Applying To Internships? Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes

The 5 Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes in an Internship
by Katherine Nobles
Photos Joe Kathrina | November 20, 2014

Snagging a great internship is tricky! Here’s how to avoid common internship application pitfalls.

While for many of us, it’s just now beginning to feel like fall or winter, it’s the time of year to begin thinking about summer internships. Believe it or not, deadlines for summer internships will sneak up soon after the holidays, so now is the time to get thinking about how to succeed in your search. To do so, it’s important to take note of a few of the most common internship application mistakes:

1. APPLYING TO TOO FEW

Internships are competitive and many other students will likely be vying for the same position(s). Don’t sell yourself short by only applying to a couple of internships. There isn’t a “magic number” of applications you should submit, but you should cast a wide net. It’s helpful to create a list or spreadsheet of some kind to keep track of those applications you have already submitted, the status of those applications and other internships that you would like to apply to down the road. Keeping things organized in this way will help you stay on task with deadlines and remember when it’s necessary to follow up.

2. NOT CUSTOMIZING YOUR COVER LETTER 

Many people think that you can simply write a standard cover letter and fill in the blanks with the organization name. This is a huge no-no, as recruiters and HR professionals will see right through it. Take the time to think critically about what skills you can provide this organization and why you are a good fit. Employers will appreciate your consideration.

3. NOT SENDING A COVER LETTER AT ALL

Unless the application specifies that you should not send a cover letter, it is expected that you do so. Blindly sending your resume without the cover letter tells an employer that you didn’t take the time to put thought into your application. If you didn’t take the time to consider them, why should they take the time to consider you? This is your first impression, so make it a good one.

4. EXPLAINING WHY/HOW YOU'LL BENEFIT FROM THE INTERNSHIP 

Whether it is in an application essay or a cover letter, you do not need to spend a great deal of your words explaining to an employer why or how you will benefit from the internship. You’ll get hands-on experience, grow as a professional, build your resume and so on and so forth. But guess what? They already know this. These are probably some of the same reasons they host interns in the first place. What they don’t know is how you are going to benefit them. Instead answer:

  • What are your future career goals? (Keep this brief though, as the employer probably just wants to know that the internship will be relevant for you and that you could perhaps become a candidate for a full-time position.)
  • What related courses have you taken?
  • What skills have you learned from other experiences that you can use in this internship?
  • How can you solve a problem that they are facing?

5. NOT THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX

Don’t get so hung up on only applying to the “top” internship programs out there. Yes, these are great opportunities and provide many benefits, but working for smaller organizations can be really great experiences, too, as you often wear many hats. Creating your own internship is another possibility that can lead to a meaningful experience.

If you are concerned about finances and/or housing, consider applying to internship stipends through a scholarship program or your university. If you need to maintain a part-time job, try to seek out an internship that is part-time as well. For internships that require you to relocate to a large metro area, consider living at a local university there, as many offer rooms within residence halls for summer interns.

Internships are a great way to “test the waters” of a career or industry. They provide you with real-world experience that will carry you far as you enter the working world. Before you begin applying to these opportunities, take some time to make sure you won’t make these mistakes, and put your best self forward!