9 Steps To Get An Internship

Recently someone from my university reached out to me for advice on how to get an internship. Luckily my university, Fitchburg State University, had a full time internship program set up for us so we had a little advantage. There are still some basic steps anyone can take to get an internship. I’ve come up with 9 steps for you to follow on your own.

Step #1: Start Early

If you’re looking for interning tips, most likely you’re still in college. That’s perfect. The more experience you can get before officially entering the work field the better.

If I could go back and do college over I would change two things; interning more and going abroad. Going abroad is a completely different story of itself but I do encourage you two explore that option as well.

Interning while you’re in college gives you the opportunity to not only build and define skills that you will need to get a job, but it is also the first time you will be able to see the work force first hand. This first hand experience will allow you to decide if you enjoy in this field before it’s too late. You can also narrow down what specific areas and positions you like.

Lastly, starting early gets you ahead of the game… And the competition.

Step #2 See What Your School Can Offer You

Start by seeing what your school has to offer. Is there an internship program offered through your school? Can you get school credit for your internship? Even if the school doesn’t have anything official set up, professors may have good suggestions on where to look. They also can give you great recommendations!

Step #3 Always Be Collecting and Updating

During your college career it is important to keep track of your accomplishments. Later, when applying for an internship – or a job – you will need a list of your experience, awards and projects to create your resume, cover letter and portfolio.

I highly suggest you create a document where you can keep track of what you have done, if you haven’t already. In this document you should also include the date and a brief description of each item you add. While you are collecting pieces of your professional portfolio make sure to update it at least yearly. The more frequent you update, the easier it will be to recall each experience.

Step #4 Learn About the Company and  Find A Contact

By now you should have selected a few internships to apply to. Before you send in you application make sure to do your research. Start with the company’s website. Learn about the company’s mission and vision statements, what projects they’re currently working on and find a contact.

Learning about the company will help you decide if this is the right choice for you and will help you during the interview. I might be bold enough to say that the contact will be the most important part. The contact may or may not be the internship coordinator. Maybe this contact is someone you know personally or through a friend. Either way it will behoove you to also talk to this contact before you submit your application.

Use this contact to learn more about the company and ask any questions you may have about the industry. This contact they may be able to refer you to the internship coordinator. This should help you make an impression. If it doesn’t work out with this company, you always have this contact to go back to for advice or to refer you to a different company or contact.

Step #5 Apply, Then Make The Call

Now you are ready to apply. A lot of applications are strictly online now, but if there is a number where you can reach the internship coordinator personally, CALL! I cannot express how important personal human contact is.

Of course you will go through the normal routine of applying online just like the other applicants but you will call to ask for an interview. If you do not know what to say here’s a script to follow;

“Hello, Mr./Ms./Mrs. _____________, My name is _______________. I’m calling about your internship program in the _______(say what semester here)______. I have submitted my résumé, cover letter (and possibly portfolio) online. I was wondering if I could come in for an interview.”

They may ask you to call back in a few weeks or a couple of months even. This is because sometimes companies are so busy or they get such a big applicant pool they do not do interviews until closer to the internship starting date. Do not be discouraged, just make sure you call back when they ask you to.

Step #6 Confirm

Normally you’re interview is scheduled at least a week later or more. It is good practice to confirm your date and time before the interview. If the internship coordinator was okay with you calling him/her you can call them, but some prefer email so just make note of how he/she likes to be contacted. You can call or email saying;

“Hello, Mr./Ms./Mrs. _____________, this is ____________. I’m calling/emailing to confirm our interview on __________________ at ____________.”

Then they will reply and you can say something like, “Thank you for your time, I look forward to meeting you in person on ____________.”

Step #7 Have The Interview

It’s the big day! Now you are finally having the interview. Make sure you are wearing something appropriate. There is a debate on how dressed up you should be for an interview. At the very least you should be as dressed up or a little more dressed up than the best dressed person in the office. How do you get this information? Ask your contact! Or go with one of these safeties…

For Women: A dress, but not a sundress. A skirt with a blouse. Or slacks and a blouse.
For Men: A pair of khakis or dress pants with a button up shirt.

