By Codrin Arsene
Whether you go to Harvard or University of Forrest Lake, getting an internship is something millions of students try to achieve every year. And sure, the university you’re coming from MAY help get you through the door for an interview but it does not guarantee the internship of your dreams.
In this article, I am going to explain the top three factors that matter the most in getting you hired. And I’m going to do it by helping you understand where the interviewer is coming from when selecting a candidate.
Call this “manager psychology 101.” You nail this, and you’re very likely to get the job. Sometimes even on the spot!
1. Polish, Re-polish and Extra-polish your resume
This step cannot be overrated. I never understood the true meaning of “catering a resume to the job description at hand” until I ended up in a managerial position hiring interns, contractors and full-timers. First and foremost, (this is important): hiring managers will give your resume a 30 seconds reading. At best. Most of us don’t even do that!
In real life, hiring managers have a job to do and they HATE spending time combing through resumes and sitting on interviews. In fact, more often than not, the person who gets the internship is the FIRST candidate who is “good enough”.
Back to the resume. When looking for interns, most managers understand that you may not have “real life” experience. Especially if you’re in college – that’s a given. So what they instinctually look for is something on your resume which they, as managers, can cognitively link back to their hiring need.
There’s some good news here. When you read a job description, that listing has either been:
a) written by the hiring manager him/herself or
b) it was written by someone in HR who spent time with the hiring manager to capture the job requirements.
So you know at least 50-75% of what the hiring manager is looking for. So you can rewrite your resume accordingly.
You’d think that’s simple to do, right?
Yet, I have seen this again and again: resumes that are 3 pages long and no one reads through them or resumes that are short enough but not catered to the right job application. In case you didn’t know, (especially) large companies even use resume scanning software which eliminates most applicants based on a pre-set list of keywords. If those “buzz” words are not present in your pdf/ word doc, the resume never even reaches the hiring manager. (source: https://biginterview.com/blog/2015/03/applicant-tracking-system.html)
To summarize, if you’re looking for an internship – take the 30 minutes to write a customized resume based on your previous class work, extra-curricular activities and previous jobs. Make sure that your resume matches the job application. Even if you don’t have a “one on one” match in terms of skills or previous experience, try to use as many of the key words in a job application as possible.
Lastly, make sure your resume is short and sweet: no longer than 2 pages; but 1 page is better!
2. Prepare & rehearse your elevator pitch
In a typical job interview, most applicants will be asked to talk about their previous experience and why they’re interested in this position. It makes sense, right? This often comes up as the first question, especially when the interviewer didn’t read your resume or simply skimmed through it. But it comes up even more during an internship application because it is the interviewer’s way of giving you the opportunity to make your case on why you should get the job.
Here’s what many students applying for an internship do not understand: the question seems to imply a desire on behalf of the interviewer to learn more about you as a person. That’s only 30% true. Overwhelmingly (hence the remaining 70%), the manager wants to know how your previous experience meets their expectations of the job at hand.
Many interns I’ve interviewed before have failed the test of answering this question correctly. And I mean correctly from the point of view of giving a considerate, systematic and brief answer to the question, not the actual content of the answer. Ultimately, if you start talking about your philosophy major in the context of data entry, you clearly are speaking about your experience but it’s not relevant to the role I am hiring for.
So think of this step as being your chance to give a speech to Bill Gates in an elevator. You have a finite period of time to give me what I need to make a decision (hopefully to hire you). Any misstep will make me lose interest in you. So when asked about your previous experience and your interest in the job you’re applying for, follow this simple process:
a) Tell me what you’re studying and how it is related to the job application in question.
b) If your study area is not tied to job, pick something else – personal, professional, volunteering experience – that is related.
c) Touch on at least 3-5 buzz words in the job application. You want to reassure the manager that you are the right candidate by helping him / her make the connection between your experience and the job application. For example, if the job listing asks for a) great communication skills, b) great writing skills; and c) attention to details as the main skills, touch on each of these topics. On your own. Don’t wait for a specific question.
d) Don’t talk too long.
e) Don’t go off topic.
f) Look into the manager’s eyes.
g) Be polite and cover a, b, c above.
h) Then stop.
If you were successful, the manager will ask follow up questions. If you went too long, you’ll know it in the interviewer’s demeanor that they lost interest.
Being able to map your experience on the job description is key to landing an internship (and, in fact, any job on the planet). Hiring managers don’t have unreasonable expectations towards internship applicants – if you interview for Apple, they won’t expect you to be the next Steve Jobs. They simply want to establish that you will do your job well.
Which bring us to the third critical aspect in the process of getting the perfect internship.
3. Be the person the manager would love to have a beer with (aka manager psychology revealed)
I know this is tough (it was for me at least when I graduated college!). You can be the most qualified person in the room and still not get the job.
Certainly, managers are screening you to see if you’d be able to do the job well but they’re also looking to determine if you’d be a good fit for the company you’re about to join.
Whether you know it or not, a lot of the behavioral questions attempt to establish your fitness with the established office culture. Often times, that weighs more heavily than your actual skills.
I would hire a candidate that has some of the necessary skills (but not all) who is nice, receptive to feedback and promises to be hardworking over someone who has all the skills but comes off as too aggressive, defensive or inflexible. Put differently, I will cut more slack to the malleable, diligent, humble, eager to learn student than to the applicant that shows even the slightest tendency to not be a fit for my culture from a personality point of view – regardless of their skills and experience.
At the end of the day, managers don’t control a lot of the work load and job demands they need to deal with on a daily basis. A last minute assignment is sent down from upper management and your boss will likely ask you to contribute in one way or another.
The question I ask myself all the time is: when (not if!) sh!t hits the fan, will the intern work late and be in early next day if need be, or will he or she clock out at 5 pm and not come in early enough because of a rough drinking night?
I’m more likely to get a positive answer to the question above if you come off as someone friendly who I would love to have a beer with after a long day at work.
You may be think this is trivial. But ultimately it’s the very simple manager psychology you need to appeal to.
People looking to hire an intern hope to get someone who is hardworking, friendly and willing to step in when they’re an emergency.
That’s why the internship application process is all about the following three critical steps:
a) Step 1: show me your previous experience matches my needs, as a manager (resume)
b) Step 2: prove to me that you’re a great fit by giving me a great elevator pitch and “short and to the point” answers to my questions.
c) Step 3: Convince me that I would love to have a beer with you after work. Aka: don’t be a jerk and convince me you are flexible, hardworking and nice.
If you get to nail down these three strategies in your internship application, you will be closer to an internship than 99.99% of all the intern candidates I have ever interviewed. And I would hire you on my team. Probably on the spot!
Also published on Medium.