Nine Tips for Nailing an Awesome Internship

Yesterday I spoke on the panel for Boulder Startup Week’s How to Hire an Intern (or Get Hired) discussion. As I prepared for the panel I started writing down anything I could think of that would be helpful advice for someone looking to get hired into one of their first jobs. I came to realize how much information I had received from my own mentors and teachers, and how beneficial all their advice had been for me as I started my professional career. What better way to help other students looking to land an awesome internship with a great company than to share this valuable information with those who are in the same boat I was in just one year ago? Here are nine tips for nailing an awesome internship at the interview phase. 

1. Research the company

This is by far probably the most important thing a candidate can do when going into an interview. You should be knowledgeable about the company you wish to get hired into so that the interview is a two-sided conversation. Researching the company will help you determine how your past experience directly aligns with their business goals.

This is a great way to discover insightful questions you can ask them, while also deciding if it’s the right company for you. Don’t ever ask your interviewer about something you can find online. For example, don’t ask them what their company culture is like. By doing your research, reading their blog, and looking at their website, you can find that out. I like to ask my interviewer about the challenges they face on a day to day basis or what the most engaging parts of their job are.

Research some of the company’s recent technological achievements or the services they provide, and dive deep into issues they might be facing based on their business model or company processes. This will show you’re truly invested in their success and you’re curious about how you can help move the company forward. Also, follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other social media. 

2. Research yourself

You’re probably saying, what? Research myself? What does this even mean? I know who I am. When I say research yourself I mean, go back and look at your resume. See what achievements you put on your resume that directly align with the job you’re trying to get. Then write a paragraph explaining exactly what you did at each of your previous jobs or in leadership positions.

There have been times where I’ve been in an interview and the interviewer goes, “Tell me more about what you did at company X,” and I just blank. Interviews can be nerve-racking, and for me if I don’t write things down I can find myself fishing for words. Writing things down helps me gather my thought so I can convey the most important parts of my previous accomplishments. Heck, that’s what I did for the panel yesterday!

3. Don’t try and act like an expert in anything

This is especially true if you’re trying to land one of your first jobs. Highlight skills that apply to your willingness to learn new things and show that you have an open-mind about taking on anything that gets handed to you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t highlight your skills and experience, do that! It’s obviously super important to show that you have value to add, but employers know you’re young and probably haven’t had too much “real world” experience. That’s okay, that’s what internships are for… to get experience. 

4. Practice, practice, PRACTICE

The only way you’ll get better at pitching yourself is by practicing. Come up with some questions you think the employer will ask you and have your friends do a mock interview with you or give them your “tell me about yourself” elevator pitch. If you’re a student, reach out to your college or university’s career advisor program. For example, the University of Colorado has an awesome career advisor program called Career Buffs. They’ll review your resume, stage a mock interview, and more. Plus they have an awesome job search if you’re not even at the interview phase and are still looking for jobs. 

5. Be confident and relax

By the time you get to the interview phase most employers know you’re equipped to handle the tasks associated with the position. They want to make sure you’re a cultural fit for the company and that your resume holds up. If you’re honest on your resume then the interview phase is where you nail your communication skills by elaborating on your previous successes and achievements.

6. Create a give-get relationship

Sometimes getting your first job can feel one-sided. You think, oh man what do I have to offer these people? I don’t have any experience, I’m just in college, what can I do to actually help this company? Find a place where the company could use help and offer them a solution to their challenges. Companies want you to be their answer. For example, I once interviewed for a company whose website was lacking in ease of use. I went into the source code and found where the code wasn’t working and explained to the employer how they could alter the site to make it more user friendly. If I really wanted to put the icing on the cake I could have copied the code onto my computer and fixed the website myself.

7. If you don’t know where the company could use help, ask them

In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg tells a great story about how a woman who wanted to work for Facebook went to Sandberg and said, “what’s the biggest challenge you’re facing that I can fix?” She got hired into a department she didn’t have much experience in but her eagerness to learn and do whatever it took to work at the company landed her the job.

8. Being in college IS NOT ENOUGH, do things outside of school

The workforce is extremely competitive, especially for millennials. It’s imperative that students are maximizing their potential by going above and beyond what is required of them. I recently went on a marketing trek to visit some tech companies in Denver. They said what really stands out to them is when students get certified in Google Analytics or Ad Words. With the internet it’s easy to learn new things. Leverage the power of the internet to teach yourself skills you’re not going to learn in school, because there is a TON of stuff you’re only going to learn by being in the industry.

9. Network

Participate in networking events so you can get your name out there. Some great places to find out what’s going on in your community include, Meetup and Built In Colorado. I know it can be hard to do extra things on top of school and extracurricular activities, but networking and meeting new people is by far the best way to land a job, hear of new opportunities, and get involved in the community. Every job I have ever gotten, I got in part because I knew someone. 

Push forward and always look to see what you can be doing to get the job you want. Landing one of your first jobs can be tough, but if you’re motivated to learn, constantly improve, and have a positive attitude, you’ll get an awesome internship that will catapult you into your professional career. I hope these tips prove to be useful to students looking to gain a fun and engaging position. Have something you’ve learned from your own experience? Drop a comment below!

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