The Good Intern
New Year, New Goals
The First Day
Posted by Michelle Pence - - 5 comments
It's getting tantalizingly close to the most wonderful time of the year... internship season!

The best piece of advice I can give you about the hunt for the perfect summer internship is to start thinking about the process as early as possible.

Many competitive internships at large or well-known companies will have early application deadlines.  For example if interning at the White House is what you have in mind, your application is due January 23 (yikes!).  Luckily, the deadline can usually be found on company websites so you'll have plenty of time to prepare.

Other smaller companies may be more laid back in their due dates, but you'll want to make sure you get your materials in promptly for a competitive edge.

The best part of my internship timeline is that it involves doing much of the work ahead of time.  This way you save yourself a lot of stress and anxiety later on in the semester, when you are deeper into classes and homework while trying to manage the search for an internship at the same time.

Summer Internship Timeline


  • Visit your school's Career Center and start scouring the many websites that feature internship listings like YouTern or for internships that interest you.  
  • Don't forget that one of the best ways to find an internship is by utilizing your existing contacts, so talk to your professors or people you have worked with in the past to find out about new opportunities.
  • If you have your eye on a particular internship or are aiming to land a dream gig, make sure you do some research and mark down the application deadline now so you don't forget.  Also, start looking into what exactly the company requires in order to apply well in advance.
  • If you have some spare time, run by the Career Center at your school and sign up for a mock interview session.  Getting some practice time in now will help you feel confident enough to face any question you encounter in an interview later on.
Early-Mid February  

  • You will want to have several generic cover letters written targeted at each industry that you plan on applying for an internship in.  For example, if you plan on applying at a magazine, but are also going to shoot for a broadcasting internship, you will want to differentiate between your cover letters.  You will be able to personalize the letters more when you make your final selection of where to apply, but this gives you a head start.
  • By now your resume should be looking sharp with updated information on any recent internships or work you have done.  Run it by someone at your school's Career Center to make sure your resume is in top-notch shape and ready to go.
  • If you don't already have several letters of recommendations on hand, start the process of acquiring them and set a deadline of the end of the month to have them by.  A good strategy is to have at least three letters of recommendation from different sources: one academic, one professional, and one of your choice.
  • Make sure that you have all written materials both in digital form and on nice quality paper with plenty of copies in case you are asked to submit material in the mail.
Late February

  • Finalize the list of internships you will apply for.
  • Aim to apply to a range of different companies.  You will probably want to apply for at least five internships, however if you are looking at more competitive opportunities applying for more is usually better to be on the safe side.
  • Start digging around for contact information.  The main goal is to send your materials to an actual person, not a generic company email, so if their website doesn't list specifics call and ask.
Early March

  • Submit your materials to your final list of companies.
  • Track all of the companies that you actually apply to, since keeping good records will help keep you on top of things.  Jot down information such as the contact information you sent your info to, when you sent it, and when you plan to follow up.
Late March

  • If you haven't heard from a company that you sent information to, now's the time to call and politely ask if they received your material.

  • If you haven't had any luck with landing an internship just yet, keep your eye out for other opportunities.  Many smaller local companies can offer great experience and sometimes don't hire their interns until closer to summer.

The trick is simply to start early and to dedicate yourself to the search.  Show the companies you want to intern for that you are driven and prepared by following these steps, and you will be well on your way to internship success.

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Posted by Michelle Pence - - 27 comments

One of the first steps in applying for an internship is composing a captivating cover letter to send to the company that will make the reader stand up from their seat and declare that they simply MUST have you as an intern. 

No pressure, right?

While the scenario above has a pretty optimistic reaction, the point is that your cover letter will be one of the first things potential employers see that tells them why they should even consider you for an internship.

Here are some tips for writing a top-notch cover letter.

"To whom it may concern" is not a person

Avoid sending a letter to "Whom it may concern" at all costs.  Your goal is to find out who the right person is to send your cover letter to and their correct mailing information.  If the company's website does not list a specific contact, search the web first and if you can't find anything that way, give the company a call and simply ask for more details.  To avoid any simple but deadly mistakes, make sure to jot down the spelling of the person's name correctly, as well as the mailing address.  

Put in the work and you shall be rewarded

It is absolutely crucial to write a different cover letter for every internship you apply for. No if's, and's, or but's about it. It is glaringly obvious when cover letters are written for a generic purpose, as opposed to when they are tailored to fit the specific company. The letters you write can follow the same basic structure, but the content needs to be unique for each.

