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Excerpt: The Intern Files

How to get, keep, and make the most of your internship

- February 27, 2006

BAD NEWS FIRST: Most people rarely, if ever, get exactly the internship they desperately want. Some people want Real Time With Bill Maher, but they end up with The McEnroe Show. Others want to intern for Larry King but end up on a press tour with Don King. It happens.

The good news is there are tons of resources available to help you find something that fits with your goals.

First, explore your connections. Who do you know, how do you know them, and have you slept with their children who are your age? Key questions. Let's say you want to work in the record industry, and that your top three choices are Def Jam Recordings, Bad Boy Entertainment, and J Records. First: Rack your brain, your black books, your cell phone numbers, your e-mail contacts, your friends, and your family to see if you have a connection to anyone at these companies. Even if you don't know anyone personally, maybe there are two degrees of separation between you and a low-level staff member at one of the three companies. The truth is that most people get jobs through these more distant connections than through close ones.

So you find a friend of a friend of a friend at J Records. Your first step should be to set up a casual meeting to introducing yourself and begin the process of gluing your lips to their ass until you've gotten what you want out of them. That might sound like a joke, and it sort of is, but it is also the harsh reality of what it takes to get what you want in your career. If you're lucky, you'll actually get along with and maybe even genuinely like them. But more importantly, they need to like you.

Forget your opinions, your perception of your contact as a person, and sell yourself like a piece of high-priced meat. Get yourself sold and eaten alive as quickly as possible. This (the meeting-to-get-the-job) is going to be something you probably don't have much experience with, which will show. That's perfectly fine. The key to wooing your new connection is to appear optimistic about your future, yet cautious about the fact that it's really just begun. You want to find a way to make up for your lack of experience, usually with a noticeable sense of confidence. Confidence is intangible and cannot be easily faked. So don’t' try to sound egotistical and arrogant, but rather, optimistic, fresh but not naïve, strong, and composed. Just be yourself.

The bottom line is that this person is going to be sticking his or her neck out for you, which means that he or she is going to be represented by you to some degree. Recommending someone, particularly an intern, is an enormous favor and one that comes with great responsibility and gratitude on the part of the recommendee. In other words, don't get in over your head or lie to get the gig. Once you do get an internship, you're on the observation deck, and the person who gave you a reference will be too — so don't take it lightly.

But again: Just be yourself. More than likely, your connection will be someone who isn't much older than you, and who has probably had similar struggles. So don't try to be anything but you, because perceptive people — particularly people who are around your age — will see right through anything on your end that is contrived. Tell the person the same things you told your school's internship director: Why you want the internship, what qualifies you for the internship, what you can bring to an organization, and what you want to get out of it. As always, be honest. If you present yourself wholeheartedly and with integrity, and a company — or in this case, a single person — doesn't think you'd be a good fit, then you probably weren't meant to work there in the first place. That's perfectly fine. If you lie about what you want, where you want to be, and what you think you can do in order to get an internship, not only will you likely fail, but you'll probably be unhappy, and that's the worst-case scenario. This is an internship, not a job; you don't get paid and you don't have many bills to pay, so you still have room to get some career clarification, trying things out as you go, not simply doing what needs to be done just to make rent on time. Why waste time when still got it?

Once you've tried all of your connections, check out your school's database (ask about it in the school's career counseling office if you're not sure where to look). In the database you will find listings, by industry and location, of internship opportunities and contact information for the appropriate person at each site. At this stage, having a strong relationship with your internship advisers and director is very important. While there are many roads to travel in terms of finding available internships, none will be less windy than the road that runs directly through your school. The people in the internship and career offices likely have standing relationships with particular companies, and if not, they will be able to give you background information on any company they're familiar with. The bottom line is that your school is one of the best connections you have.

For example, some New York City universities have a great relationship with MTV. If a student wants an internship at MTV, the internship director can easily make a phone call and help the student get the internship. But if the people at MTV receive a résumé without the recommendation of the internship director, the student is far less likely to get the internship than if they had had a letter of reference to accompany their résumé. You might have connections all around you, and if you don't use them, you'll lack credibility and run the risk of appearing somehow suspect.

However, one of the great things about interning is learning to act on your own, because then you are the only person responsible for your actions, (or lack thereof). In other words, you'll know that you didn't get a call back from Microsoft because you forgot to send them your résumé.

Your school may not have a relationship with a company that you're interested in, and you may have no connection whatsoever. In this case, you'll have to do it on your own, with whatever help and advisement you can get from your school. But you've got to be proactive. Find contact information from the company's Web site or from the Yellow Pages— dial 411 if you have to. If you're checking a company's Web site, you'll want to look for icons that say "jobs," "career," or "employment." Then you'll find the name of the person you should contact for internships.

Some prefer calling; others prefer to roll with the twenty-first century and do everything online. However, it's tough to get a résumé looked at blindly by sending it to Human Resources. Companies might not have a specific set of instructions for internships, and if they do, they probably receive hundreds of résumés a month and only ever get to a few — those that come with references, or those that are sent directly from a school staff member to Human Resources, or that are sent to an employee who can in turn recommend you to the appropriate person. Try to find the name of a person who will actually open the envelope and read what's inside.

Lastly, this is the technology era, so make the most of it. Go to Google and search for internships and companies that interest you. Go to Yahoo! And search their job listings and see if you can find internships listed among the "real" jobs. For cities and towns that have it, go to Craigslist and search "internships." Check trade papers. Talk to people while you're socializing and begin networking, letting everyone you meet know where you want to work. Once you begin the hunt, you have to represent yourself and look for opportunities at all times, whether you're at the library or at the club.

Unless a company specifically says "no phone calls" on their Web site, it's always best to speak with a live person before sending anything off. It's simple: Call an organization's general phone number and say, "Hi, my name is Joe Smith. I'm a student at the University of Michigan, and I'd like some information about applying for an internship, please."

Then you'll probably be given the name of the internship coordinator or someone in Human Resources, and if you're lucky, a phone number to boot. Here's where initiative comes in. More often than not, depending on the size of a company, you'll be told to simply send a résumé "and someone will get back to you." Only as a last resort should you send a résumé to the main office to languish in a pile. At the very least, you should try to get a specific desk, the Human Resources department, or preferably the name of the person to whom you should send the package. If you just send it to the mailroom, it might not ever make it to the right desk.

What if the operator says that he or she can't give you anymore information? First, be persistent. Call back and see if you get someone else who may be a bit more helpful. Then, with grace and maturity, start to … well … beg, saying something like, "I don't mean to trouble you, but I've sent my résumé before and I can't seem to get it to the right place, and I'd really appreciate a little help." Hopefully this will get you a name — if not, just send it to the company's Human Resources department, to the attention of the internship coordinator.

Pay close attention to the way you send off your application. Of course, the package should contain a cover letter, a résumé, and any supplementary material the company requires (such as a writing sample). The contents of the package should be attached by paper clip, not staples, tape or Krazy Glue. And pay attention to the order of the material as well. The first page should be your cover letter, followed by your résumé, and then internship-specific comments. Make sure the package has a return address on it, and that your résumé has your contact information. Send the package in a nicely sealed envelope with the address in neat, legible handwriting. The package must be neat and aesthetically pleasing — don't write the address in graffiti or with bright red ink for effect.

Excerpted from The Intern Files: How to Get, Keep and Make the Most of Your Internship by Jamie Fedorko. Copyright (c) 2006 Jamie Fedorko. Excerpted by permission of Simon Spotlight Entertainment, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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