Internship Application Advice
Just as there are an infinite variety of internships, there are an infinite variety of application processes. Each firm or organization will have a unique deadline, specific requirements, and expectations for follow-through. For example, while most internships will require a resume and cover letter, others will request writing samples, transcripts, or recommendations. Painstakingly follow instructions. You can make your application stand out by following the advice below.
Cover Letter: Your efforts should be concise and well-organized. Keep in mind that cover letters for internships should be limited to one page and follow the standard four paragraph format of: 1) stating your purpose for writing in plain language; 2) explaining how your education, work history or unique background will allow you to make a substantive contribution to the position; 3) describing your plan for action - interest in an interview or what you will do to follow through; and 4) a concise sincere sentence that thanks the recruiter or firm for considering your letter. If you are unsure of the tone or style of a cover letter, consult resources dedicated to the writing of cover letters for specific guidance. No matter what, do not write a single, generic cover letter and use it for all of your applications. Tailor your entire letter, especially the section where you discuss your background and experience, so that your letter is original and convincing.
Be Certain Your Information is Accurate and Up-to-Date: Nothing can hurt an otherwise strong cover letter more than misspelling the recruiter's name or addressing it to someone who left the company five years ago. If the information you have is from a "bible" published several years ago, look up the firm online, or call the recruiting office, if appropriate. Details matter.
Resume: Choose a resume format and content that complement your choice of internship. For example, if you are applying for an internship with a think-tank, your academic work should have more visual emphasis and textural detail than your experience volunteering with the homeless. On the other hand, if you are applying for an internship with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, your volunteer experience should have more prominence. Again, tailor your resume so that the person reading it leaves your resume convinced that your experiences have clearly led you for the particular internship being offered. In addition, edit your resume carefully. Sloppy resumes and those with grammatical errors are rarely taken seriously.
Stay Organized: Too many applicants send out an armload of internship applications but don't keep track of what they mailed or what they promised recruiters at each organization they would do (follow through with a phone call, request an interview, etc.). Set aside time each week, say Tuesday afternoon, where you flip through the materials you mailed, make phone calls, or otherwise refresh your memory of what you expected to have happened at that particular point in the process. While formal, competitive programs often have a "don't call us-we'll call you" approach, internships at local business or those in the public sector often appreciate an appropriately-timed and thoughtful follow-up letter or phone call. If you have focused your internship search in a particular area, you might use a follow-up contact to inform the recruiter that you will be in the area on specific dates and you were hoping to schedule an interview or visit the firm. While you should always be prudent when making unsolicited contact with potential firms, don't be afraid to make one discreet call or send a follow-up letter as long as that action does not directly contradict the firm's instructions to you.
Interview: If you are asked to give an interview, whether it is in-person or over the phone, prepare for the kinds of questions you can be sure you will be asked. For example, I guarantee you will be asked, "Why are you interested in completing an internship with us?" Have answers prepared for basic questions. Do some homework on the company or organization, not only to impress the interviewer with your knowledge, but to guide the conversation toward your particular interests. If you can leave your conversation with a sense of whether the organization is going to offer you the kind of work you are interested in, then you will have acquired valuable insight into whether you should accept the internship if it is offered.
Follow Through: If you interview, particularly if your interview in person, send out a thank-you note right away. You don't need to be grandiloquent, but thank the interviewer for his or her time, mention something you learned in the interview, and confirm your interest in the internship. Candidates who express sincere interest and demonstrate the ability to follow through are the ones who succeed.