A few months ago, a student applied to my agency’s internship program with minimal experience. She had just finished her freshman year at college, and her resume didn’t have the multiple extra-curricular activities, the other applicants did.
Yet, I hired her over dozens of students that had more robust resumes.
How did I know she was going to be one of the best interns we had that summer?
Here’s how: from the get-go, she showcased her interest in the industry and the internship position, expressed her desire to learn and expand her knowledge, and demonstrated her enthusiasm for the opportunity.
This taught me a valuable lesson about how students with little to no experience can stand out in the internship application process, and ultimately increase their chances of getting an offer.
Make initial outreach count
It’s apparent from the first email that hits my inbox whether or not an applicant is genuinely interested in the internship. What many students don’t realize is that every email they send is figuring into a manager’s impression of them.
The moment you apply for a position, you are already interviewing. Applicants need to make sure:
- The email is personalized, not a mass message distributed to managers far and wide. While copying and pasting email after email may save you time in the application process, it’s not an effective way to get internship managers to notice you. Trust me, we can tell when an email is generic enough to have been sent to dozens of companies!
- You mention something about the company to demonstrate you’ve done research. This is a huge way to catch a manager’s attention and show that you’re interested in the company, not just interested in any internship you can get. Take that extra minute to find one relevant tidbit about the company, and incorporate that into your initial outreach.
- The tone is inviting for future correspondence. Let the receiver know that you’re enthusiastic about the internship by saying you’d be happy to answer any questions they may have, provide additional information if necessary and that you look forward to hearing from them.
The moment you click send on that first email, the interview has started. So always make it count!
Be upfront and honest
A few weeks after the intern I mentioned earlier applied to the internship opportunity, she sent the following message:
“I just wanted to follow up on my application for your summer internship opportunity and again express my interest in this position. I realize I do not have much experience but I would love to learn about this field and gain the skills needed for this industry.”
The honesty of her message stood out among the other application emails I receive on a regular basis. While confidence is valuable in internship searching, if you don’t have as much experience, sometimes it works to infuse a bit of humility.
In addition, the effort of following up shows that she was still very interested in the opportunity and genuinely wanted to speak about it. It was this follow-up message that motivated me to schedule an interview with her.
As highlighted above, following up is one of the most effective ways to stand out as an internship applicant. Many don’t want to hear this, but calling a manager on the phone after applying makes a huge difference. This demonstrates enthusiasm and commitment to the opportunity and puts you way ahead of the competition.
Every student that has called me after applying to our internship program has received an offer. Even if you don’t follow up via phone call, make sure to follow up via email.
Many internship managers get multiple application emails at once, so your original outreach may have gotten lost in the mix. Following up is necessary!
Highlight transferrable skills
While your resume may not be packed with professional internships, you still have plenty to offer to a company through your transferable skills.
Scour the internship requirements and see how you can connect things you’ve already done to what the company needs. Consider all your past jobs, class projects, volunteer experiences, and any clubs you’re a part of.
For example: if you’re applying to a public relations internship, how would your job at the pizzeria connect?
Transferable skills include:
- the communication skills you needed when speaking on the phone,
- customer service when working with challenging individuals,
- social media experience when your boss asked you to help with the pizzeria’s Instagram,
- and management when you had to train and supervise your replacement.
Get creative with it!
Once you get your first internship and/or do a few class projects related to your major you’ll have more relevant experience to replace summer jobs at a pizzeria. But until then, try to distill any transferrable skills you can from past experience.
All throughout the application process, it’s integral to showcase your enthusiasm. Experience on a resume is nothing without enthusiasm for the work you’d be doing.
As an internship manager, I can get an application from the most qualified student with all the relevant experience in the world, but if they’re not passionate or eager to make the most out of the opportunity, that past experience doesn’t matter.
The intern in the example above was not the most experienced applicant I received, but her outstanding enthusiasm let me know she’d put forth a lot of effort to make the most out of the internship. So make sure the hiring manager knows how genuinely interested you are to make the most out of the opportunity.
Even if, after all this effort, you don’t get the internship you were working towards, you have other options. Once the process is finished:
- Ask the hiring manager if there is there anything you could do to be more competitive to employers in the future. This shows that you’re eager to learn and develop as a candidate, and you value their feedback.
- Stay connected to the company and individuals you worked with along the way. Keep in touch with them, and share updates about how you’re taking their advice and getting more experience. You never know when another internship opportunity will open up!
You can get that internship offer, so keep hustling!