If you’re in college right now, chances are you’re starting to think about how you want to spend your summer. We’re about to get into prime internship application season, so if you choose to spend your summer getting work experience, this is the time to get ready for that.
As a one-semester-from-graduation senior, I’ve had my fair bit of experience applying for internships. Since starting college, I’ve had five (yes, five) different internships. I’ve also been on the other side of the table and reviewed résumés for an internship position. So I think it’s safe to say that I’ve gotten a good grip on how the process works and how you can make yourself stand out from the pack to get that dream internship. This post is the first in a series that’ll be coming to the blog every Monday – I’m sharing my expertise with all of you to help you build that stellar application and land that ideal position.
(I will say, however, that the majority of my internship experience has involved communications and non-profit work. While some of this information will be useful outside of that realm, some may not be. If you’re looking for a science-related internship, I can only help you so much since that’s not an area that I have any real experience with applying for.)
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of résumés. They’re a bit of a pain, but they’re the first thing that a potential employer sees when they consider hiring you. With that being said, it’s important to make them great.
Step 1: Get the layout right
Just like an employer will likely judge you based on how professionally you’re dressed for an interview, they’ll likely judge the layout of your résumé. We all judge books by their cover – It’s human nature. If you’re applying for a creative position, this is the time to find an interesting layout that’ll make you stand out (without obscuring the actual content). I highly recommend Canva for this type of résumé. For any other position, however, basic is best. Let your experience speak for itself. Pick an easy-to-read font like Times New Roman or Arial, add a header with your name and contact information, and format your text consistently throughout.
This is also a good time to talk about length. Unless you’re applying for graduate school, your résumé shouldn’t be more than a page. As a college student, there’s a very slim chance you actually have that much relevant experience for this internship position. Your prospective employer doesn’t need to know that you worked as a lifeguard for two summers in high school. Narrow your résumé down to the most relevant information so that it all fits on one page.
Step 2: Highlight what’s most relevant
When deciding what to put on your résumé, the internship description for the position you’re applying for is your best friend. Highlight the experiences you have that are most relevant to what they’re looking for. A prospective employer should be able to scan your résumé in 30 seconds and immediately notice that you check off their requirements. Do they want someone proficient in Adobe Creative Suite? Highlight the Graphic Design class you took in college. Do they want someone with experience planning events? Include your leadership position within a campus organization where you planned the monthly meetings.
Step 3: Make it sound interesting
A job title barely scratches the surface of what a job may really contain. I have a number of positions on my résumé that are much more impressive when my duties are explained than when you see the job title alone. Use action verbs and numbers when explaining what you did at your job or in your university club. Some good examples include “supervised 100 employees during the annual fundraiser” or “developed communication materials to be distributed to over 40 members.”
Step 4: Check your spelling/grammar, then check it again
The most painful thing when reading a résumé is finding spelling or grammatical errors. Even if the rest of your résumé is flawless, that one error can stick out like a sore thumb and ruin all of the hard work you put in (especially if it’s a really obvious error). If you end one bullet point with a period, you should end all of your bullet points with periods – or none of them. Get a family member or a friend to review it as well; when you’ve looked at a piece of paper for long enough your eyes can go numb to any glaring mistakes.
Bonus Step! Build a “master résumé”
Want a major shortcut in writing your résumés for various internship positions? Create a “master résumé,” which contains all of your work experience/education/skills/etc. This version can be longer than a page, because this isn’t a version of your résumé that you’re submitting to anyone. Rather, when you go to apply for a position, create a new document and copy/paste the information you want to include. This allows you to create a customized résumé for each internship application in just a few minutes every time. Huge win.
Got any other life-saving résumé tips? Share them with me in the comments! I’ll see you back here next Monday for part two of this series: the dreaded cover letter.