How to land an amazing internship position

Few things are as useful a complement to college or university studies than a summer internship at a company. 

To start with, every young person should at some point work in customer service. Great jobs are waiters in restaurants, at a cash register or in a hotel. Once you have learned how to deal with difficult consumers and you are off to college, it is time to look for internships that relate to your field of study.

The problem is that young people typically have little clue how to find and land a trainee position. They think mostly just about themselves and their own needs, and their job applications look that way.

“I want this job so that I can learn” and “I am versatile and hard-working”. “I am” this and “I am” that.

The young have perhaps not yet learned to place themselves in the shoes of the employer. They don’t know that business means producing tangible results. They don’t always know how to be useful to someone else. As a result, they may not know how to go about landing a great internship role.

Practical advice for those seeking an internship:

  • Find a lot of potential employers, and be ready to send far more applications than you initially imagined. Nothing wrong in applying at 50 or 100 different firms. The world is so varied and nuanced these days that it takes a lot of attempts before you find the right match.
  • Take the time to study each company you plan to send an application to. Figure out who their founders or leaders are. Study their company culture. Try to understand what the company is trying to achieve and how it is trying to change. The better you understand the reality of the company, the more ready they will be to accept you as an intern. Customize your application and resumé. Even if you never land a job with them, you are learning an essential skill that you will need throughout your life: the figuring out of an organization.
  • If you want to beat all other applicants in one go, do some initial planning work for the company and attach it to the application. Perhaps you have an idea for a new marketing campaign for them. Write it down and present it to them! Perhaps you have an idea for a product improvement. Show them! Perhaps there is something else. It does not matter whether your idea is truly doable and needed. What matters is that you are already showing commitment to the company although they have not even hired you yet. That’s highly impressive to anyone handling incoming job applications.
  • In your application letter, don’t start with yourself. Start with the company and their ambitions. Explain to them what value you can bring to them. Sure, as a summer intern you won’t be having the most strategic impact on the course of the company. But you certainly can be very useful. Try to imagine what that usefulness looks like, and describe it in the beginning of your written application. Only once you have described how you will be useful to the company does it make sense to start talking about yourself.
  • When you describe yourself, try to avoid using the word “I”. Yes, you will need that word to refer to yourself. But you should look for ways to present your skills and abilities without sounding self-centered.

As you work on your application, think about all the reasons why companies typically are disappointed or less impressed by interns. Many interns are naïve or superficial in their approach to work. They think it is a play or a question of popularity, although it is business. They may give up too easily. Some need too much guidance, some don’t work hard enough, others don’t take responsibility for results. Many are afraid of asking for help or suggesting improvements. Some fear independence, ask too much and become a burden to colleagues. Others may not understand proper behavior in an office setting. Perhaps they were indulged at home and haven’t learned to help others.

When you think your application letter is ready, ask someone with business experience to review it with you. A set of fresh eyes will spot obvious misses. An experienced business person will have useful suggestions to you. There is another benefit too. When you ask other people for help, you learn one of the most vital skills for career success: coachability. Being humble about yourself and seeking advice from others so that you can improve is one of the surest indicators of future success.

Once you receive an offer for a company, don’t be too picky. What looks like an uninteresting or sub-optimal internship may give you the best learnings, whether the experience is positive or negative. All work is valuable. Don’t let the dream of an ideal internship stand in the way of an experience which will shape you and your skill set.

This is your opportunity! Be courteous, well-behaved, responsible and concentrate on completing the task to your best ability. You will stand out to your advantage. You will get a recommendation or be asked to come back next year, and you will learn skills that catapult your career.

Once you start at your intern position, perhaps the most useful advice comes from sailing legend Robin Knox-Johnston. What is an excellent crew member like? They are enthusiastic, they are first to do the shitty jobs and they have a sense of humor.

Mårten Mickos

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