Be clear and upfront

You don't want to leave any doubt in the recipient's mind why you're writing the company a letter... for all they know you're trying to sell them something, which is definitely NOT what you want them to think. One of your very first lines should consist of explaining what position you are asking the company to consider you for and for what time period, along with a brief introduction of yourself (name, year in school, etc.).  One of the biggest mistakes you can make here is not being specific enough.  If you have a particular department or position in mind, make sure your letter says it loud and clear.

Show what you know

Through your cover letter you want to convey the idea that you are very familiar with the company, which you should be if you're applying for an internship with them.  You can usually get all of the information that you need from browsing the company's website.  Towards the beginning of the letter you want to take time to explain why you're applying for an internship at this particular company.  Did you randomly pick them out of the phone book?  Are they the best in their field?  In this section of your letter, you can mention recent awards the company has won, their outstanding reputation, etc.

What skills do you bring to the table?

Your cover letter should effectively spell out why the company should hire you as an intern. Although your enclosed resume will contain specific details on your experience, your cover letter lets you spin that information the way you want in order to paint a picture of someone that will make a great intern and be a really good fit for the company.  If you have past experience, talk about what skills or accomplishments you have that makes you qualified for the position. If the internship will be your first professional experience, talk about what you've learned in school or any extracurricular involvement you have that makes you qualified.  If the company puts out  information on the internship such as an overview or description of duties, make sure you incorporate how you will excel at those responsibilities.

Make it physical

To me, nothing says "professional" like a well-crafted packet of information on yourself sent to a company, but it all depends on the situation.  The look of a cover letter and resume printed on high-quality paper, enclosed with a writing sample and letters of recommendations, put together neatly and sent in the mail shows that you went above and beyond simply attaching a Word document to an email.  

Many companies will explicitly state how they want to receive your materials, while others will be more vague.  Always follow the directions that are given to you, however if you have a choice, take the route that shows the most effort.  I like to do a combination of hard copy and digital.  In the past, I have sent a mini cover letter through email, indicating that I had sent additional material in the mail.

Although your cover letter is definitely an important part of applying for an internship, don't let the pressure get to you.  The letter itself should only be a few paragraphs long at best, and you're writing about yourself.  No one knows you better than you do, so just write what you truly think.

Here are some great resources for cover letter writing:

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Posted by Michelle Pence - - 2 comments

If you're anything like me, right about now your mind is swirling with ideas for how to improve yourself and your life in the upcoming new year.  After New Years my to-do list is always brimming with resolutions- some of which are new and some that never seem to get done (about that diet...), but there's just something about a whole new year filled with endless possibilities that makes me especially excited and optimistic.

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."
Edith Lovejoy Pierce

I've found that the most effective strategy for coming up with great goals is to be specific, so what could be better than dedicating a few of your New Years resolutions to making yourself a better intern?

Start by having a brainstorming session and write down everything that comes to mind when you think about yourself as an intern and what you'd like to change or do better... you can pick and choose the best ideas later.  Once you have several things written down, select a few things that seem the most important.  It's imperative that once you set your sights on something specific you want to accomplish, that you also come up with several steps for working towards the goal.

Here are some sample internship goals to get your wheels turning:

  • Maintain a persistent positive attitude
    • If you've been doing an internship for a while, it's easy to get dragged into the monotony of some tasks which might make you appear agitated and unhappy.  Even if you think that you can't stand to file papers for another minute, slap a smile on your face and let people see that you're grateful to be there.
  • Polish your resume
    • If your resume is one of those things that you have been meaning to update and perfect, then jump on it this year.  The trek to your campus career center usually isn't as far as it seems, so make an appointment.  You'll be glad you did once you have a professional resume that you can be proud of.
  • Take extra opportunities
    • Ever turned down an opportunity to network with coworkers outside of the office because you were tired or had something else going on?  One extra dinner with your boss and coworkers could mean the different between looking like you're just going through the motions 9am-5pm, and showing that you're really passionate about your internship.
  • Network like a pro
    • Finally get those business cards you've been meaning to have printed made and start working on the art of making small talk.  For some people networking is an acquired skill, and the new year is the perfect opportunity to start practicing every chance you get.
  • Take initiative
    • Want to work on something bigger?  Ask for it!  While you can't neglect your everyday duties, it never hurts to ask for more.  Show your boss that you want to get as much possible out of your internship and let him/her know you're up for the challenge.
  • Connect with a mentor
    • My mentor has proven to be one of the biggest assets in helping me professionally.  If there is someone who you know and admire and that could help you with your career, reach out to them and ask if you can pick their brain.  It may flatter them that you look up to them, and could turn into a positive and valuable relationship.
My advice?  Take advantage of 2011 being a blank slate and actually work towards your resolutions this year!  This year could be your best year yet, but it's all up to you.

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