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Top Five Strategies for Landing Your Dream Internship (and, just maybe, your full-time job!)

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All right students, you know the drill. Landing an internship can be one of the most important things you do before graduation. The experience can help you explore a career field and, in many cases, position you for a full-time job offer with your interning employer. With these potential benefits, you'll want to be sure you are the candidate at the top of the list for your dream internship!

Before founding, I worked in career services at a major university and in corporate recruiting for a major transportation company. As a result of these experiences, I determined that there are several strategies that make internship applicants stand out above the rest. It sounds a little strange, but similar to preparing for an entry-level job, the most successful students rack up experience and do some planning before applying for an internship. Below are five strategies to help you prepare for and secure your dream internship:

1. Get Experience

I know, I know, that’s what internships are for, right? WRONG! When I worked in career services, my job was to identify student candidates for high-level internships. Guess which students always shined? The ones who had some sort of previous related experience. Even when I later did corporate recruiting, I looked for experience in internship candidates.

The "experience" I am referring to falls into a number of categories. I will highlight a few here:

  • School Activities: No matter where you go to school, chances are you’ve got a bazillion different clubs, organizations, etc. that you could join. Zero in on a few that are in or related to your field of interest. Are you interested in journalism? You should be pounding down the door of your school newspaper getting experience in as many departments as possible. Are you interested in Biology? You should join or head up a committee in the Biology or Clean Environment Club. You don’t have clubs like that at your school? Start one (now THAT would look great on a resume)!
  • Volunteer Activities: In my experience working with students, this was one of the most under-utilized forms of experience. It surprised me because, even though a lot of volunteer opportunities were unpaid, they provided invaluable fodder for resumes. Are you interested in law? How about contacting a non-profit legal aid association to see if you could volunteer to file for a couple hours a week? Hey, maybe it could even evolve into an internship. Not only does volunteer work beef up a resume, it demonstrates that you are a concerned, responsible citizen. Not sure where to find out about volunteer activities? Start by inquiring with your career services office.
  • "First Step" Internships: There is a misconception out there that internships are only for juniors and seniors. Untrue! In many cases, there are "first step" internships available to any students regardless of class standing. "First Step" internships are typically unpaid and may be more clerical in nature. Students who begin with this step may not have the most challenging assignments, however, they will be exposed to an organizational environment. In the internship game, simply having this exposure may give you a leg up over other students. Also, you’d be surprised at the number of students who start out in a clerical function within an internship and move into more advanced, relevant assignments. You may find some of these opportunities through or check with your career services office.
  • School Projects: Whenever possible, utilize school projects to your advantage. For example, as an Information Systems major, your project may be to create a program for an airline reservation system. By all means, use this experience to your advantage by detailing the project and the programming tools used in future correspondence with employers.

2. Learn to Write a "Power Resume"

What do I mean by "Power Resume"? I mean one that will easily and thoroughly tell an employer that you are the right candidate for the job. This doesn’t mean plugging your demographic information into a pre-programmed resume template. It means honing in on the key skills/requirements that the employer is looking for. An employer should be able to easily tell from the top one- to two-thirds of your resume that you are the candidate they are looking for.

I recommend laying the internship description right next to your resume so you can change/target your information to coincide with the internship requirements. You may want to use a Qualifications section at the top of your resume that describes how your skills match each of the internship requirements. Another option is to include a Relevant Experience category towards the top that details all of your related school, volunteer, and/or previous internship experience.

Check out our example of a "Power Resume" that was tailored to a specific internship description. If you have never written a resume before, you will want to back up a step and first learn the basics of resume writing. Jobweb's Guide to Resume and Cover Letter Writing can help you with this or check with your career services office. How you send your resume may be another story. Check out Rebecca Smith's eResumes & Resources for information on sending resumes electronically or visit your career services office.

3. Learn to Write a "Power Cover Letter"

When I worked as a recruiter, I read so many generic cover letters from people that said "they were the best fit for the position", that they were "very interested in my company", and that they were "dedicated and hard-working". While these statements all sounded admirable, they were nothing but words on paper. Why?

It can be likened to buying a new car. Suppose the salesperson told you that a car would be perfect for you because it was the "best darn car around" and that it was "sure to get you from point A to point B." You might first laugh in the salesperson's face before inevitably asking "what else?" You would want to know WHY it was the "best darn car around" and what differentiated it from other cars.

The same applies to a cover letter. Avoid simply stating that you are the "best darn car around". If you tell an employer that you are the best fit for the position, follow it up with proof or examples of why you stand out from the rest. Check out our example of a "Power Cover Letter" that thoroughly substantiates the student's claim of being an ideal internship candidate. If you have never written a cover letter before and need to learn the basics, check out Jobweb's Guide to Resume and Cover Letter Writing or visit your Career Services office.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice Your Interviewing Skills

In most cases, if an employer is interested in the cover letter and resume you submitted, they will call you in for an interview. Similar to writing an effective resume and cover letter, you will need to do some research and preparation. Depending on your industry of choice, you may even want to prepare a portfolio that includes relevant work or writing samples. It is a good idea to think of this interview the same that you would an interview for an entry-level job.

When I interviewed candidates for internships, there were some things that stood out among the candidates that were ultimately offered internships:

  • They did their research on the company and brought up points of interest in the interview.
  • They had questions for me during and after I had finished asking my questions. It made a negative impression on me if an internship candidate I was interviewing did not have any questions. I knew the internship was going to be a major learning experience and that it could potentially lead to a full-time job. I thought it was important that the candidate learn as much about the internship as I learned about him or her. Asking questions also demonstrated interest and enthusiasm for the position.
  • They appeared enthusiastic about the position. This didn’t mean they jumped up and down like a cheerleader, rather they demonstrated sincere interest in the position through a firm handshake, positive eye contact, confident body language and carefully thought-out responses.
  • Last but not least, those that made an impression were those that TOLD me they wanted the internship. They clearly and specifically stated (to my face!) their interest in obtaining the position---very important.

There are many publications and resources to help you prepare for the questions you may be asked at an interview. You will find JobWeb's Interviewing Advice or your career services office helpful for this purpose. If you have the option, I would also highly recommend participating in a mock interview. Often, your career services staff will hold interview role-play sessions that allow you to practice the entire process. Check with your career services office for more information.

5. Follow Up** (stars indicate GREAT IMPORTANCE!)

LISTEN UP (all right, now that I have your attention)!! This is VERY important and cannot be emphasized enough. Sending a follow-up thank you letter has got to be one of the most important things you can do in your internship search. This demonstrates a very important skill to employers…Follow through! Always be sure to send this out within 24 hours of the actual interview. In my recruiting experience, if two equally qualified candidates were being considered for one internship, I would wait to see who followed up. If only one did, that person became the top choice.

Within your thank you letters, I suggest indicating that you enjoyed learning whatever it was you learned from the interviewer (remember those questions you asked?), reiterating how your skills/experience fit the position and, again, explicitly stating your interest in the position. I am partial to a brief typed, laser-printed letter that is presented on resume-quality paper though other forms (email, fax) are generally acceptable as well.

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In closing, I’d like to tell you all to keep an open mind, work hard and be yourself in your internship search. Though I can’t promise that the above steps will always result in landing your internship of choice (I think there is always a little bit of luck and fate in all that we do), they will certainly increase your chances. I wish you all the best in your internship and career search!

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Tami Gove, B.A., M.S., is President of, an online source for free searchable internship listings and free internship posting. With experience in career services and in corporate recruiting, she saw a need for a site that connected students and employers on internship issues. Please visit the site at or send any comments or questions regarding this article via our Feedback Page.

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