A Guide to Internships

Image Credit: 89Stocker

Internships provide us with invaluable experiences. Hannah Costello explains their importance, how to find opportunities and how to make your application stand out.

Internships are often considered the bane of every student’s existence, with there being both difficulties finding them, and complexities involved in applying for them. Nevertheless, internships offer great experiences and opportunities, which we can carry into our jobs and careers. In this piece, I will be breaking down what exactly internships are, where you can look for them, and the best ways to apply. 

So, what are internships? An internship is considered to be work experience, some of which can be without pay, where you learn skills and gain experience that will be helpful towards your future career. When applying for a full-time job straight out of university, most companies require some experience; this is often to ensure that you would be capable of completing the necessary work in their company, as most only want to hire the best of the best. Therefore, internships are a great way to showcase your skills and abilities; that being said, they are notoriously difficult to get accepted into, with the vast majority of applicants receiving many rejection emails.

Now that we’ve answered what internships are, let’s discuss how to find them. The best advice I can offer on applying is to get in there early, not to leave it to the very last minute, as many of us do for assignments. There are a variety of options for identifying opportunities. While cold calling is common, unlike job opportunities, internships and/or work experience opportunities tend not to be widely advertised, so friends and family can be valuable resources. If you let it be known that you are looking for opportunities, often they can be a fantastic source of intelligence gathering. Furthermore, apps such as Indeed or LinkedIn can help your search for internships, as companies will sometimes promote them. Lastly, UCD has some great resources to help in the search for internships, primarily through UCD Careers, but sometimes your college may advertise opportunities as well.

Applying without delay is also important, especially when understanding the pressures on employers, who may have to undergo various administrative checks before your start date – for example, due diligence, security, criminal record checks, employment permits, and tax clearance. All this takes time, so the process needs to start before the summer holidays – consider applying in either February or March, with some even opening the application in November/December– which is the last thing you will want to hear as you prepare for exam season. Even after all this, getting the right internship often can be down to being in the right place at the right time.

Now, let’s assume you’ve found a few companies you’re interested in working for; you first want to check the company’s specifications. Depending on the internships offered, some companies require CVs, cover letters and possibly a test of some kind to prove that you’re capable of performing the required work. I know that when applying, most get confused about what to put on their resumé, especially if they have little to no work experience. 

What is a CV? According to Harvard University, a CV (commonly referred to as a resumé in the US) is “a brief, informative summary of your abilities, education, and experience.” A CV can be used to highlight your best assets for a job or internship you’re interested in pursuing. When writing a CV, you should have a standard one that can be adapted and specified for individual internship opportunities. While a CV alone won’t get you the internship, it is a good platform to stand on for an interview, which might lead to a successful application. In structuring a CV, you need to have these five elements. 

  1. Contact Info: Your contact info should be at the top of the CV; you need to have your full name, phone number, email address, home address and LinkedIn personalised link (if you don’t have a LinkedIn, set one up, it is crucial in helping to make contacts and for future employers). 
  2. Education: A list of your education qualifications should be next. If you’re an undergrad student, I would include your secondary school qualifications, i.e. what grade average you achieved, Leaving Cert results, etc. Moreover, I would include what undergrad you’re currently pursuing and the most recent GPA. I would also include any school/university awards along with the qualifications. Do remember to put in relevant dates and locations of schools, should you intend to apply internationally or if your schooling was international. 
  3. Experience: Experience doesn’t necessarily mean work or jobs. Experience could also involve volunteering. Almost anything can be qualified as experience if you word it correctly. For example, say you babysat your younger siblings or cousins; that can be considered experience, but you need to reword it. Babysitting can easily change into Caregiver, Au Pair (if you went abroad to babysit) or Governess (if you tutored the kids while minding them, this would work). When explaining what you did, make sure to include keywords such as organise, maintained, mediated, etc. For example, an explanation for a babysitter could be as follows: “Managing the household while maintaining peace, supervising children to ensure their safety”, etc. If you have four or more experiences to list, I’d recommend keeping the explanation points to three or four. Your CVshould be one page, two is stretching it. Most employers will look at one. 
  4. Activities: If you have a lot of experience, there should be a category for activities; this proves to future employers that you have a balanced life and are involved with different clubs and societies. Here you could add any sports you play, if you’re in the orchestra or choir, or even host a show on BelfieldFM. Essentially you want to add in anything you’re involved in outside of academics.
  5. Skills or Core Competencies: Skills are an especially important section if you don’t have much experience. Skills allow employers to see what you can bring to their company. In skills, you should include any languages and proficiency level, software skills, i.e. Adobe, Microsoft, etc. You can briefly list cultural experiences, if you went on an exchange, mention it, if you're well travelled (don’t list countries), etc. You can also list if you’re qualified in first aid. Some skills can also be research, public speaking, compiling reports, etc. 

Never, under any circumstances, should you have personal pronouns (I) on your resume. Never include photos, age, sex, race, etc. Also, never abbreviate or use colloquialisms. Finally, make sure to check grammar and spelling!

An effective cover letter can be easily done if you put the work in. A cover letter is like a writing sample. It showcases to an employer what you can do for their company and why they should pick you out of hundreds if not thousands of applicants. More often than not, if you submit a general cover letter with no specification to the company you are applying for, most employers won’t read past it and assume you’re not committed to their company. Some general rules about writing cover letters are as follows; Address the letter to a specific person if you can, and tailor your letters to companies by researching before writing your letters. Avoid flowery language; keep the letter to a page long and factual. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes; what would you look for in hiring someone? Don’t overuse “I”. Remember that the letter is a marketing tool to sell yourself; use the active words mentioned above. Before submitting, ensure that your CV and cover letter are formatted the same, with the same size font and font style. 

If in doubt, you can always talk to a UCD Careers advisor, attend sessions on writing letters and CVs or even look up samples and templates (if you look them up, I’d recommend putting an institution name in the search, i.e. Yale resume template).