I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how I got my internship with the Pentagon this spring, and what advice I would give to others who are searching. Finding the perfect internship is no small task! For many of the ultra-competitive internship programs in New York and Washington DC, thousands of collegians across the country compete for only a few spots. This post contains my best advice on how to avoid all the stress and land your dream summer internship.
1) Explore your University’s Resources
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take advantage of the resources offered by your school. Chances are your University has a Career Services Office which is open to all students, for free! Making an appointment with a Career Consultant can help to narrow down your interests as you begin the internship search, and can give you a starting point when you aren’t sure where to begin looking. Many times, Career Consultants have an idea of places students have interned in the past and can put you in touch with people who share common interests.
Your school may have other resources available online, including a resume builder, practice interview questions, or a list of alumni in your chosen field. Try searching your University website to unlock this internship gold!
2) Take Advantage of your Contacts
In Washington DC, contacts are everything. I was able to get my current internship in large part because I had taken the time to get to know an alumna from my university working in the office. Having a contact isn’t a magic bullet: you will still need to show that you are qualified for the position. However, knowing someone in the office you’re applying to can help distinguish your application from the rest.
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I don’t have contacts,’ think again! You probably have a lot more than you realize. Start by making a list of everyone you know who works in your intended field, whether friends, family, former classmates, or neighbors. Now think about the best way to get in touch with them and ask for their advice.
If you are worried that reaching out to distant acquaintances about your summer internship might be awkward, keep in mind that everyone likes to be asked for their advice. Work with the Career Services department at your school to craft a polite and thoughtful email and go from there. Then, once you land the internship, don’t forget to continue to build your list of contacts for the future!
3) Polish your Resume and Cover Letter
There’s no getting around the fact that a professional resume and cover letter are essential to being chosen for an internship. Your resume should be one page in length (or up to two pages if you are applying to a position in government or a position where it is clearly indicated that you should list all of your qualifications). There are plenty of great resume builders online, or Career Services can point you in the right direction. Regardless of how you format it, triple check your resume before you send it out for spelling and grammar mistakes – nothing will get you sent to the back of the pile faster.
Writing a cover letter can be tough. The key to a perfect cover letter is that it be succinct (less than one page), personalized to the job you are applying to, and persuasive as to why you are the best candidate. Think of the cover letter as a short essay. It should contain a thesis (I am the best candidate for this position), and supporting arguments with specific examples illustrating why you are qualified. Again, be sure to look over your cover letter before it’s sent out to make sure there are no spelling or grammar mistakes and you referenced the right company name!
How did you land your dream internship? Got ideas for future “College Tips” to be included on the blog? Let me know in the comments section!