Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Internships 101 - by David Fletcher

Welcome to Washington, DC- the Internship Capital of the World! In fact American University is #1 in the nation for students securing internships based on percentage of students… But then you probably already knew that. Or that DC is home to thousands of internship employers. These statistics are likely to be two of the leading factors why you chose to attend American University and to study in the School of International Service.

So if all of this is really true, why does it seem so difficult to start looking for internships and applying to the employers who offer them? The process is simple and really only takes a few steps to get started but you need to know what to do, where to look, and how to be most effective and efficient with your strategy.

I have been asked to offer three tips to assist you with your search but I should warn you, although this process is foolproof and I guarantee students will have great success in landing an internship every semester they seek one, it does requires several things:

1. Real Effort- You have to apply and apply and then apply some more. You should be prepared to apply to 10-15 internships to be assured of landing a position each semester. Sometimes students give up after 2-3 tries claiming that they are unable to find an internship. For those individuals without the determination to work hard at this or any other employment process DC (and the world) will be a very cruel place. This process rewards motivated and diligent students.

2. Time management/time commitment- Be aware that no employers offer 5 hour a week internships. If you are not ready or able to offer an employer 15-20 hours a week there will not be very many positions available to you. Some students should consider working just one partial afternoon each week (that will fall under volunteering), as it is rare to find structured internships with so few hours. Because time is limited for Global Scholars, please consider volunteering for just a few hours each week or month. This will help you gain experience and skills until you are able to commit to 15-20 hours or more each week. At that point as a junior or senior most employers are looking for you as a great candidate to assist them with their work.

3. Perfect resume and cover letters- Employers are not going to hire candidates who apply with errors and inconsistencies in their application materials. You will need to have your resume in a professional/college format. It should be easy to read, clear, in a 10-12 point sized font, but mostly remember to be concise with all of your information fitting on one page. For font type there is a lot of debate about what is best, and personal preference is another issue, but make sure the employer can read it. Try not to be so unique in your “personal branding” that the words are hard to read. Try to use legible fonts like Arial, Times New Roman, Cambria, Courier, Gil Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, or my favorite Calibri (below see Just My Type). These are very common fonts that are used the world over for a reason. If you wish to learn a lot more about font types and how truly important they are in our lives, or you are a serious resume and cover letter nerd like me consider reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield:

Your cover letter may be even more critical than your resume to your successful application for internships. Cover letters can be very challenging at first, as it takes time and effort to produce a quality document that will get an employer’s attention. It must be one page; brief with no more than 3-4 paragraphs. Cover letters are formal documents without jargon, slang, informal conversational style or expletives!

Always market yourself as having the qualifications that the employer is seeking. If you do not possess the qualifications required by for the position, move on to an opportunity that you are better suited for. Do not retell your resume or give your life story as it offers nothing new to support your qualifications as needed by the employer. Often students write an essay about how, “The world would be a better place if only”… Avoid sounding like an expert when talking to the people who are experts. Tell them you want to bring your skills, great attitude, knowledge, character, and experience to helping achieve their goals. Please refrain from telling an employer that you wish to learn about international law, how the federal government functions, communications, or human rights. Let them know you are prepared to help them promote advocacy, perform research, undertake some administrative tasks while working hard to support their mission.

I cannot stress how important it is to have it proofread by someone (perhaps me) before it is emailed or faxed to an employer. Interviewing is another very important subject that can be addressed when the time comes… when you have an offer to interview! Resumes and cover letters will not get you hired, but they will put you in front of the employer to talk about why they should hire you, so be prepared to have to interview to get the job.

4. Knowing where to look- Sure I was asked for just three tips but if you know me it is hard to get me to stop talking about internships! Consider this section is a bonus. Please come see me for all the resources you could ever hope for to help you find DC internships. For those who cannot wait please try some of the following:

I hope you find this information helpful for your internship search. Thank you for reading and I look forward to working with you. You can reach me with questions

David Fletcher
Career Advisor
School of International Service
Room 344
202.885.1811 - I rarely answer my phone : )

For appointments:

Drop-In Advising:
Thursdays in the SIS Atrium from 3:30 - 5:00 pm

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