An internship is a great first step into the world of work. But to land an internship, you need to sell yourself to potential host employers. And these host employers want to know you have the experience to perform well as their intern.
You might be thinking that if you don’t have any work or internship experiences yet to list in your application that you will not be competitive. While that may be true to some extent, it really depends on the internship and industry. It’s all about how you present your background to employers!
So no matter what, definitely don’t discount your academic experience. Find a way to show the employer all of the skills you have gained as a student to better position yourself as a qualified candidate.
Leveraging your studies in your resume and in the internship application process is very important. Here are some tips to help you get started:
1. Focus on specific skills
In your cover letter, discuss the specific skills you gained during your academic experience.
For example, while being an Asian History major may not seem directly or immediately relevant to a particular position, what skills did you gain in the process of studying history? Did it help you think more critically? Improve your research and writing skills? Is there a particular assignment that taught you something practical? Could you apply this project to a real world situation with an employer?
Instead of thinking in terms of the topic or subject matter, think of the skills, tools or techniques developed during the learning of that topic. Maybe you had to work with a team of classmates and that experience made it clear you excel as a communicator or problem-solver. Was your degree offered in multiple languages? Did you have to synthesize or analyze large amounts of information for your thesis? Provide the host employer with concrete examples. Even better - link those skills to the internship description!
2. Connect coursework
There may be instances where what you have learned in the classroom directly relates to what the host employer is looking for in an intern. Capitalize on that! Did you master a specific technique in your art class? Did you learn how to use software or specific technology as a student that you could use in the internship? This is also a way to demonstrate to the host employer your passion for your field. Let your passion and genuine excitement for your studies come through as you write about or discuss your knowledge.
3. Note any extracurricular activities
Don’t forget about what you did outside the classroom, as this can have an enormous impact on your profile as a candidate, too. What types of activities were you involved in? Did you play on any sports teams, volunteer, or join any clubs or groups? These are great ways to portray your leadership skills. You can also use extracurricular activities to point to tangible outcomes or accomplishments. For example, did your debate team win a championship? Perhaps your law society was recognized in some way, or you were able to raise the most funds for an important cause. Don’t shy away from any and all accomplishments in these activities.
4. Show, don’t tell, by using examples
Most importantly, show your prospective host employer that you have achieved these skills through real life examples. Anyone can say that they are a “motivated” person, but how will you prove it? Tell a story of a time when you took initiative, made an improvement, etc. How did working on your thesis teach you to be detail-oriented?
Even with limited internship or work experience, there are many other ways you can show potential host employers your knowledge and potential. If you frame your studies in the right way, you will give the host employer the confidence to take a chance on you by offering you this opportunity. Employers will see you as a strong candidate, whose academic and university experiences have provided them with the necessary transferable skills to be their next great intern!
Allison joined the InterExchange team in 2011 and holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Higher Education. She oversees the daily operations of the Career Training USA program where she has the privilege of working with students and professionals from around the world pursuing U.S. internships and training programs. Allison is originally from Massachusetts and studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.