How to Get an Internship According to Headhunters

by Vault Careers | May 20, 2014

Headhunters are highly specialized and educated individuals that stay abreast of the job market and are enlisted by employers to find the right candidate for a certain position. Headhunters know about recruiting, compensation packages, and how candidates should present themselves to employers—what to say, do, and think in order to land a job. But what valuable insights do they have about securing an internship?

We recently asked a few headhunters what advice they had for prospective interns. Below is a selection of the best advice we were given.

What’s the single most important piece of advice you could give to an internship candidate?
"Sell yourself,” advises Pete Kirby, who headhunts for the telecommunications industry. “And it doesn’t matter what interview you’re in. Companies want to see what you have to offer or you wouldn’t be in the interview. Make a pitch. And when you pitch, be engaging. An interview is not about showing that you've done a lot of work, it's about showing you're passionate about it. Don’t take in a 15-page PowerPoint presentation, it just won’t work. When you go in there to convince them you’re the right candidate, you have 30 seconds to capture their attention, so grab it with confidence, sell yourself, and run with it. You can be sure your peers will struggle with that.”

Benthe Pietver, who has a long history of headhunting for pharmaceutical companies, has another piece of advice: “Large, well-known companies like it if you have everything: charisma, passion, the grades, and the Ivy League education. But they also LOVE athletes. They love to see an appetite for competition, teamwork, and success. We secure a large number of internships for big companies and they’re looking for someone with an edge. Academically, it’s often hard to stand out. So being able to relate on a sporting level, and stand out that way, usually works well.”

What’s the greatest advantage a prospective candidate has that can be used in an interview?
“Students are able to work for free through internships and that's a ‘weapon’ that should be used,” says Carter Hunter, a specialized recruiter for lucrative Wall Street careers. “Although, most students won’t use that weapon because they think they’re short-selling themselves. But use it wisely. You don’t ever want to sound desperate. So pose a win/win proposition like: ‘You get an extra worker, and I get experience.’”

Pietver says honesty is the best advantage any internship candidate has. “Be candid without sounding arrogant. Mention observations other people have made about your work strengths or talents. If you can’t discuss a failure or mistake, the recruiter might conclude that you don’t possess the depth of experience necessary to do the job.” She adds, “Hiring managers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re trying to better understand your level of responsibility, your decision-making process, and your ability to recover from a mistake, as well as what you learned from the experience and if you can take responsibility for your mistakes. Respond that you’d like to think that you’ve learned something valuable from every mistake you have made. Then have a brief story ready with a specific positive illustration.”

Where are the best internships found?
This was the one question all the headhunters agreed on. “Get off the ‘on campus’ mentality,” says Hunter. “You’re in an academic institution, not real life. The best internships don’t have to be advertised anywhere if they don’t want to be. Stop thinking they’ll come to you like everything else on campus. Employers know that good candidates will seek out great internships and that they don’t have to tout themselves on dorm notice boards to get applicants; they want good applicants to find them. By getting applicants to seek them out is another filter with respect to seeing who really wants the job.”

Kirby puts it more simply: “The best internships are found anywhere. It’s just a question of whether you as an individual want to find them.”

“Who knows where they are?” says Pietver. “Probably not on campus. They’re so desirable they don’t need to be. But there’s a very good chance someone you know knows of a good internship for you. So make sure you ask everyone you know to help you find it.”

Emma Street is an HR manager for a Fortune 500 company with over a decade of HR, management, and recruiting experience. In her spare time, she is a freelance writer for Free Resume Builder.

Filed Under: Job Search


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