter?
“Highlight your side projects! This shows you have a passion for making things, not just going through the motions. If you’ve written an app, built a site, or contributed to open source, make that front and center on your resume,” says Goldfein. “A resume with nothing but coursework is not going to get picked up. You have to have something extra that shows you have real passion for a career in software, not just taking classes. Those are your work experience, side projects, open source, or coding competitions. If all else fails – go to our website and try one of the coding puzzles.”