It’s an unfair truth that a college degree isn’t as special as it used to be.
Today, over 19 million Americans go to college (14.5 million of those are enrolled in a private institution.) Compare that stat to 1965, when only about 5 million of the U.S. population went to college.
Given how much rarer it was, it makes sense that back in your parents’ or your parents’ parents’ generation, having a degree was something that made you a “learned” person. It was a notable accomplishment, one to be lauded and sought out. And having a degree was enough to make you someone who was perfectly employable.
In all likelihood, had you lived and studied in that time, any old office would have been happy to have you right now, just as are: a graduate (or soon to be.)
Sadly, things have changed.
No doubt, America is investing more and more into education every year. But what that means is that the nation’s also getting more competitive. As in a lot more competitive.
Especially in today’s job market where nothing seems predictable and the future knocks on your door every day, asking: “Are you prepared?”
That’s why you may be looking for an internship. An internship is one way that you can set yourself aside from other college graduates and take a faster route to your desired career.
But just like with applying for jobs, applying for internships is also very competitive. This is something that so many young ladies forget, and then wonder why they’re not getting any call-backs.
Remember, the fact you’re a member of your college’s alumni isn’t necessarily enough. It pays to do your research, establish some key networks, secure a few references and utilise a number of other high-level strategies that will help you up your chances.
That way, when it comes time for your interview, you have more leverage in positioning your value. Depending on how well you prepare yourself, here are three different ways you could do it….
- “I’m the one with real-world experience.”
“But isn’t an internship how I get real-world experience in the first place?”
Most of the time, yes. In many cases, your internship provider won’t mind if you haven’t had actual working experience in your field of choice.
But if it’s something you do have, it can be a great way to position your value as higher than other candidates who will likely appear ‘greener’ than you as a result.
Many college grads are not even aware of just how valuable prospective employers may perceive their past working experience.
Picture Julie. Julie worked hard throughout college and didn’t get a lot of financial support from her parents. Juggling her business studies, she worked part-time as a Team Leader at a McDonald’s.
Embarrassed that fast food has been her only working experience so far, Julie decides to evade talking about it during her interview with a prestigious business consultancy.
Now picture Amanda. Amanda also worked in a high-level role at a fast-food chain and is applying for an internship at the same company. Amanda suspects that her experience in leadership may make her stand out from other grads.
She leverages this experience, using business terminology and real-life examples to show how she understand what it takes to manage a team and deliver measurable results.
The interviewer is impressed. Who do you think the consultancy firm hires: Julie or Amanda?
Learning from this story, take any job you’ve had – no matter how small…
Retail. Fashion. Social media. Helping out your family’s business. Whatever it is, figure out how you can use that experience to make you seem more clued up on your industry than other candidates.
Bonus points if you can connect the dots between your discipline’s theory (studied at college) and your learnings out in the real world.
Simple step-by-step for this strategy:
- Take stock of your past work history and consider how you’d like to position your experiences in light of your current aspirations. For example, if you did all of the social media for a small business, were you really just an ‘Admin Assistant’ or were you a ‘Digital Marketing Manager and Social Media Strategist’?
- Get your CV and cover letters professionally re-written and proofread to reflect this new professional profile. It’s okay (even encouraged) to emphasize some aspects of your experience over others.
- In your interview, talk specifically about how you believe your real-world working experience in conjunction with your college education marks you a formidable candidate. Give specific examples and then tie that in how you could be of use to the company.
(E.g. “I’m up to date with social media analytics and have all of the relevant certification. In college, I studied how to interpret this data to drive better results. I think your firm could really benefit from these strategies, and I’d love to be the one to drive great outcomes.”
- Follow the interview up with an email, reiterating your main points and offering thanks for the company’s time.
2. “I’m the well-connected one.”
The key to nailing your internship application is in understanding what the company really wants in an intern.
While the previous strategy might work for a fast-paced company who needs someone who can hit the ground running, some companies may be more interested in your personality and your communication skills.
This is typically the case in industries like sales, advertising, the NFP industries and communications.
For these sorts of roles, you’re going to get a lot of friendly and gregarious candidates oozing charisma all over the place. While you may be just as lovable – and an excellent communicator to boot – your best bet on being remembered well is this:
How you talk about those you’ve worked with.
At Uni, in group assignments, in clubs or sports or even just life… the way you talk about your relationships will show your prospective employer what kind of person you are.
You want to leave them thinking: “Wow, she was very well-connected! And seems like a great person to work with!”
Using this strategy to nail an internship means you have to lay the groundwork early. Reconnect with old acquaintances, sidle up to those in leadership roles or professors who seemed to like and enjoy talking to you.
Create genuine relationships in networks that relate to your industry and you’ll appear miles ahead of other candidates.
But take care to not be a leech. Nobody likes a user, and if you’re schmoozing up to influential people just for the street cred, that’s not going to look good.
Instead, be vulnerable with the people who inspire you and tell them that you love what they do in the industry. Tell them you’d love to do that one day, too. You never know who might just be willing to give you a helping hand (or at least point you in the right direction.)
Simple step-by-step for this strategy:
- Start creating meaningful relationships now with everyone you encounter academically and professionally. Everyone you meet creates an impression, and the more positive that impression is, the more helpful it will be to your future professional life.
- Stay in touch with those you’ve met over the years and think about asking for some references from those you were particularly close to. It’s better if these people are high up in your desired industry, but they also don’t need to be. Be creative and find people who will have nothing but glowing praise for your talents over the years.
- In your interview, talk specifically about how you believe your relationships have helped you become the person you are today. Give specific examples of what you’ve learnt from others and how you’ve helped others. Show the interviewer you are willing to work in a team and are able to create real and lasting relationships with a wide diversity of people in life / academia / business.
- If you’re feeling brave, focus on a peoples’ person ‘superpower’ you believe you have. Think about it: it’s easy for someone to say “I’m good with people.”
What’s more memorable is something like this: “As a psychology grad, I know what makes people tick. I have a great deal of empathy for those who struggle (which drew me to the field) and a special knack for solving problems with everyone I meet – friends, family, pretty much anyone! I really believe this way of thinking could help me bridge the gaps between your clients’ pain points and the solutions.”
- Follow the interview up with an email, reiterating main points and offering thanks for the company’s time.
3. “I’m the passionate one.”
Stressed out now? Don’t be.
Many college grads don’t have a lot of work experience, if any at all. And many college grads didn’t make all of the connections they could have (and should have.)
If you belong to this majority, you still have a strategy at your disposal:
At the end of the day, you can be the most popular girl at college and the favourite of all your professors or the winner of the most awards.
But if you don’t appear to have a real love for the industry, you’re going to pale in comparison next to someone who does.
And how do you communicate passion?
Well, there’s no step-by-step for this one. That’s because it just is. You either have it or you don’t.
But if you do, it will be evident in the way you speak, in the way your eyes light up about your dreams for the future and the way your voice tremors with excitement about how much you want this internship.
And if you do, you’ll be better-placed to get an internship than someone whose enthusiasm is lacking.
The truth about internships…
You can pen the most impressive CV and cover letter or show the most determined attitude in all of your candidate pool, but really…
Your interviewer is only going to remember one thing:
How well they resonated with you and your personality.
As Maya Angelou once said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So go ahead and try one of these three strategies in positioning your value for an internship, but also remember to be yourself.
When push comes to shove, most businesses are about human connection. So let them see the person behind the suit!