Jeff Rose is an Illinois Certified Financial Planner and co-founder of Alliance Investment Planning Group. He is also the author of Good Financial Cents, a financial planning and investment blog. You can also learn more about Jeff at his website Jeff Rose Financial.

This post is the second in a two-part career series aimed toward college students and people who’ve recently entered the workforce, it could be useful for anyone. The first post (by Mrs. Micah) concerned what being a supervisor taught me about being a better employee.

More than 8 years ago, I anxiously applied to my first internship. Now seven years removed from college, I sit on the other side of the desk looking at resumes from local students looking to score the same internship I did many years ago. It’s funny to be on this side of the desk and to see how differently students go about applying for an internship.

Every semester I take on at least one or two interns from the local university. To pick the lucky candidate, I will sift through 10 to 20 new resumes each and every semester. My students apply through the college, but I also have students that have contacted me directly. I will admit that I like to see a student do this. To me it represents the “want” and desire to get the internship.

Let me give you some examples and tips to improve your likelihood of getting an internship especially if you were trying to get one through me:

1. The Resume is Crucial

I’m so amazed at how many resumes that I see that looks as if they were prepared the night before. I even had a student one time give me a resume that look as if it were photocopied. Guess what–they didn’t get hired. Your resume is the sum of all your accomplishments and how those accomplishments will benefit the company you are interviewing for. I could write a whole post on just the resume; but to be brief, just follow these key points:

  1. Your objective should state: “I want to obtain an internship with your firm.” Period. A fluffy objective that states, “I’m looking to obtain an internship with a financial firm to enhance my communications skills blah, blah, blah. You’ve lost me. Just tell me what you want and that you want to work for me.
  2. Make sure your experience is relevant. For example, when applying for a position with my firm, put an emphasis on experience that’s related to finance or numbers. Or at least situations that show responsibility, leadership, and organization.
  3. Be specific with your bullet points. Your bullet points are crucial. Be specific and informative with your points. One poor example from a student that had volunteered for a semester read, “I helped set up for events”. That tells me absolutely nothing. What about, “I assisted in setting up monthly appreciation events that would frequent hundreds of visitors”. Is my example perfect? Absolutely not, but it helps to paint a clearer picture of what the student actually did. The last thing you want is have fluffy words that make your resume suck.

2. Introduction e-mail.

Some students that are applying for the internship, send me an e-mail introducing themselves. It’s amazing to me what little things you can do to really separate yourself from the competition. Here’s a few things not to do:

For example, I had a student e-mail me:

“Hi, I’m interested in the internship that I saw on the College message board. Please let me know what you think”.

Are you serious? There was no contact information–only the e-mail address–no resume, no cover letter, nothing. Now, if the student really thinks I’m going to take the time and effort to request a resume from them, then they are sadly mistaken. Let me give you another example of what to do, I had a student e-mail me:

“Hi Mr. Rose, I’m greatly interested in the internship you have available at your investment firm. I think that this internship would be a great fit for me, and would really enjoy the experience. Please be sure to contact me at number, number, number, number, and here’s my e-mail address for follow-up. Also attached is a resume and a cover letter expressing my interest in the position.”

Now that’s what I’m talking about! That’s how you get employer’s attention, by taking the time and effort, to not only share you enthusiasm about the position, but also give contact information for the employee to get back to touch with you, and also include a cover letter and resume.

3. The Interview

Interviewing for a non-paid internship should be treated just like interviewing for a $100,000 corporate executive job. Here are a couple things not to do and, yes, they have really happened to me:

  1. Mention in the interview that you had another internship that didn’t work out. Hmmmm…and it’s going to work here? Probably not.
  2. Show up 30 minutes late and don’t have a reason or excuse. That’s the sure-fire way to leave a horrible first impression. Show up on time and try to be a little early. Don’t be too early, though, 10 minutes will do.
  3. Come to the interview under-dressed. Wear a tie, at least, a suit is even better. I had a guy once show up wearing an un-ironed shirt with no tie. With some professions you might get away with this, but the financial industry is not one of them. The whole time I was interviewing him all I could think was, “Why didn’t he wear tie?” Suits applies to ladies, too. There’s a reason the phrase “Dress for success” exists.
  4. Assume they have copy of your resume handy. Always bring a copy of your resume with you, including your cover letter. Don’t assume I already have it. Remember the photo copied resume mentioned above? Yeah, make sure it’s on legitimate resume paper and you just didn’t just pull it out from under your car seat.

[More things to avoid saying in an interview at Money Relationship.]

4. The Internship is Your Job

Your resume is solid and you interviewed well. Congratulations, you just got the internship!

Just because you got the internship doesn’t mean it’s over. You still have to work and continue to impress. You should show up each day, dressed for success and ready to contribute. Ask if there is anything you can do and always try to over-deliver.

I had an intern that impressed me enough to land the internship, but once they got it their attitude completely changed. One day they didn’t show up as scheduled – supposedly they were confused on days. Then they asked to leave early to go do an errand that easily could have been done prior to them coming in to begin with. On several occasions they left their work station disorderly and we had to double-check everything to make sure it was done correctly. The last straw was calling in 30 minutes after they were supposed to there and saying they were running late.

I’m typically a firm believer of firing somebody face to face, but in this case it wasn’t even worth it. I told the intern that their services were longer needed and don’t bother coming back. Take your internship seriously.

If you enjoyed Jeff’s post, read more of his stuff at Good Financial Cents, and subscribe to his RSS feed. Here are some more popular reads from his blog: 7 Things to Know About the Roth IRA; Five Money Smart Decisions To Start Your Career; The Easiest and Simplest Chicken Pasta Recipe You’ll Ever Make.

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Melissa June 9, 2009 at 9:43 am

Also for interns out there, make your best effort to learn as much as you can from those around you. I spent a year working as an investment analyst intern in a department mostly comprised of VPs, SVPs, and the Chief Investment Officer. On slow Fridays, everyone was more than willing to share knowledge and insight.

Being an intern is one of the rare opportunities I have had to tap into amazing wealth of knowledge.

No Debt Plan June 9, 2009 at 10:59 am

Internships are critical especially in today’s economy. It shows initiative and gives you some real-world experience.

No Debt Plan’s last blog post: How to Survive and Thrive During Layoffs

Craig June 9, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Excellent post and Jeff has a great blog that is very informative.

Internships should be treated like jobs and the advice he gave can also work for people looking for full time job. Internships are huge nowadays because it can get you the resume boost and experience you need to eventually land a real job, or at least get you in the door. Should not be taken lightly and these tips will help.

Craig’s last blog post: The Ways to Combat Whooping Interest Rates

Kate June 10, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Great pointers! So true about the intro email. I’ve gotten so many emails in the past from people where the only text in the body of the email was “see attached.” What people forget is that, many times, your email is your first impression and as the old cliche goes, they really count. Another one you didn’t mention, but I read in a Talent Zoo article by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, the authors of The Power of Small, is don’t bring a starbucks to the interview unless you have one for your interviewer too!

Kate’s last blog post: I’m Back with My Favorite Quick and Easy Weeknight Recipes

Janna December 26, 2010 at 10:58 am

I am currently a web design student looking for internships for when my program is completed. Thanks for the tips! They really helped.

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