Shout out to my current digital intern Samantha Whiting for joyfully posing with the "Hire me!" sign above. Sam landed her first full-time job while interning with us, working in marketing and social media for a local chain of restaurants. Way to go, Sam!

Shout out to my current digital intern Samantha Whiting for joyfully posing with the “Hire me!” sign above. Sam landed her first full-time job while interning with us, working in marketing and social media for a local chain of restaurants. Way to go, Sam!

Internships are a great way for college students to gain real-world experience and try on careers. A year ago, the full-service advertising agency I work for began a digital internship program. Each semester, we invite a local college student to join our digital team, trading their fresh perspectives and abilities for hands-on agency experience. We only have one position open a semester, yet we receive scads of resumes. As the applications have rolled in over the semesters, I’ve noticed an alarming trend: many of these applications really suck.

We’re talking about applications from students who have near-perfect GPAs, kids who I’m assured by people who know them are bright and creative, and kids who clearly want the job because they call or email every day checking on their application. These lackluster resumes and cover letters sell these students short and set the bar low for the competition. Many of them end up in our “pass” pile.

Here are six tips for crafting a standout, kick-ass internship application that will keep your name at the top of the candidate list.

Creative presentation gets attention. Advertising and marketing types are surrounded by creativity. Design is your hook–it’s what gets people to even read your application. To get noticed, you need to go beyond the typical black font on a white Word doc. Take time to design your resume and highlight your skills related to the internship. (If design isn’t your bag, there are copious resume templates available online.) Don’t bother with a generic summary at the top; cut right to the chase and tell the reader what you offer the company.

A resume submitted by a young woman named Caity applying for a digital internship

A resume submitted by a young woman named Caity applying for a digital internship

One of our applicants made her resume into a sandwich, stating on the cover, “I’ve been a sandwich artist for 4 years. This is my best sandwich ever. Take a bite.” Flipping through the sandwich, the different layers represented different aspects of her experience: the chicken was academic work, onion represented her professional work, tomato contained relevant skills, lettuce held achievements, and so on. She included a captivating cover letter with the sandwich, and I wanted to hire her on the spot!

Yes, you need a cover letter. Even if the prospective employer doesn’t ask for one. And that cover letter should be tailored to each organization/position. I’ve actually received backdated cover letters addressed to different organizations. No, really, it’s happened.

The cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate you did your homework on the company and have the skills needed for the position. If you don’t have any relevant skills but are sincerely, strongly motivated regarding the position, just be straightforward about it. A little honesty goes a long way.  (And lack of skills will be evident if you get hired.)

Show ’em what you got! Be prepared to offer samples of work related to the position. If you don’t have any samples, don’t be afraid to make some. Research who the agency’s clients are and draft up some creative pieces around that client. Demonstrate your initiative and creativity. It’s OK to have fun with it!

If you’re serious about working in a creative field, consider setting up an online portfolio. Include a link to your work in your resume and cover letter. A simple WordPress website allows flexibility to showcase pretty much any kind of work from writing to photos to video. There are also portfolio sites that mix in a dash of social networking like Behance. And don’t forget to upload your work right here on your LinkedIn profile.

Read your own stuff. I cannot stress the importance of proofreading your application materials enough. I wish I were joking, but I’ve received resumes with my own name at the top instead of the intern applicant’s name. This shouldn’t happen. Read your own stuff, and then have someone else read it. If your school has a writing center, consider taking your application materials in for a good polish.

Ace the interview. Be comfortable and confident about what you bring to the table. You may get asked questions for which you’re completely unprepared (we actually do this on purpose to see how well you think on your feet), but you can at least prepare for the usual interview-type questions like “Tell me about yourself.” or “Why should I hire you?” Practice with someone else if you need to. Your interview should flow like a conversation between parties getting to know one another–because that’s all an interview is: a conversation. Don’t be afraid of it. It’s also a chance for you to interview the company. I’m always impressed when applicants ask questions that reflect an interest in the ad business and/or our particular agency.

And, above all, be yourself. Our internships span entire semesters. That’s a long time to work with someone, and if you don’t fit personality/culture-wise, it’s gonna be a long internship. (See my blog for another post I wrote on letting your freak flag fly.)

The power of “thank you.” Everyone’s busy. If someone took the time to meet with you, make sure you thank them. This seems like such a small thing, but I’ve seen thank-you notes seal jobs for folks because that’s what made them stand out. It doesn’t really matter what format you choose–email, snail mail, video, etc.–just make sure you do it (and do it promptly).

