Do you want to do an internship in the U.S., but don't know where to start? Corina Tuna, a former architecture trainee on the Career Training USA program, found an incredible internship that suited her perfectly, so we asked if she would be willing to share some advice with you. She laid out her internship search strategy here.
What Do You Want to Do?
First, you need to decide what type of internship you want to do and for how long. Think carefully about what you want to gain from this experience, how it will help you advance your career and how much time you need (bearing in mind visa limitations) for the experience to be useful to you, in terms of teaching you new skills, allowing you to practise them and being long enough to substantially enhance your CV.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Do a lot of research into the firms that you want to apply for that will allow you to have the experience that you are searching for. You need to be quite systematic in your search - it is a good idea to set up a document/spreadsheet where you save the details of the firms that you want to apply to. Create a criteria that matches what you are looking for (location, size of firm, reputation, type of work, do they have advertised intern positions?, paid/unpaid, required skills/experience etc.). The size of the company is very important - whilst large well-know firms may look better on your CV and tend to offer more intern positions, you often get an opportunity to gain a broader experience and become more involved in the business by training with a smaller firm. Do not apply only to very large firms that you know receive hundreds of applications every year - give yourself some alternative options, in case that does not work out.
Always call all the firms that interest you before sending your application, whether they have advertised intern positions or not. Companies do not always advertise intern positions - often they are used to receiving many intern applications, from which they may choose a few that they like when they have sufficient work for them. When calling them, explain briefly in 2/3 sentences who you are, where you are calling from, the reasons you admire their practice, that you would like to be an intern there in order to learn… [skills], what education / training you already have. Try to find out the contact details of the person you should send your application to, whether they are considering hiring an intern in the near future, whether they regularly have interns who may be leaving soon, what type of work/projects are they doing at the moment, what skills/experience they are looking for in their interns and any additional criteria. Even if some of this information is available online, talking to somebody on the phone can give you additional information that you can use to make your application stand out. It will also give you a better idea of which firms are actually looking for interns (and so are worth concentrating your efforts on) and which are very unlikely to take on any interns in the near future.
Prepare Your Documents
Prepare your CV and cover letter, plus any additional requirements (such as a portfolio). The CV needs to be clear and easy to read, with a simple layout. Create sub-sections for education / skills / experience / qualifications (tailor to the requirements of your profession). Include reference contact details and preferably, one or two references (usually, one academic reference and one from a previous employer) - when they have multiple applications to reviews, employers do not like to spend time chasing references! Also, include any links to online blogs/portfolio/published material of your work that you would like your employer to read (not your personal social media accounts!).
The cover letter is in many ways as important as your CV, so spend some time on this! Employers who get a lot of applications do not even read your CV if they are not impressed by your cover letter. A good cover letter has 2 to 3 paragraphs and needs to say who you are, what interests/skills/experience you have that the firm will be interested in, why you are applying to this particular firm (why you admire them), what you hope to gain from the experience, how long you would like the internship to last. The cover letter needs to be personalised and different for each application - it is very obvious to employers when you write one cover letter and send copies of it to multiple companies. You need to show that you have done your research into the firm and know what it does. It is a good idea to mention recent projects they were involved in that you like (if applicable). When talking about your own skills, bring attention to particular attributes that you know they are looking for (their criteria for choosing interns), using previous training to prove that you have those attributes. Address your cover letter to the person reading your application. Mention the names of any contacts you may have at the company / the person you talked on the phone if appropriate, who could potentially help you to obtain the position. Essentially, tell them what they want to hear!
The CV can usually stay the same for each application, but the cover letter must be changed and personalised to each firm! Once you have written one cover letter, you can probably work with the format you have set up to change only a few sentences for subsequent applications. You may have 2 or 3 versions of the cover letter, which you slightly change to suit the requirements of each application.
Ensure that your application has been received. If you do not receive an email acknowledging this, wait 2-3 days then call the firm. Then, wait two weeks at least before giving the company another call to check on the status of your application. They might need more time to review it, or they might have filled the intern positions.
Don't Give Up!
Finding an internship can be very time-consuming and definitely not easy! Depending on the profession, expect to have to send 20 - 50 applications, sometimes more, before you start hearing some positive responses. It can take a few months to find something. Many employers receive a lot of intern applications and will not respond to unsuccessful ones, which is why you need to create a habit of checking up on your applications. Many employers also tend to keep a record of applications, and may contact you several months after you applied! Apply to many firms that interest you simultaneously - do not wait for applications to be responded to before you prepare the next one. The process can be demoralising, but remember that with each application you are increasing your chances of finding a position, so keep going!
Employers may contact you requiring an interview, in person, by phone or through Skype. This is a great opportunity for them to get to know you and vice-versa. Prepare thoroughly - anticipate how you might answer questions about your education/skills/experience, your motivation for applying for this particular internship, what you hope to gain, how you can benefit their company, why you want to do an internship in the USA. They may ask you about your expectations in terms of hours and pay (which you can negotiate), so make sure you have done your research and have some guidelines in your mind.
It is also a good idea to have done thorough research into the visa application process, getting an idea of costs/time/paperwork involved - if the employer has not had international interns before, you need to reassure them that the process is fairly straightforward and that you are confident you meet the requirements of the visa. Remember, this is also an opportunity for you to interview your potential employer - be prepared with a list of questions that will help you determine if being an intern at their firm will allow you to have the experience that you are looking for. You may face a situation where you have to choose between different companies.
Consider Your Offer
If you are offered a position, make sure that it truly what you are looking for. It is not worth the time and costs involved to move abroad for an internship that you will not enjoy or benefit from. Be aware of the type of employer you want to work for and make sure they are not exploiting you! If you decide to accept the position, clarify with your employer if they are happy to pay for the visa program / visa application fee. Start the visa application process as soon as possible and be organised in ensuring your paperwork and that sent to your employer gets filled in.
Corina's success story shows that being organized can really pay off! You can find more tips for finding internships on our website, or you can sign up for our emails. Create your adventure of a lifetime!