Just like in the traditional hiring process, every employer is looking for something a little different from their interns.
While skill and talent are important, there are some offices that may put more weight on writing ability than others, or may base their decision more on the interview than the resume. Since there is really no one way to hire an intern, there is not one specific set of criteria that each and every employer uses to make their decision.
However, there are a number of things that every employer is going to consider when looking at an intern’s resume and application, and it is important to keep these in mind when you submit your cover letter, and complete your interview.
Because you may not have any real world work experience, employers will most likely look at your grades first as they view your application and/or resume. Typically an employer will only consider an average of 3.0 or better, while the more competitive programs will look for a 3.5 or better.
As a student, particularly undergraduate or high school, no potential employer is going to expect you to have a resume jam-packed with relevant experience; there simply hasn’t been enough time for you to get it yet! As an older professional using an internship to switch careers, this can also be true. What matters most is the potential that an employer can gather from your resume or application; this can be demonstrated through any type of work or academic experience.
Let’s say you’ve applied for an internship with the local newspaper, but have never written professionally before. You can highlight a term paper that you did particularly well on, describe a situation in which you worked under tight deadlines, or even talk about handling pressure at your summer job waiting tables. All of these situations show that you have the potential to produce quality work, and handle a fast-paced environment while they don’t specifically relate to journalism.
One element drawing more and more focus in the job world is "fit." Recent years have seen a shift in the rigidness of office culture, and different industries have developed more casual atmospheres for their employees and clients.
But like most things, there are not set rules. A non-profit organization working with people with disabilities may have a stricter dress code than a public relations firm, or a law office may have all employees on a first name basis while an art museum uses "Mr." and "Ms." While you are being interviewed, and employer will be looking for whether or not you will "fit" into their office culture, how you carry yourself, and how adaptable you are.
It is also completely ok to ask questions about the office environment. It’s a good idea to talk up the receptionist or assistant while you’re waiting for your interview (if you interview in person). He or she may be more candid about the office.
If there’s one thing that employers are absolutely looking for, it is a real, demonstrated interest in the field.
They need to know that you are going to be ok with some of the mundane tasks because you see a future at the company. While you should verbally express this interest, you should also do your best to highlight examples in your cover letter and resume. For example, if you are applying for a video game development internship, but have never done anything like it before, an employer might be interested to know that you are an avid gamer, and that you regularly research the newest technologies.
The most important thing to remember when thinking about what employers are looking for in interns is: don’t force it. There are many internship opportunities out there, so if you don’t see potential in yourself to succeed, a good fit in the office atmosphere and a real interest in the job, your potential employer will see it too. The best thing to do is apply to three or more, and find the best one after the interviews are over.
Tip: If you have an interview in person and don’t like the feeling of the office, reconsider. While you may be able to tweak parts of the job itself, office culture is beyond your control. It can be difficult to be successful in an uncomfortable environment, even if the internship is "perfect on paper…it’s just like choosing a college!"