Internships: The Whys and Hows

With warm weather on the horizon, last assignments handed in and final exams approaching, many students have a new pursuit: internships.

Whether you’re on exchange in Holland (like me) or nearing graduation in Canada, the shiny lure of doing an internship remains the same. It’s a good way to get a secure placement for the summer, buff up your resumé and, if you’re lucky, make a little bit of money along the way.

Of course, internships come in all shapes and sizes—from three weeks to three months, paid to unpaid, useful to entirely redundant. Whichever kind of internship you are hoping to land, there’s probably one for you. A bit of research on a company’s website will often give you a good idea of what to expect when applying. Simple as that—sort of.

Along my own quest for the ideal internship, I have witnessed some classmates land their dream internship, while others return to university with tales of how they wasted a perfectly good summer. The question that always springs to my mind is a big fat “How?” Not “how did the internship go and was it worthwhile?” Instead, I merely wonder how they got the internship in the first place.

In a time of company downsizing, student protests over ever-increasing tuition fees and a competitive job market, what does it take to get an internship position?

From what I can tell, the exact recipe includes a flawless resumé, solid references that will readily confirm your brilliance as a student or employee, and a cover letter that, in food terms, could never be compared to candy floss or cheese—not to mention a little bit of luck on your side.

I recently applied to a highly reputable newspaper for a summer internship for the second time. It was, and still is, my idea of the perfect internship, however elusive that may be. The first year I applied, I knew going in that I had very little chance of getting the position. In other words, I had absolutely nothing to lose. Gearing up for my shot at round two, I took a look over my previous cover letter and realized it was, in fact, both candy floss and cheese.

To prepare for my second attempt, I had spent the year trying to get more experience, to volunteer and make sure my resumé didn’t revolve solely around earning my degree. I immediately hacked away the candy floss and replaced it with my newfound experience, and a more earnest look at why I really wanted the job, with a small dose of personality thrown in for good measure.

Alas, sometimes you may have to wait another year to get the internship or the job that you want. My advice: apply and if you don’t succeed, apply again. In my case, maybe the third time will be the charm.

In the interest of avoiding grandiose phrases like “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” I can say there are a few key things I’ve picked up from a myriad of internship successes and rejections.

The first step is to apply. Apply even if you don’t think you can get it. Apply to the biggest companies and to the smallest. Apply a second time if you still want the job. Simple as that.

The second step is to make your application one that will end up on top of the pile. Make sure it clearly shows off all your best qualities and your potential as an intern. Prove yourself along the way so that you can have good references when you need them, and try to avoid over-exaggerated clichés in favour of a personable, honest look at why you deserve the job.

The third step is the easiest one: if all else fails, take a step back, relax, and enjoy the warm weather.

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