Five Tips for Getting the Internship of Your Dreams

by Vault Careers | February 07, 2011

Lauren Berger wasn't born royalty—she earned it.

The Intern QueenThe self professed "intern Queen" (and CEO of the eponymous internship placement and job board site) worked no fewer than 15 internships during her four years of undergrad. Now she wants to help you get your dream gig.

"For me, I wouldn't have known how to run my business if I hadn't had so many internships," the 26-year-old mogul says. Her resume boasts stints with MTV, NBC, FOX, and BWR Public Relations, where she had the privilege of observing "several very impressive, top executives make money and do their jobs."

Since open season for applying to many coveted summer internships is just around the corner, we sat down with Berger and asked for her secrets to winning—and taking full advantage of—the best internships out there.

Here are her five tips for internship success--and beyond:

1. Start Small

Berger recommends taking advantage of smaller, local opportunities first. "It's a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and starting with baby steps, just like anything else in life," she says. Once you have practical experience under your belt in your field, you'll be in a much better position to win "the big national opportunities," Berger advises.

And if you do get an opportunity to work for a big name company, weigh the amount of meaningful work and learning you'll get to do before accepting. According to Berger, "You want to go with the opportunity that's going to be the best experience for you--not necessarily the company that you're going to brag about."

2. Social Media Is Your Friend

"There's a lot of cool companies and brands and magazines that are finding students on Twitter or on Facebook," Berger says. She recommends getting on a favorite company's radar slowly at first, by "liking" them on Facebook and following them on Twitter. This will give you a better feel for corporate culture and current events with the brand.

Try re-tweeting a few of the company's to get your name out there first, then, try a direct message.

"You only have 140 characters, so it can't be too professional and polished," Berger says, "But just to say "I'm a big fan of your company and I'd love to find out more about internship opportunities."" That should be enough to get a response with an email address or application info."

And don't hesitate to take advantage of the point of contact. "Brands are spending a lot of money learning how to master the art of social media and learning how to engage and recruit." Berger reassures us. (Side note: she's right—our Social Media Survey has the stats).

3. Spread a lot of Seeds… and Don't Forget to Water Them

"Especially right now, it's the most competitive internship season we've seen yet, I always encourage interns to apply for at least 10 opportunities for the summer," says Berger.

But quantity should never supersede quality, and you should be customizing each cover letter. Otherwise, you may be like many students Berger encounters, "applying to a gazillion internships at once, and addressing a cover letter for Seventeen magazine to Marie Claire," she recounts. Other no-nos: spelling errors and unexplained out-of-state addresses. They're the stuff of "trash can resumes," as Berger refers to them.

When in doubt, remember: "The employer doesn't want to have to do any extra work," says Berger. "They don't want to look at your resume and say, "this seems difficult." You want to make it sound as easy and seamless as possible."

Likewise, don't expect a list of achievements or skills to resonate with the company you're sending them too. "Yes, you might be hardworking and very reliable, but how does that benefit the company?" points out Berger. "Always bring it back to the employer."

4. Go In With a Plan

"I think it's a really common thing that students get the internship and say, "Okay, we're done,"" Berger notes. "Then they have the internship, but they don't really know what to do with the opportunity or how to make the most of it. And then it's over."

The antidote: a list of learning objectives. Berger suggests a general goal of building a few good relationships before the internship ends, in addition to a few skills you'd like to learn or achievements that could give you a leg up for the next job.

"If you're going into a magazine internship, maybe your goal is to sit in on an editorial meeting, or to get one clip published in the magazine," Berger says. "… it's all about using your resources and making the most of everything that's put in front of you."

5. Use Your Time Wisely

Berger, who doubled and tripled up on internships during undergrad, knows a thing or two about time management. "There is time in the day," she insists. "You have to be willing to sacrifice some things." Time is the most valuable resource any of us has, she says, and she encourages students to think twice before saying "yes" to invitations. "Who do you really want to spend your time with?" she asks. "Once you do figure that out, I don't think it's as hard to manage your time. It's just who and what your priorities are." she says.

It's also important to make the most of your time on the job—which is where that list of objectives comes in handy. "Once they have that list and they're at their internship and they're bored," Berger says, "it's a matter of scheduling time to sit down with the internship coordinator and go over that list saying, "These are the things I want to do—can I do them?"

If you're eager to learn and clear about what you enjoy, you may be surprised at how willing your boss is to let you do it.

Read More:

Intern Queen, Inc.
Vault's Social Media Survey

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Networking


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