Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for an Internship

Woman taking notes before filling out an internship application on her computer.

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If you are looking for the perfect internship for the summer, you will want to avoid making these six deadly mistakes. Internships are far more in demand than in past years and students have to face some pretty stiff competition when seeking a summer internship. By reviewing and avoiding the following mistakes when applying for an internship, you can greatly increase your chances of getting called by the company for an interview.

Waiting Too Long to Apply

If you haven’t already started your internship search, what are you waiting for? High school students, college students, and recent grads are all constantly looking and applying for internships, so get started today. If you are applying for fall internships, start sending in materials around June or July. If you are applying for a spring internship, you should be looking in October or November.

And if you want a summer internship, you should start looking in October of the year prior (just to make sure the company you are interested in doesn’t have super early deadlines). The bigger companies often have very early summer deadlines. Mid-sized companies usually have either February, March, or April deadlines. And there’s always a bunch of companies that forget to post their summer listing and end up doing their internship hiring in May or June.

Sending in Generic Materials

The number one problem with internship applicants is sending in generic materials – the same resume and cover letter for every single position. You must customize your materials for the position and the company. If every resume and cover letter you send is the same, there’s a problem. Companies can easily tell when they are looking at a document that you’ve sent to 15 other places.

To best customize your materials, print out the internship or job listing and go through it with a highlighter. Think of it this way: they are telling you exactly what should be on your resume or cover letter in the listing. For example, if the company says they want someone who is social media savvy, make sure your resume speaks to your social media experience.

Applying for Only a Handful of Internships

Remember, internships are more competitive than ever before. If you only apply for a handful of opportunities, there’s a pretty good chance you will not land one. To make sure you land something, apply for at least 10 to 20 internships every two to three weeks. If you hear back from a few and land interviews, you can stop aggressively applying, but remember you want to make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. One company said it received 14,000 applications for its internship. It's a tough market.

Fail to Follow Company Instructions

If you can’t follow the application rules, how will you follow the actual rules of the internship? Your application is the first impression you are giving an employer. If you aren’t following directions, that first impression won’t be very positive. By not following a company’s specific instructions, you could end up being placed in the “no” pile even if you possess all of the qualifications the company is looking for. Make sure to read through their requested process closely. For example, they might post their internships on a third-party website, but they might state in their posting that applicants should go to their website to apply.

Forget to Follow Up

Once you start applying for internships, follow up one week after you send in your application to confirm the company received your materials and to ask if they need to look at anything else. If you can’t find anyone to follow up with, use LinkedIn and try to connect with people who went to your school and work at that company.

Not Passionate About the Interview

After an interview, an employer shouldn’t have to wonder if you really want the position. Make sure you make it very clear that you want the position and that you’d do anything you need to secure the position. An employer wants to hire someone they know will love and appreciate the job, so make sure that comes across in the interview.