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How to secure quality internships

James Davis

Careers Commentator
With more students attending university than ever before, internships are becoming increasingly competitive. What does it take to earn them?

Paid or unpaid, you’ve likely noticed members of your cohort scrambling for internships. Why not, right? It’s an optimal time to get experience with fewer expectations than a full-time job. Most if not all New Zealand universities acquaint students with available opportunities, but the application process can be daunting for novices. Competition can be off-putting, particularly in disciplines like law. That’s why we’ve compiled some great ways to boost your application and help secure internships in New Zealand.

Why do you want to intern at this company? Be specific.

You might just want experience wherever you can get it! This attitude isn’t productive for landing internships though, so we’d recommend doing two things.

  1. Find cool projects/ initiatives your company of interest has worked on and become enthused by them.
  2. Mention your enthusiasm for these in your application.

If you can’t find a single cool project, initiative or point of interest in the company, congratulations. You’ve saved yourself some time writing an application for somewhere that doesn’t interest you. If you find plenty, you’ve now got some great reasons for applying.

If you haven’t yet got experience in your field, that’s fine. What you can show is passion. A generic application containing general preferences for a friendly workplace or stimulating environment won’t distinguish you from anyone else. Unless you’re a masochist, everyone wants these! Instead, go deep into the company’s professional history and accomplishments to understand the elements making them unique. Mention how they align with your interests. By doing this, you’re showing you care about them. It’s flattering and shows you have some initiative.

Emphasize what you can offer them.

You don’t need ten years experience, five professional references and a partridge in a pear tree. You’re applying for an internship, so they’re looking for potential. Do this by making any work experience known, even if it’s unrelated part-time work at that restaurant or store. It’s easy to think this is completely irrelevant, but there are desirable attributes required for just about any workplace. Time management, punctuality, organisation and persistence are all valued by employers. These are all things you can prove just by slapping that experience on your CV like it owes you money.

If you’ve ever been on a community sports team, it shows you’ve got the ability to work with others and communicate as a team. If you’re in the university debating society, it shows you’ve got some communication skills. Play an instrument? You know how to practice at something until you get good. You’ll quickly find underlying attributes required of many hobbies or activities. These are things employers want to see, so mention them in your CV and application, making sure to list the skills or attributes required.

Look for specific contact info.

Big companies will have general inboxes for internship applications, but if you can find the person running the show, all the better. Sending your application to George Internshipmänn rather than [email protected] makes George accountable. This also lets you personalise your cover letter, even if ‘personalise’ just means addressing them by name.

You can get personal information by collecting business cards at networking events or calling the company and asking who’s in charge of internships/ hiring. Try to leverage your LinkedIn profile for this too, as it can be used to search for precisely who you’re looking for. You can then send them a private message or request to connect. A lot of students simply don’t do this, so you’re already ahead of the curve by taking the initiative here. Mr Internshipmänn will be proud of you.

Follow up with non-responders.

This is especially important if you’ve submitted your CV by email or unofficial channels. If you got someone’s business card and they casually mentioned an internship on offer, feel free to see how they’re doing a week or two after contacting them. People make mistakes; if they haven’t gotten back to you, it could just mean they forgot. If you still don’t get a response, a quick call can’t hurt a while later. Worst case scenario? You look enthusiastic. If they weren’t planning on giving you the internship anyway, why does it matter if you look too eager? The upside is they consider or reconsider you based on your attentiveness.

Send plenty of applications… and soon!

This is the most important piece of advice. You could be captain of the HMNZS Internship but get nowhere if you’re taking too long to get plenty of applications in. This is time consuming, especially when employing these tips, but it’s the best method you have to boost your chances. Set aside time each day before the end of each semester to blast several companies with applications and you’ve got a better shot. You want to be lining these up six months or more in advance for two reasons.

  1. Gives you time to focus on study during exam season.
  2. More time to browse and research various companies you’d like to intern at.

With that said, there’s one other caveat to observe...

Research employers, then make targeted applications

Try not to adopt the “spray and pray” approach. Recruiters are often left frustrated by the number of applications that come through, where the application is clearly one you’ve also sent to dozens of other employers that day. Try to stand out from the crowd by researching the employer, understand where you could add value to the organisation based on what you’ve studied and relevant experience you’ve picked up from part-time work or internships. Read up company reviews, graduate stories, or even check Google to see if they have been in the news lately.

With these tips, you should have a much better idea of what it takes to get an internship, either as a recent graduate or current student. If you only take one thing away from this, it’s give yourself plenty of time to think and everything else will come easier. New Zealand has so many great companies to intern at, so it’d be a shame to miss out on cool opportunities based on time constraints. You’ve already taken a great first step just by reading this article. Now all you need to do is have a look around! Feel free to browse here on Prosple NewZealand or elsewhere and you’ll soon find some great excuses to practice what you’ve learned.