Scoring the ultimate internship requires more than a well-composed resume and a firm handshake. When it comes to landing the internship — you know, the one at your dream company — you're going to have to put on your big girl pants and put in some work. Because unlike jobs, internships are relatively easy to come by. (What company wouldn't want to exploit — oops, mentor - an eager graduate for pennies a day?) But real internships - the ones that open doors to management positions and substantial starting salaries - are far more elusive; which, of course, makes the opportunity all the more enticing.
With that in mind, here are five tips to help you hook the internship opportunity of a lifetime (and three things to avoid)...
1) Know the company inside out
An obvious suggestion? Perhaps, but it's one that candidates rarely take to heart. Simply scanning the company's website for 20 minutes prior to your interview isn't enough. You need to know the company like the inside of your favourite boutique. What is the company known for? How are they doing on the stock market? What's been printed about them in the press lately? What sort of people work there? What are their most popular products? What are their least popular products? A good intern isn't afraid to speak up and contribute, but in order to do that you need to know what you're talking about. [More: Big dreams or unrealistic expectations? Canadian teens are overly optimistic about their future earning potential]
2) Be a fan girl
Successful companies don't just hire talented people; they hire people who believe in their brand. The best interns are the ones who are committed to the company and believe in the business values. It's worth noting that this isn't something you can fake in an interview. If you aren't invested in the company, you're setting yourself up for failure.
3) Work your network
Fire up your LinkedIn account and get started doing some serious corporate creeping. One of the best places to start is within your university alumni group. Try and seek out alumni who currently work at your targeted company. From there, try and make a personal connection with them. The fact that you're interested in learning more about their employer is often a good enough starting point. Remember to be honest and open with your introduction; nine times out of ten, the person will respond. If they don't, don't give up hope. Reach out to other networks and begin the process again.
4) Take a look at the big picture
How will you fit into the grand scheme of things at your dream company? Being able to clearly articulate this is extremely important. Try and demonstrate how your unique skill set and experiences will benefit the company. During the application and interview process it's your job to illustrate why you're the best choice for the position. In order to do that effectively, you have to know a great deal about the company as well as have a firm belief in yourself. [More: Lifestyles of the poor and educated: Generation Y]
5) Passion will always trump grades
Passion is a tricky topic, one that most people confuse with brand loyalty. But you won't get an internship at Facebook simply because you "poke" people on a regular basis. Passion for a product or a company often manifests itself during your spare time. Essentially, this means you'd do the jobs asked of you as part of the internship for free (and, let's be honest, in some cases you might have to). People who are passionate about what they do, do it because they enjoy it, not because it will make them rich. When crafting your resume or application for an internship, remember to highlight these side projects. Just because they don't have any academic affiliation doesn't make them any less significant. These projects provide intern managers with a much clearer understanding of your likes and interests.
What to avoid
And then there are the things to avoid doing when looking for an internship. Here are three things not to do when prepping for an internship application....
1) Don't wait until the last minute
Internship deadlines sneak up fast, so make sure you keep a close eye on closing dates. Many summer opportunities close in mid March, while fall applications are often accepted in July. The earlier you can start planning, researching and strategizing, the more prepared you'll be when it comes time to submit your final package. [More: Career-oriented social networking: How to do it right]
2) Don't be afraid to dream
Make a list of your dream companies. If you could work anywhere, where would it be? Now, check out the websites and social media profiles for these companies. Do they offer internships? What are the requirements? Why apply to so-so opportunities when the holy grail of all internships could be right there waiting for you to grab it?
3) Don't limit yourself to local companies
Cool internships exist everywhere, so think outside the box. The world is your oyster, so consider applying to positions out of province or even out of country. This is your chance to try new things and get your first real taste of corporate life. Why not add a little foreign flavour to the mix? [More: Job hunting 2.0: The new rules of landing a job]
The first step to a very bright future
Internships are often the first step on a career ladder. Landing the right opportunity now could help open unlimited doors. It's about aiming high, putting in the work, and believing you have the career chops, smarts and talent to make it happen (you do).
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