In Search of the Illusive Summer Internship

Summer is, ideally, a time when stress is replaced by sunshine and homework is replaced by swimming, visiting friends, barbeques, and fireworks. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that the time leading up to it is the same way.

I have found the pre-summer period thus far to be a relatively dizzying cocktail of internship applications, grant proposals, and job interviews. Deciding what you want to do during the summer months can be challenging, but the real difficulty lies in getting what you want.

Creating a professional-looking resume and cover letter are important parts of applying to any job or internship. The Barnard Career Development has open office hours during which you can have a trained peer advisor look over your resume or cover letter before you send it out. If you’re new to the job search or particularly grammar-challenged like myself, having someone trained in the art of job acquisition look over your work is a good idea. On the Career Development website you can also find tips sheets and sample resumes and cover letters if your too cozy at home and don’t feel like going all the way to Elliot to go to office hours for advice (however if you live in Elliot you really have no excuse. You can go in your pajamas).

It can feel a little awkward to sell yourself in a letter, but YOU GOTTA DO IT if you’re serious about getting the job/internship/grant. A great first step is to do a little googling (yes, it’s a word) of the organization you are applying too, then brainstorm a list of reasons why are you are interested in the position and why are you are a strong candidate. If you’re having trouble, ask a friend who knows you well to help identify your strongest qualities and how they might relate to the work the organization is doing.

If all goes well, the next hurdle to tackle is the job interview (if you haven’t heard back from the organization weeks after sending in your application don’t be shy about following up! Email them to make sure they received your application. Its better to know you’ve been rejected and to redirect your search, then to lose time waiting on organization that rejected you but never let you know– unfortunately that is common practice. This way you cut your losses. Remember rejections are part of the lifecycle of applications, if you never got rejections there would be no need for applications.)

Now back to the interview. No more proof reading, no more editing­– it’s just you and the organization you applied to.

First, practice is key. Ask friends to ask you sample questions. Why do you think you would be a good fit for this position? What interests you about the position/organization you applied to? What do you hope to do with the knowledge you would gain in this position? You never know exactly what an interviewer is going to ask you but thinking through why you are where you are, where you want to go, and how this relates to the job/internship/grant is necessary if you want to be able to discuss your interest in the position. You can then draw on this foundation of reasoning to answer almost any question you might be asked. Remember that all the rules of good public speaking also apply to an interview. Make eye contact. Don’t fiddle with your hair or your clothing. Speak clearly and concisely, eliminating unneeded filler works such as “like,” “um,” or “ya know.” They’ll sneak up on you so if you practice with friends ask them to help you by pointing out where you use filler words.

Second, take your time. Do not be afraid to pause and think if an interviewer asks you a challenging question. It is better to take your time to formulate a coherent answer than to immediately answer with a sub-par response. Interviewers ask challenging questions because they want to know how you think– it’s expected that thinking through a thoughtful answer might take sometime.

Third, ask questions. Get to know your interviewer, and show that you are a creative thinker. Questions should display your knowledge of the organization or the organization’s area of focus. For a good list of questions to ask an interviewer, and more general interview tips check out Barnard Career Development’s sections on interviews.

If all of this doesn’t feel like enough, sign up for a one-on-one session with a Speaking Fellow! Helping students prepare for interviews is part of what we do, so take advantage of the resources around you.  In the final stages of your summer job, internship, or grant search, do your reading, dress to impress, and relax. Be yourself, because in the end they are hiring you and what you have to offer– out of all the people in the world you are the only expert on that.



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