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  • Gabriella Mikiewicz

How to write a competitive internship application with little experience

Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door and gain experience (and they're increasingly becoming necessary career steps). But they're also a catch-22: if you've never had professional experience, how do you know how to apply for an internship? And how can you make your application competitive?


There are SO MANY job application, CV, and cover letter tips online, just one Ecosia search away. You can learn about how to craft the perfect CV bullet point, which skills are relevant to different jobs, and so much more. So I won't repeat that here. Below are my specific tips which I've told many young people after seeing the same mistakes made over and over again.



Why am I talking about internship applications?


As a founder of The Channels Network, a network for up-and-coming communicators in social impact fields, I've had a lot of conversations with young people who are interested in starting careers in this field. I've read and given feedback on a ton of CVs and cover letters, and have read through hundreds of job postings while working on our #SocialImpactComms job boards.


Not to mention, I've also been in the labour market since I was a teenager, so I've also written a massive amount of job applications myself. This is all just to say that over the years, I've learned quite a thing or two about job applications.


And now that I'm actually hiring for an intern for Are We Europe, I'm in the role of the recruiter too. So I want to spill the beans, share the secrets, and give you all some insights on how to create competitive internship applications.


What to include in your internship application


So you've found an amazing position: it's in the field you want to learn more about, maybe it's with a company that you've always admired, and it's paid (because all internships should be! Anything else is exploitation!). Now what?


Polish up your resume/CV


Think about the purpose of a resume or CV


A resume or a CV is a document that lists your education, experience, and skills. It's used to help employers decide whether or not they want to bring you for the next step (maybe an interview). When crafting your resume or CV for the internship role, think about it from the hiring manager's perspective. What are they looking for? What do they want to see from you? Hint: the job description should say it all ;)


CV or resume?


A CV is generally longer than a resume, and it's standard for it to take up several pages and include a lot of detailed information about you, for example, any publications you have. A resume is more standardly used in some places around the world and should be kept to one-page as a maximum.


What should I include in my resume/CV?


If you're applying for an internship and have no previous relevant work/professional experience, include other relevant information about yourself (academic background, work history, volunteer experience). You should include any awards and achievements from school or through sports, so employers know how much effort you've put into them throughout your life. Try using a template that matches what companies are looking for; this will make it easier for them to see all of your relevant skills without having to read through each section individually!


Important: update your resume/CV for every single job application!


It's quite obvious to recruiters or hiring managers when you send a generic CV to any single job opening. You should update it according to the job description.


For example, if the role is for a social media internship, then your skills section should include social media skills. Otherwise, one might think you don't have any skills related to the job requirements, and automatically disqualify you.


As a tip, try to go through the job ad and use some of the keywords in your CV. If the ad says the company values creativity, make sure you highlight that somewhere. If the ad asks for a genuine, deep interest in a topic that the company works with, make sure you include that!


Write a unique cover letter


What is and isn't a cover letter?


A cover letter (or sometimes called a motivation letter) is usually a maximum 1-page document that supplements your resume/CV. It should NOT be a written version of your CV, spelling out all your experiences and achievements. That's what your CV is for! Don't make the hiring manager read the same thing twice. Instead, your cover letter should be a supplementary document, convincing the hiring team of your interest in the job, your passion for the topic, and your willingness to learn.


Try to answer a few questions: Why do you want the internship? What can you bring to the table (why should they hire you)?


Especially when your CV/resume is short due to lack of experience, the cover letter is your BEST opportunity to be convincing. You can say that you don't have a lot of experience, but you REALLY want to learn and that the company seems like an amazing opportunity for you to learn new skills.


They're hiring interns for a reason. They're not looking for someone who knows everything already, but they're looking for someone who fits the company culture, can learn quickly, is enthusiastic about the role, and wants to grow.


Remember to make it personal: as with your CV, we can absolutely tell when you've just sent a generic motivation letter around.


Talk about what you can bring to the table: your creativity, energy, soft skills... Researching the company is crucial here. What do they value in their employees? Find out, and tell them you have it!


What format should a cover letter follow?


As someone who has read a lot of cover letters, I actually don't have much of an opinion on this. Maybe some recruiters are very strict and only want a certain standard, but for me, the content is king. As a minimum, make sure you address it to the correct person (you can usually find out with a bit of digging), and sign your name at the bottom. It is a letter after all.


Get interview ready!


You don't want to head into an interview unprepared, especially not when this could be the internship that launches your career!


When interviewing for an internship, you'll have a chance to demonstrate your skills and experience in an interview. Prepare for this by reviewing the job description and crafting questions that show how you can help the company grow or provide value. There are a million example questions and answers online. Look them over to be prepared for anything, but don't copy them because trust me, we've seen them too ;)


Depending on the company and role, an interviewer can be looking for several things: how well you'll fit into the team, whether you seem easy-going or difficult to work with, whether you understand the requirements of the role (maybe they'll throw some jargon at you, so be ready for that, too), and of course, what knowledge skills you bring to the table.


So, be yourself, have fun, be calm and collected, show your personality, and BE PREPARED.


Networking for early-career professionals


Ok, I'm probably biased when I say this (as the person who runs The Channels Network), but I genuinely think networking is soooo important for your career. When I started really networking, opportunities came knocking at my door. And it makes sense: it's easier to hire someone you trust and know rather than sift through hundreds of CVs and cover letters.


Watch my webinar for the Impact Consulting Hub on personal branding.


Networking means building relationships with people so that when an opportunity arises (and it will), those connections can help pave the way for your success.


It's also about learning from others' experiences so that when new opportunities arise down the road, they're more likely to open up for you rather than someone else who has already been through them before.


Networking is about making connections between yourself and other professionals who may have similar interests or goals as yours—people like mentors could be excellent sources of advice or resources (like this blog post!).


But Gabriella, what if I'm too shy to network?


For someone like me who naturally reaches out, and who loves to build connections, meet new people, and connect people, it's easy to advocate for the power of networking. But I know it's not that easy for everyone.


Whether it's joining online networking events or sending a few individual LinkedIn messages to people in careers or companies you admire, you can choose how to make networking work for you.


But also, I know people who are not networking-types themselves, but have made great progress in their careers without it. So, just do what is best for you!




Are you ready to write a competitive application?


I know how daunting this process can be. I've gotten a lot of rejection emails (and more often: no email at all...). That's why I want to share everything I've learned over the years with you now!


Next time you're applying for an internship, ask yourself these questions:


Resume/CV

  • Did I include all experience relevant to the role?

  • Did I include some keywords from the job description?

  • Did I include extracurriculars, like publications and volunteering?

  • Did I include all the skills I have relevant to the job post?


Cover letter

  • Did I write a unique letter for this job?

  • Did I make sure to NOT just write out my CV?

  • Did I tell the company why I want to work for them specifically?

  • Did I tell the company what I bring to the table?

  • Did I address it to the appropriate person?


If you are thinking about applying for an internship, I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to get started. Remember to be patient and persistent when applying for jobs or internships, and don't get discouraged. We've all been there!

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