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How to maximise your chances of getting a top internship

Sep 19, 2018



What defines a ‘top internship’? The pay, the CV kudos, and the experience are all important to consider, but ultimately it’s about how well it sets you up for your dream career.

Many of the top internships pay well and are known for their exemplary training, but they’re significantly more competitive. Even minimum wage internships can be swamped with applicants who want to get into a particularly desirable industry.

Apart from the obvious – applying early, being tenacious despite the rejections - how do you put your application at the proverbial top of the pile?

Use your university’s connections

Some universities and courses already have links with businesses, and those businesses often choose their interns directly from a university they see as desirable. Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates don’t get to rake in all the benefits though (not this time, anyway.)

The top three universities for industry connections, according to the students themselves, are Harper Adams University, the University of Bath, and Loughborough. Start with your university’s online job and internship board and find out what information the careers advice service has. You might find something only advertised in a handful of places, or even just with your university.

Many universities also have an alumni network of graduates who are happy to help current students with advice, introductions, and sometimes even full internships. Be sure to see if your university has such a scheme!

Make sure you have more than academics to talk about

You could be getting first class degrees all over the place, but many of the top employers will prefer to see practical demonstrations of your skills before they let you onto their internship programme. Brutal as it is, where you studied is irrelevant to some employers.

They’ll want someone with initiative, so prove you’ve got it. Talk about extracurricular projects you’ve pursued because you love doing them, and even your weekend bar job can provide examples of challenges faced and problems overcome. Balancing a degree and part-time work can be tough, after all.

Do an audit of your social media, it could put employers off    

70% of employers will stalk your social media before they offer you an interview, and some of the content might put you in the ‘no’ pile. “Provocative or inappropriate photos”, anything vaguely illegal, and “discriminatory comments related to race, gender and religion” are some of the most sensitive issues. If you’re hoping to enter a corporate environment, go private so you don’t have to constantly think before you post and even if you think your future employer will be relaxed, err on the side of caution and hide anything too risqué..

Of course, communication-focused industries like advertising and PR will prefer to see that you are active on social media. Some might not even mind the odd drunken photo, because they often hire based on personality as well as ability. Use your own discretion and consider how a post will make you look to someone who doesn’t know you.

Get really familiar with the businesses you’re applying to

A generic, blanket approach to applications can stand out for the wrong reasons. Many businesses want their interns to be an investment, and someone they can eventually bring onboard full-time, so it pays to be thorough in that first contact with them. Your application answers will need to be as relevant to them as possible, so copying and pasting the last one you sent is a no-no.

Go beyond just the company website when you do your research – some don’t update theirs very often – search for recent news, current staff on LinkedIn, and find out what their ethos and history is. It’s quite embarrassing to get that ‘So what do you know about the company?’ question and draw a blank.

Be proactive and creative

If there’s a particular business you really want to start your career with, tell them! Explain why you’d love to work there and why you’d be a great addition to their team. The bigger companies will have a pretty rigid process and all the application stages ironed out but it never hurts to have an internal advocate. And smaller companies will be more open to a speculative approach through an email or more creative means.

Nick Begley sent his credentials to businesses he really wanted to work for printed on the label of a chocolate bar, and it got him a marketing job in no time. Jeanne Hwang wanted to work for Pinterest, so she made her CV…on Pinterest! She apparently didn’t get the Pinterest job, but a Pinterest analytics firm snapped her up instead.

Start your search for an internship, and kick off your dream career, with Advance - the ultimate navigation tool in the world of student and graduate jobs.

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