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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

Applying for Internships? 5 Tips to Stand Out From the Pack

college student sitting on a dorm room bed working on a laptop
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Just as companies and organizations have adapted to remote work and hiring over the last few months, they’ve also had to rethink their internship programs. But how will this new normal affect your internship search, and what you need to do as a candidate?

For starters, the entire interview process will likely be virtual, which means you won’t have the chance to impress hiring managers in person. You can also expect many internship opportunities to be remote—so competition may be fiercer now that students and new grads are not limited to applying for positions where they live.

The upshot? You’ll need to work a little harder—and smarter—to stand out as a candidate. Read on to find out how to do just that.

1. Boost Your Online Presence with a Personal Website

While having a solid online presence has been important for a while now, in the COVID era, it’s downright essential. “With the current state of the world, our online presence is a large part of how recruiters see us,” says Malvika Aeron, founder and Managing Director of Accelerate Plus, a career consulting firm that helps students transition into the workplace. “Students and recent grads have to find creative ways to stand out.”

In addition to polishing your LinkedIn profile and ensuring that your social media handles are career-friendly (or set to private), a personal website is a great way to showcase your personality, highlight non-work related experience (like side hustles, class projects, volunteer work, or relevant interests), and connect the dots between your work history, current skills, and goals for an internship.

“If you have examples of your work that will align with the opportunity you’re targeting, a personal website is the perfect place to feature it. Case studies, visual elements, analytics, class capstones, or group work can all help to enhance the experience you have on your resume,” says Dana Hundley, the Internship Program Director at the Oakland Museum of California and co-founder of Career Cooperative. You can also include a personal bio, glowing recommendations from professors, or notable achievements on your site—anything that you believe will help to paint a fuller picture of what you bring to the table.

“Just be sure the content on your website is consistent with the types of internships you’re applying for,” advises Hundley. “Everything in your job search tool kit serves a different purpose, but they should all tell the same story.”

Sites like Squarespace make creating an impressive personal website a breeze (even for non-designers, with easy-to-customize templates that are ideal for everything from robust visual portfolios to minimalist, single-page sites.

Students get 50% off your first Squarespace website or domain! Details here.

sample website from Squarespace
An example of a personal website. | Courtesy of Kitty Guo

2. Highlight the Right Experience on Your Resume

Recruiters often review hundreds of resumes a day (potentially even more in the COVID-19 era), so incorporating your relevant experience, choosing the right format, tailoring the content of your resume for each job, and using the right keywords will be essential to a successful search. (You can read more on how to write a top-notch internship resume here.)

To really differentiate yourself, be sure to feature any remote work technologies you’re familiar with. “Anything from Google Docs to Slack or Zoom can be incredibly valuable,” says Hundley. “Some of these organizations are new to remote work, so your skills might be especially useful.”

Don’t have much work experience? Think about any big projects you worked on in school and include those under a section called “Projects” (along with anything else that might make sense there, like a volunteer project). You can add this section to your personal website as well. If you completed any of these projects since the pandemic started, make sure to highlight how you were able to accomplish them while working remotely. How did you have to adapt? In what ways were you resourceful? Showing that you were able to succeed even during this challenging time can help you stand out.

3. Expand Your Network

While you should definitely tell everyone you know that you’re looking for an internship (here are some email templates to get you started), it’s important to focus on making new contacts, too. Reach out to recruiters, interact with organizations you’re interested in on social media, connect with people who work at companies you want to work for, or attend online events. During virtual events, Hundley recommends introducing yourself in the chat section and sharing the URL to your LinkedIn profile (which should include a link to your personal website) to make it easy for others to connect with you.

Networking can also mean contacting employers directly to ask for an internship. “Reaching out to prospective employers to pitch an opportunity is a great way to practice selling yourself and discussing the skills you can bring to a project,” says Hundley.

4. Embrace the Informational Interview

Informational interviews are a great way to learn about career paths, companies, and industries that pique your interest. “Students shouldn’t be shy about reaching out to people to figure out what will be the right fit for them,” says Aeron.

Pull quote: "These days, people seem to be even more willing to help someone who reaches out to them, as they know we're all going through a tough time."

And while asking strangers for help might feel a bit intimidating, you may be surprised by how many people are willing to chat. “These days, people seem to be even more willing to help someone who reaches out to them, as they know we’re all going through a tough time,” says Hundley.

Once you get an informational interview lined up, set aside time to prepare. Most of these conversations will eventually lead to a discussion about your goals, so be ready to talk about yourself, too. “Always be prepared to speak about your experience in a way that makes it clear what you’d bring to an internship,” Hundley adds.

Don’t forget to send a thank you note afterward, and keep in touch with anyone who’s taken the time to help you. “I always recommend checking in with the people you’ve talked to every couple of months. It helps foster a genuine relationship—not a transactional one,” says Aeron.

5. Seek Out Feedback

Applying for an internship isn’t an exact science, so you can’t expect to get everything right on your first pass. “The best way to land an internship is to keep working on perfecting your application,” says Aeron. “If you get rejected, send an email back to say you appreciate the response and ask for feedback on your application. Some will reply, others won’t. But even with a few replies, you identify opportunities for improvement.”

And remember that it’s okay to ask people you know for advice. Get a grammatically gifted friend to review your resume or personal website, enlist your roommate to help you practice your interviewing skills, or hit up a former classmate to ask how they landed their new internship—and of course, repay the favors wherever you can.

While COVID-19 has complicated countless job and internship searches, it’s also created a unique opportunity to build an awesome online presence (including a website!), practice your virtual networking skills, and become a more resilient and adaptable candidate. These are all skills that will serve you well long after the pandemic is over.