2021 Hawai‘i College Guide: Key Tips for Navigating Internships
A local college student tells you what she’s learned.
“After careful consideration, we will not be moving forward with your candidacy at this time.” The words were beginning to feel a little too familiar. In my junior year at USC, I had received more than 20 job rejection emails. Other companies didn’t even bother to respond.
Multiple rejections and three trips to my school’s career center later, I finally figured out why I wasn’t getting called back for interviews. My résumé was badly structured and my cover letter was so generic and boring, it’s almost funny thinking about it now. After some adjustments I finally got an internship in the spring of my junior year. (Audience cheers and applauds!) It was a cool one, too, researching for a documentary production company in Los Angeles that was working on a piece about the search for a cure for Type 1 diabetes.
During my four months there, I created and maintained spreadsheets to optimize budgeting expenses and coordinated various pre-production-related elements of the documentary in addition to reaching out to various nonprofit organizations for funding and donations. The connections that I made were just as valuable. A few of my co-workers had graduated from USC, so they were able to give me some advice about on-campus opportunities that I hadn’t known about. LA is so big, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, especially for someone who grew up in Hawai‘i. Both of my bosses were LA natives, so they constantly gave me insight about the city and restaurants. Who doesn’t love a good food rec?
My bosses and co-workers were also really involved with other ongoing projects in Hollywood, so they would offer to take me to shoots. I got to sit in on a video shoot with Erin Brockovich, the activist portrayed by Julia Roberts in the movie that earned Roberts an Academy Award.
One opportunity leads to another. You know a guy who knows a guy, and suddenly you’re sitting in a room with a famous woman and a camera crew. I don’t necessarily see myself working in the film industry. But my internship helped me develop interpersonal skills and even gave me a working knowledge of Microsoft Excel. Most of all, my experiences made me excited for the perks of future jobs: cool co-workers, a communal Nespresso machine and a view of downtown LA.
Again, it all starts with someone saying “yes.” To help you avoid the avalanche of rejections I received, here are a few tips.
- Establish good relationships with professors. Your professors are some of your best resources. They can give you a real feel for your future career and may have the inside scoop on internships and job opportunities.
- Meet with your academic adviser or career counselor. Ask them about on-campus jobs and research positions. Also have them review your résumé.
- Make your résumé and cover letter stand out. Nothing makes managers skip over applications faster than an obviously generic cover letter (or spelling and grammar mistakes). Tell them specifically why you want to work for their company. Note extracurricular activities, volunteering and even retail job positions but keep your résumé concise, no longer than one page. Submit it as a PDF so it is clean and clear on every computer.
- Take advantage of networking events. Most colleges invite employers and alumni to campus to tell students about post-graduation life. Don’t just go and listen—ask questions and engage with the speakers. These events are opportunities to showcase your awesome personality, which will make you memorable if your application lands on their desk one day.
- Join clubs and extracurricular activities. This is important, not only because employers are looking to see what your interests are, but clubs can also help you explore future careers and make friends.
- Create a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is a great tool to find internship opportunities in your area. Connect with classmates and alumni to see where their professional lives
are taking them.
- Don’t get discouraged by rejection. Hearing “no” is part of the process. It doesn’t mean you’re not qualified or won’t be able to work there in the future. Take another look at your letter and résumé, refine them and try again later.