Most people view getting any internship as difficult. But landing the internship of your dreams? Now that sounds downright impossible.
What if I told you it’s not impossible. Actually, it’s quite simple. All it takes is a good strategy, a lot of persistence, and an investment of your time. I’m going to tell you exactly how to set yourself up for career success so you can get the top internships as early as freshman year of college.
Gone are the days of applying for jobs through an online application and waiting patiently for an interview invitation. We are living in a time where thousands of people, from all over the world, apply for one single job. You can’t possibly differentiate yourself by just submitting a resume and cover letter through an online application portal. Instead, you have to network your way into a company.
According to the Business Dictionary, networking is the creation of “a group of acquaintances and associates and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question ‘How can I help?’ and not with ‘What can I get?’”
This definition highlights the importance of networking being the act of building relationships over time. Which is why you need to start doing it BEFORE you are ready for your internship (or before you need a new full-time job!). Think long-term and start preparing months before you will be ready to start your internship.
I was recently speaking to a room of a couple hundred freshmen at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. At the end of my presentation, one student nervously came up to me and asked how she could start networking now in order to get an internship for the following summer.
Ask for the Informational Interview
My answer: start doing at least one informational interview every week, beginning immediately. Informational interviews are conversations you request with someone who works in the industry or company you’re interested in so you can learn about their career and build the foundation of a professional relationship. LinkedIn is a great way to find people who you want to talk to.
Do a LinkedIn search for companies, roles, or industries you’re interested in. Then, find someone who you have a mutual connection with, or at least something in common with. A commonality could be that you grew up in the same city or went to the same university. When you find someone who looks like they could have a good perspective for you, send them a LinkedIn message. Your message might say something like:
I noticed you also went to Northwestern. I’m a sophomore at NU and am interested in a career in brand management. It looks like you are a brand manager at Kraft Foods – do you have 20 minutes for a phone call so I can hear what your job is like and how you got into this line of work? Let me know what dates and times work for you.
This message clearly states WHY you are reaching out and makes it a small commitment by only asking for 20 minutes of their time. Send out messages like this one to a few people each week and you’ll be surprised how many responses you get.
Prepare for Your Informational Interview
When it’s time to have your informational interview, be sure to have questions prepared in advance. You’ll be driving the conversation. Strong questions include:
- Tell me a little bit about your career path.
- I noticed you have your MBA from Michigan. Do you think you would have landed a job in brand management without having your MBA?
- What is your favorite part of the job?
At the end of the conversation, once you’ve established a rapport, ask how you might align yourself for an internship at their company. You might say:
Everything you’ve talked about reinforces my excitement about a career in brand management. I’d love the opportunity to intern at Kraft this summer. Do you know if Kraft has interns? And if so, how I can best position myself for the position?
Ideally, the person you’re talking with will offer to pass your resume along to the hiring manager for their internship program. This instantly boosts your likelihood of getting an interview because your resume has been personally delivered by someone who already works at the company.
You’ll notice that this approach does not involve reaching out to people in HR to ask for an internship. This is because HR is inundated with resumes and applications. By reaching out to someone who works in the department you’re interested in, you’re not only getting the inside scoop on how to align yourself for the job but you’re also gaining an ally who can advocate for you within the company. Double win!
Stay In Touch
The most important part of networking, which is also the most skipped over part, is staying in touch. After your informational interview, or any networking conversation, be sure to keep a record of the conversation and make an effort to maintain communication over time. My general rule is to have three touchpoints each year with every person in your network. Touchpoints can include phone calls, emails, coffee dates, or meetings. Anything that allows you to actively maintain a relationship.
If we look back at our example from earlier – the informational interview with a brand manager at Kraft – we can see how this conversation was the foundation of a professional relationship. The initial conversation was introductory.
Let’s imagine Sara says she will talk to HR about your interest in the internship. A few weeks go by and you don’t hear anything back, so you send Sara an email to follow-up. You learn that applications aren’t open for a few months. Make a note in your calendar to reach out to Sara 3 months from now to ask how she is doing and to see if the application is open. This will show your enthusiasm for the role and allows you to keep in contact with Sara.
Nail the Interview
If you do get an interview for the internship position, put in the preparation time and effort so you confidently present yourself and comfortably answer any questions that come your way. Do your research on the company and the people who you’ll be interviewing with. Think through how you would answer common interview questions. And finally, prepare at least three questions you have about the position. You’ll be given time at the end of the interview to ask these questions.
You will be blown away by the opportunities you’ll have as a result of your networking efforts. By following this strategy, you’ll land the internship of your dreams and set yourself up for a dynamite career. Now get out there and start networking!