I keep many thank-you cards I receive. The one on the bottom with the handwriting was sent by Sam (my current intern).

I keep many thank-you cards I receive. The one on the bottom with the handwriting was sent by Sam (my current intern).

Bonus tip that should go without saying: clean your social media profiles. We google every single applicant and check out what they’re doing on social media. Because our internship is based on digital skills, we like to see if you know what you’re talking about in your application. But we also do it to screen out candidates that don’t align with our culture. So make those drunken party pics private or delete them all together. Make sure your social media profiles reflect an authentic, professional version of yourself. (You’ll earn bonus points with me if you post funny cat photos/videos.)

Young folks: I know you’ve got the skills and talent to knock marketing internships out of the park. Your application is the first step toward proving it. Invest the time and creativity in telling your story. Make it so compelling, the hiring manager can’t help but invite you to an interview. That’s the secret of marketing: persuading people to do something. If you want to market on behalf of a client, brand, or product for a living, start with effectively marketing yourself.You are your most powerful brand advocate.


Nova, courtesy of Wikipedia

Nova, courtesy of Wikipedia

Over a billion years ago a star exploded,
Exhaling cosmic dust into the universe:
Death; rebirth.

We were but specks then, you and I.
Into space we were thrown, traversing
The dark unknown.

It’s unclear how many life cycles we endured,
How many times our star specks were born
And reborn

Until this age of perfect gravity,
When our cosmic dust was reunited
And ignited.

Once remnants of the heart of a nova,
Metamorphosis can’t undo the connection,
The affection.

I’d know your glint in a sea of light;
You’d seek my fire in a world ablaze.
We are always.

Because together, we make home. Constant,
Independent of time. Your speck
And mine.


abuse survivor story

If you ask people who know me to describe me, words that would likely come up: independent, stubborn, smart, strong. Words that one typically does not associate with the stereotype of an abused woman. A woman with those qualities “should know better.” I debated sharing this story with the world, but it’s important for people to understand that abuse (in any and many forms) can happen to anyone.

It’s also important for others in situations like mine to know that they deserve better, and–while never easy–they can get out of the dangerous cycle holding them hostage.

signs of an abusive relationship or domestic violence and abuse

Abuse comes in a variety of forms.

Looking back, all the warning signs were there. Immediate talk of “I can’t live without you” and moving way too fast. Explosive arguments. Confinement. A complete lack of personal space. Jealousy. The frightening lows were offset by highs of intense passion. That’s what makes abusive relationships hard to see for what they really are: I rationalized that I had never been loved like this, and, hey, everyone comes with baggage, right?

Relatively early on, he confessed to me that he and his ex used to get into these horrible, physically violent shouting matches. I should have known then, but my compassion and sympathy won out. After all, I am not the kicking, lamp-throwing, shouting kind. How could our disagreements ever escalate to that level?

We argued from day one (see “stubborn” in the first paragraph). I come from a home colored by the love of a single mother who didn’t yell much. I certainly was not accustomed to shouting men, and being around that kind of behavior just makes me shut down. This only elicited more rage from him. Each fight was worse than the last, no matter what I tried to do. It was like walking on eggshells. And it was exhausting.

signs of an emotionally abusive relationship

Just because it isn’t physical doesn’t mean it isn’t abuse.

There was much talk about how “we” needed to find “middle ground,” which I always felt like translated into “you need to conform to how I want you to be.” But, in hindsight, I don’t think anything I could have done would have been good enough. It was like he would gather all the materials to make a bomb, and I was just the excuse for him to light it–whether or not that bomb had anything to do with me. I was the outlet for some deeply rooted anger inside him.

But he loved me, so there was hope, right? Hindsight causes me to question. I’ve read a lot of articles–many of them written by mental health professionals and abuse counselors–to try to make sense of what happened and prevent it from happening again (click here for some good ones). Some of them indicate his “love” may have been just a show. Narcissists and sociopaths are extremely charismatic, especially when it comes to influencing others to get what they want. I was a moth trapped in his web, slowly being poisoned to death.

See, the thing about abuse is that it causes you doubt. After a while, you come to believe you are doing something to deserve that treatment: some remark you made, something you did, or the way you behave (or just who you are). It becomes a vehicle for self-punishment, even if you can’t see it at the time. More on that in a bit.

The fights were boiling over to a dangerous level. The last one we had was him shouting at me for three hours while I was curled up in a tear-soaked ball on the bed, frozen with fear. I had bruises from where he had grabbed and shaken me, where he had flung my arms back. I had invisible bruises from where he had demeaned and belittled me. Some of these bruises may never heal.