Now that you look the part, go over your research and practice responses to interview questions. You can go here to use my mock interview to practice your responses.

When the interview is over make sure to think the interviewer and shake his/her hand.

Step #8 Follow Up

After the interview you will want to follow up with the internship coordinator. You will be thanking them again for the interview and ask when the decision will be made. Jut keep it sweet and short. This will be the last time you talk until you hear the decision.

Step #9 Wait Patiently And Pray!

Now there’s nothing left to do but wait. It will be tempting to call or email to see if the decision has been made. It will also be torture waiting. Just keep yourself busy, enjoy whatever is going on in your life and wait for the call.

** These steps are similar to the steps taken when applying for a job. On Tuesday I will have steps for applying for a job. On Thursday I will have 6 steps to take after graduating. **

What do you think of these 9 steps? Would you add any steps or advice?

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Do you really know the meaning of “work quickly and efficiently”?

When your boss or another employee asks you to get a project back to them quickly and efficiently I think “quick” takes too much dominance. Hearing “quick” makes you think you need to rush the finished product right back to them, but I do not think it is right to assume that “quick” is the more important word here.

What good is a project that is returned quickly but not done properly? In the end won’t it take more time to go back and correct mistakes?

I think the word that deserves more focus is “efficiently”. Do the job properly and show some pride in your work. Even if it’s a small job like making copies, do it right and make it presentable. You will present yourself as a diligent worker who can work in a promptly manner.

Ask questions so you know exactly what is expected in the final product. Take your time to make sure there are no mistakes. Think about how you want to present the completed project in an organized fashion. These little details demonstrate the skills you would have if you were to continue working for that company. Do the little things will care and earn the trust to be delegated bigger tasks.

Stay Involved

Recently I’ve received advice and then read a couple articles with the same advice… I’m taking this coincidence to mean it is actually important to follow this advice, so I’ll continue this trend by passing it along to you as well.

Stay involved.

That’s basically it. Stay involved in the area to which you want to work.

Stay involved even when you’re out of work. 

While you’re looking for a full time position stay involved by volunteering your skills. For example, if you desire a designing position, offer to design a new webpage for a local company. You can then use that work in a portfolio and you keep your resume fresh with new projects (verses handing out resumes where the most recent dates are 3 years old).

Stay involved while you’re climbing the latter.

If you’re just starting out chances our its good to have that line on your resume, but there won’t be work you can add to a portfolio. You may be in a office position that will get you to that next step but you have nothing to show for to prove the skills you have.

This is a great opportunity to stay involved by doing your own work. If you desire to be a writer, start writing your novel on your own time or create a website. If you want to be a director of photography, work on an indie project. You might not get paid, but you’ll get experience and new material for your demo reel. If you want to be a business owner, start a small business on the side, even if it is just selling your friends home made jewelry.

Staying involved means keeping yourself relevant. You know first hand what is happening in the field. You have current experience.

Staying involved shows that you are passionate to be in this field and you want to be here.

Being Well Rounded

I was lucky enough that my internship site set me up with a lot of opportunities to get advice from major professionals. One week my internship supervisor set up meetings for each intern to meet with one person from our company. On my meeting day I was able to show my resume and cover letter. It was great receiving more feedback from a professional already in the field. It was even better that I was able to learn what type of person the company would be looking to hire.

The idea was having talents to fill a full 360 degree view. With a 360 degree of talents you could potentially create an idea for a project then follow it through all its phases until completion. Being diverse in talents was valuable to an employer because they would be the option to use you for more than one project or area.

Some suggestions I was given…

Take classes. 

Increase skill levels you already have and invest in ones that I was lacking. 

Create a website.

Showcasing yourself online gives you some visual personality to stand out from the crowd. It is a great opportunity to further go into detail about what you can offer.

Be involved in the digital world.

The digital world is quickly evolving. Having at least a basic understanding where you could stay a float in the digital world can be a desired quality in a new hire. 

