When March turns to April, summer seems only a few short weeks away. For those of us in Wisconsin, that means the snow might finally finish melting and we can finally put away our shovels and salt spreaders for the year. For journalism students everywhere, however, April means moving from “Hey, I applied for this internship” to “Why haven’t I heard back from the internship?” to “GOD, WHY?!? WHAT HAVE I DONE IN LIFE THAT IS SO FOUL AS TO NOT GOTTEN AN INTERNSHIP YET?!?!”
I asked some folks I know who hire interns in the field what thoughts they had about this time of year, working through the hiring process and so forth. I also dug through the old file of rejection letters and such to come up with some advice for those of you who are somewhere between moderate concern and psychotic panic.
The Most Basic Advice:
You aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any good freaking out. The process is going to be the process, so don’t get yourself so wired that you’re tied up in knots and likely to send a horribly embarrassing text or email to a potential employer, begging for information. Cooler heads prevail, so YOU MUST CHILL. As one person who has worked for everything from top 20 circulation newspapers to promotions for the UFC explained:
This Takes Time
I remember working night desk at the State Journal one night when we were looking to hire a swing-shift reporter. My boss, Teryl, was responsible for reviewing the candidates. It was the end of a hellish night and I had just finished the midnight cop calls and settled in near the scanner to keep an ear out for any breaking news. Teryl sat down and pulled this giant stack of folders out of her desk drawer and dropped them on her desk with that clanging THUD that only half-metal, half-Formica desks can emit. There had to be 50 or more folders there, easy. She picked up the first one and with a heavy sigh, she started going through them. I thought it would take longer for her to get through them than it took for Andy Dufresne to make his way to freedom. I’m sure it felt just about as fun for her as it did for him.
Even now, these things take time and there is a ton of work involved. Even if you are the perfect candidate, it’s going to take a while to dig through the pile to find you. Or as one of the pros I talked to who is currently hiring interns said:
I’m at a very small agency and my colleague and I also have SO many of these things to sift through. We received more than 50 resumes for our one internship, and there’s only two of us to read them through. The process of trying to line up schedules and find a time for interviews is an absolute nightmare. Even once we do that, we’ve usually gone through 2-3 rounds of candidate interviews before we find someone we like. We try to put a dedicated effort into finding someone quickly and it still takes us about 3 weeks per hiring cycle.
You need to have reasonable expectations of how long this will take and understand there are actual human beings on the other end of this process who are likely doing their level best. Your best bet is to check in when you submit your material and find out what their general plan is for contacting people and then add about two weeks to that. Once that time has ended, you should give them another week and then contact them. But only do it once and do it in a, “I know you’re insanely busy but I wanted to check in” way. As a guy who works for Facebook explained to me:
Have the students ask what the typical turnaround times are so they have the right expectations and use the time spent waiting for one internship to apply to 3 more.
That said, if you have important updates, it helps to let the people know about that so you stay at the forefront of their minds in a positive way, according to a top PR pro who has worked for major players all across the country:
I also think that continuous follow up always keeps you ahead of the game. If it means thanking them for their time, sharing a story about the news they heard about the company (recent awards or otherwise) or writing a letter about how they are the ideal candidate and list specific strong reasons why… it goes a long way. I’m currently helping hire our interns for Baird and those are just a couple of things that stand out to our Directors/Managers.
Have a Plan B (and C…)
What might be the perfect internship for you might not make you the perfect candidate for the company. With that in mind, it helps to cultivate multiple options. If you are afraid that you might not get THE internship, keep an eye out and toss your hat in the ring for others that come open. One former newspaper editor who hired interns explained why this is a good idea:
I’d also recommend that students not put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to jobs and internships. Take the time to apply for a variety of internships. At best, you have a few great options to choose from. At worst, you got practice with the application process that will help you for years to come.
Another pro, who has worked in news, PR and university marketing, said not only should you be applying for multiple internships, but you should look for every opportunity to get experience if you get one:
Don’t sit tight waiting for one or two opportunities to pan out. Keep searching and keep applying. And be willing to seek and do work that gets you access to watch and learn, not necessarily do the “intern-version” of the “full-time thing.” Be a clerk. Tackle phones and backstage stuff if it gets you a front row seat. Bottom line: apply, apply and apply some more.
Take Advantage of Bad Situation
It helps to keep your ear to the ground for just-posted internships right about now and here’s why:
- Media outlets don’t always have their acts together when it comes to an internship program. Some places will get involved late in the game because they finally got permission to hire or because the money was finally available for the position. This means right about now, another wave of internships might be cresting and it could be yours to ride.
- Don’t feel bad about this, but it is possible that other candidates out there are viewed as being better than you are. As you sit at home, in a panicking dervish of anxious hope, those “better candidates” are taking internship offers and planning an awesome summer. Yes, this eliminates a few internship possibilities for you, but it also means that several other places that were banking on the Golden God/Goddess candidate are now looking for their Plan B. In some cases, you might be that Plan B. In other cases, they run out of options that are available and they might re-post the position. This gives you another shot to apply for something you might have missed or bypassed on your first salvo of applications.
(You might not like it if you think your next internship sees you like this, but consider it a chance to prove them wrong.)
I know this all sounds like, “Hey, you might not be all that good, but you might be the best of the really lousy candidates left after all the good kids take the good jobs,” but that’s not the point. Yeah, you can look at this like you’re some kind of damaged goods if you want, but it’s better to think about it this way: You want the internship and the experience that goes with it, so suck it up, check your ego and apply to be someone else’s “good enough” option. There’s a huge benefit to this: The ceiling on how impressive you can be is really unlimited. You have the ability to prove to them that you are awesome and you probably are better than whoever it was from the Almighty Deity School of Journalism and Perfection that turned them down. Plus, nothing makes someone work harder, stronger and faster than a really big chip on the shoulder.
Don’t Be This Candidate:
You might find yourself wondering “Why?” when it comes to the lack of communication from your potential internship suitors. This is where it helps to go back through your materials. In one case, someone didn’t get the gig because they mis-typed their phone number on their resume and people couldn’t get a hold of her. In another case, the applicant’s package never made it and he was too bashful to check in on the process. Then there are candidates like the ones this pro described:
And for the love of all things holy, please ask them to read their resumes over numerous times for errors, have someone else do it, and then do it again. I just threw out one for calling the Huffington Post the Huntington Post and another for spelling her own school’s name incorrectly.
This is why it pays to edit the hell out of your resume and cover letter before you send it off. (I screwed up and misspelled the name of editor on my cover letter, but he hired me anyway. Conversely, I saw Teryl toss one of the applications away when the person wrote “Dear Mr. Franklin” to her in the salutation. It’s dicey out there.) It also would help to have someone look over it for you, preferably someone whose not just going to say, “Wow! You’re great! Now can we go to the bar?”
If you turned out to be the person who screwed up in one of these ways, it will be in your best interest to figure that out before you have to send stuff out again.