Whether you land your first internship in high school, as a freshman in college or just after graduation, applying to your first internship can be immensely stressful. When you have limited or absolutely no previous internship experience, it can seem like an unattainable process.
After over half a dozen internships, I have grown confident in my capabilities as an intern and as a dedicated worker. However, my confidence stems from years of mistakes, dozens of interviews and tons of trial and error. If I could switch places with Barry Allen (i.e. the Flash) and travel back in time, I would tell my freshman year self not to become defeated by the hundreds of rejection emails.
So, what can I tell you about applying to that first internship? Here’s what I wish I’d known.
1. Rejection Is Normal
It took me nearly six months and over two dozen applications before I received my first interview invitation. Don’t let a few (or a lot) of rejection emails prevent you from applying to more internships. It’s important that you don’t take this rejection personally, because that will reduce your ambition significantly.
Stay strong and learn from these rejection notifications. Sometimes hiring managers will even offer comments as to why you were not chosen for the internship position. If you continue to try and put your application material out there, companies will understand exactly why you are proud of the highlights on your resume.
2. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
Internships are an extension for you to learn outside of the classroom. Because you are still learning, it is important to understand that you will make mistakes. Likewise, it is important to know that your coworkers know you might make mistakes every so often.
Instead of trying to deny these mistakes, own them. Once you admit to your error(s), you can learn from your fellow coworkers on how you can fix it. You can gain insight even from your smallest gaffes, and from that, you will become a better professional.
3. Apply to Internships You’re Not Entirely Qualified For
While you may not get hired for an internship that you aren’t qualified for, a company could be willing to give you a chance based on your work ethic. More and more companies are realizing that skills can be taught, but strong work ethic is a quality that should be embraced.
During my sophomore year of college, I applied to an internship for juniors and seniors. I worked with one of my professors, who was familiar with the internship program, and he helped me create a strong portfolio of work and a resume for the application. After a lot of work, I was accepted into the internship program. I was and still am grateful that my professor put me through an illustration boot camp prior to the internship. Because I took a risk and applied to an internship that I was not qualified for, I was able to immerse myself into a competitive learning experience.
4. Have Someone Review Your Resume
Resumes are tricky, especially for inexperienced applicants. It is just as easy to put too much detail in your resume as it is to not include enough detail. Instead of stumbling over hundreds of edits and variations, get someone to look over your resume.
If you don’t have someone who is willing to review your resume or you are a perfectionist, change the font of your resume. At times, a font change can make grammatical errors easier to notice. Typically when you need to think more clearly, you change your physical setting. Well, alterations in your font choice can change the setting of your resume to reveal some glaring errors.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Write Cover Letters
During my first round of internship applications, I avoided any job posting that required a cover letter. I had no idea how to start a cover letter, let alone write a successful one. Even if a job application does not require you to submit a cover letter, submitting one could determine whether or not you are offered an interview. Cover letters serve as an extension to your resume, and they can help highlight specific projects and tasks you spearheaded in the past.
When dozens or even hundreds of applicants apply for the same position, a cover letter can show employers how dedicated you were to your past employers and your desire to work for their company.
And if you need help, we’ve got resources in the WayUp Guide for how to write a cover letter.
6. You Don’t Have to Accept the First Offer You Get
It is incredibly exciting to receive your first internship offer; however, you should always keep your options open. Like buyer’s remorse, internship regret exists. It is not uncommon to ask for a week or two to decide on an internship offer. Most hiring managers factor in one to two weeks into the hiring process to accommodate for this exact situation.
7. Remember to Relax a Little Bit
This might seem like unconventional advice for internship newbies, but it is vital to a successful career. It’s important to feel comfortable with your body and the way you look, and this confidence is vital to be comfortable with yourself before any interview. Although you should look like the best version of yourself on your interview day, you shouldn’t stress over one wrinkle in your dress pants or if you have one or eleven pimples.
When I was invited to my first interview, I’d just cut off all of my hair. No, I didn’t just have a cute pixie cut; I had completely shaved off all of my hair. Though I had committed to the buzzcut in order to donate my hair to a great cause, I was worried about what the hiring managers might have thought about my choice. I was tempted to buy a wig for my interview, but I instead chose against it. I went brave-faced and bald-headed into that interview, and I nailed it.
Although I felt more exposed without my luscious locks, I was able to relax and focus on my qualities and skills during the interview. I was able to persevere beyond that interview, and I continued the cycle and applied to every internship opening in the Ames area.
After all of those months of applications, I only had one interview, but it was the only one that mattered, because I was ultimately offered the internship. Although it took me several months, multiple applications and dozens of pep talks, it was ultimately my confidence and persistence that landed me my first internship. During my first internship, I grew a lot and learned a lot, which has helped me become even more intrepid in my current and future endeavors.