Overall I understood that starting off any young professional should stay fresh with practice in new skills and knowledge of new advances.

The Philosophy of Work

If you don’t know already I work in the film/video realm. When I started as an intern I loved being on set so I could observe everyone first hand. I learned a lot about different positions just by watching. We’d have different directors every day, each with their own style. The rest of the positions remained the same, so it was interesting to see how work flows were adjusted to the individual styles.

The Stage Manager (or First Assistant Director) usually held my attention the most. Yes, he’s the loudest on the set. He’s got his on microphone so he can be heard over all the noise, but that wasn’t the only reason he held my attention.

He was there every day and worked the closest with the director. I could tell that he had his own practices and tricks he learned from over the years. One day I finally found a moment when he wasn’t busy where I could talk to him about his job.

He explained to me the basic job description but said the most important part of his job was understanding philosophy. He said it wasn’t about the technicalities, experience or trainings it was about understanding people.

He gave me an example about how he handled getting people back to set after a break. I had heard him call loudly to people every day. You could hear him from down the hall say “And we’re back!” I knew he was loud but I never realized that he put more thought into it than just that.

He said that he needed to make sure people always heard him. That they never got used to how he made his calls. If he called out the same way every day then it would just become a norm so the alarming effect would disappear.

He explained how he would use different tones; bringing his voice from low to high one day and high to low the next. Slightly changing the wording from “And we’re back” to “We’re back everybody” could make just enough difference he needed to keep people’s attention.

That was how he dealt with the masses, but dealing with the different individual directors was a bigger change. Some directors were more hands on, some liked working directly with the crew and talent and others were more laid back. The trick the stage manager shared with me was finding the right level of involvement. With the more hands on directors he would have to tone down his own personal directions. It was his time to be more prominent on set with the directors who were more laid back. He was about to give directions to crew members and requests for talents. Never once would he want to step on the director’s toes.

You could clearly tell that he put a lot of thought into his techniques. I had never even noticed the difference in him until he told me how he made his conscious decisions to be louder or take a step back. After this conversation with him I noticed which approach he would take with the different directors.

I come to you with this story because although this was a lesson learned on the set, I feel that the overall philosophy can be applied in any work atmosphere. In any group dynamic you need to know when it is your time to shine and when it is your time to step back. We’re always looking for a time to shine, so I think it is especially important for us to realize when it is not our time. We need to honor other people’s limelight moments.

A great leader knows when to act and when to listen.

Where can you see yourself living for 5 years?

When the topic of internship came up my professor asked us that question. She went on to explain that the best idea to look for an internship is not only one with great opportunities but also one with a location we could live in.

This goes for more than just internship. If you love where you live and can get a job in your field, great! Some may travel to follow their dream. In my case I started my quest deciding where I wanted to take my internship. I studied film and video so automatically I knew my choices were NYC or LA. I thought I wanted the warm sun, beach and access to Hollywood features. When another one of my professors suggested I go to Sesame Street my mind completely changed. As you may known I moved to New York in the fall of 2012. Looking back I am so glad I did. The climate is fine… I’m from New England originally, I’ve had much worse winters and climate changes. NYC is similar to they style of living I grew up in, but still a good change. Also, I don’t have to take an airplane home! I’m only 4 hours away from home so I can go about once a month instead of only a couple times a year. Turns out these were all the things I really cared about. If I had to decide again I would make a list of my comforts, things I like to do, and things I like/need access too. For me it bubbled down to family and friends.

You also might be asking why did she say 5 years? I haven’t been in NYC for that long…

Well, she (my professor) explained how once you get your foot in the door in one place you’re going to want to continue to set up connections. Networking doesn’t really cross state lines very well. For example, if I had moved to LA but for whatever reason had to move home after a year I would have to start all over building up my reputation. It takes about 5 years to really build up yourself as a reputable professional. From there you can try to branch out more and those 5 years to back you up as proof. It’s almost as if the “entry level” lasts for 5 years then you start to emerge from it.

What’s important to you? Where’s somewhere you would want to live?