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.
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).
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.