My psyche trembles and shrinks at the thought of what would have happened if that had not been the last fight we ever had. I couldn’t live like that. I retreated to my mother’s–my safe place–to sort it all out. He followed me. I told him to go home, and that night, I slept with a hammer under my pillow.

My mom (and some close friends and ex-husband) helped me see that I didn’t deserve this treatment. No one does. And I had given more than a fair share of forgiveness, patience, and compassion. Mom shared that she had suffered with abuse like this in her past–a side of her I had never really seen before. “I don’t want that life for you. I don’t want you to live in fear, second-guessing your every move or word,” she said softly, clearly hurting for her only daughter. That was the moment of my resolve: I had to get out of this poisonous relationship.

The worst part? The part I’m most ashamed of? Part of me still loved him. Despite all of the emotional, mental, and physical abuse, like a fool, I still cared about him. But I had to choose myself–my safety, health, and happiness–over him. I had to choose me. Even if my self-esteem had bottomed out and I felt pretty worthless, I had to practice self-compassion. When things got murky in my head, I’d ask myself, “If your best friend was in this situation, what would you tell her to do?” That’s how I found my way out.

abuse survivor quote

You have a choice.

And that way out was anything but easy. If he was so volatile in everyday life, how would he react when I told him we were done? I was terrified. My friends and I came up with safe words. I had standing offers from several people to stay at their houses, even without warning, if I needed a safe place to go. I had no idea what would happen.

But once he saw that I was no longer willing to play the role he had designed for me in his rage-filled drama, just as quickly as he dashed into my life, he was gone. There were the usual “we’ll still be friends” talks, but he changed. He became cold, distant, and eventually just disappeared without warning. We have not spoken since.

In the months that followed, I had PTSD to keep me company. I was drowning in anxiety, depression, and self-injury behaviors. I had become so accustomed to the self-punishment, I struggled with the void of it once the relationship was terminated.

Fortunately, I met a man who saw all the good in me that I could not see in myself. A man who was patient, tender, and kind. A man who understood what I was going through and how to deal with my triggers. A man who stayed my hand and quieted my uneasy mind. He was a good man who did not yell at me and would never raise a hand to me.

With his help and the help from friends and my mom, I began the healing process. I’m not sure I could have done it alone. And I don’t like thinking about how life would be with the alternative. How far it would have escalated… the damage that would have been done…

I still stumble. I still struggle with triggers. But several months later when I look back at it all, it’s like a nightmare. I fell asleep in someone else’s life, uncertain of how to make sense of it or escape, and then I woke up alone in my own bed, shaking in the darkness. But morning is coming. The birds are waking up, and warm light has started to kiss the earth.

I will be ok. But many other people continue to live in abusive situations every day. And abuse can start at any time in a relationship. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, please know that you are worth more than that. Your life is worth more than shouting matches, punches, and angry words that tear you down. That isn’t love, and you deserve to be loved. If you’re ready to begin your own journey of healing, this resource will connect you with hotlines and shelters in your area that specialize in domestic abuse. Odds are if you reach out for help, you’ll save your life. And your life, no matter what you’ve been made to believe, is worth saving. You can heal. You matter in this world. Choose you.

abusive relationship quote

You are stronger than you realize. Prove it to yourself.


Per tradition, I made a playlist for the past year. You can enjoy or scoff at it via the playlist below (or also on Spotify). Subsequent years can be found here: The Sound of 2014 and The Sound of 2013.

This is probably the most eclectic playlist I’ve ever put together. Hat tip to Spotify for that. It’s also the longest so far of my annual playlists. Narrowing down the list to these 32 tracks was difficult. Music got me through a lot of shit this year: an abusive relationship, anxiety and self-harm, survival (though, at times, it felt like barely as much), endings and beginnings, and a whole lot of slogging through the in between. Perhaps more on all of that later… In the meantime, I’ll let the music tell the story.

Cheers to brighter days in 2016, friends.


Craigslist personals:
graveyard for broken hearts and
unfulfilled desires.

W4m cries text
soaked with red wine and late nights,
still looking for him.

Lonely, just moved here
seeks a friend and maybe more.
Is anyone there?

Woman in the park,
he thinks you could be the one,
but he lost his nerve.

Unhappily wed
craves that missing piece–a spark
of connection–hope.

Here’s a toast to you,
the lonely, misplaced, and blue.
May your dreams come true.