How to Make Your Internship Application Stand Out

When I was a college student, I applied to a ton of internships and didn’t hear back from every employer. My first and only thought was that I didn’t hear back because they thought I wasn’t qualified. But here’s what I wish I knew back then: there are so many other reasons you might not hear back. I didn’t realize this until I had a chance to be on the other side of the interview process.

We put up a job posting for a summer internship and received hundreds of applications. Many of these applications were so similar that it came down to nitty-gritty things that set some applications apart from others.

I felt bad choosing one resume over another because I thought about the college student on the other side who might think they didn’t move forward because they were unqualified. I turned to a couple of my friends who had experience as recruiters to help me narrow it down. And here’s what I learned — small things can make or break your internship application.

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Here are nine small things that set similar candidates apart from each other. DISCLAIMER: It’s possible that none of the information on this blog post is new information to you. But I can tell you from first-hand experience, these nine well-known things helped us narrow 50 similar internship applications down to 3.

1. Do some self-discovery

Here at Post-College Journey, we believe that self-discovery is key to the job-hunting process and internship application. There are many reasons we believe this. But the reason that most correlates to this blog post is that self-discovery is the easiest way to make your application stand out.

There are so many students with good grades who participate in related clubs and organizations that at some point, the applicants are pretty similar. Remember how I said we had to narrow down from 50 to 3 applicants? Well, I’m sure that any of those 50 applicants would have been exceptional interns. What made the top 3 applicants stand out was the personality they were able to communicate through with their application.

The easiest way to show your personality through your application is with self-discovery. Download this Productive Job-Hunting Cheat Sheet to help you get started and always know what to do next in your job/internship hunt.

2. Make sure your resume is laid out well

How to make your internship application stand out
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Your resume doesn’t need to be one of those colorful, fancy ones you see being sold on Etsy. Unless you are a creative applying for a job where you need to show off your artistic skills. But your resume does need to be easy to scan.

Here’s how you can find out if your resume is scan-able:

  • Have someone who hasn’t seen your resume before, read the job description you are applying for
  • Hand them a printed version of your resume
  • Give them one minute to look at it
  • Then ask them what their takeaways were from your resume

3. Create a new resume for each internship you apply for

There are two reasons for this:

  • Generic resumes make it harder for recruiters and hiring managers to connect the dots between your resume and the job description
  • Some (especially bigger) companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). This technology goes through resumes and shows recruiters the top candidates to look at

Here’s what you can do:

  • Have one generic resume that has EVERYTHING
    • related coursework or projects
    • previous experience
    • honors and awards
    • skills
    • etc (this copy can be longer than the standard one page)
  • Duplicate it 
  • Make these edits to the duplicate:
    • Narrow it down to one page
    • Use keywords/similar language from the job description

Did you know that creating your resume is actually step in the job-hunting and internship application process? Download the productive job-hunting cheat sheet here to learn more about the first three steps.

4. Make sure the experience on your resume correlates to the job you are applying for

The easiest way to do this is to make sure you are using keywords from the job description. For example, if you are applying for a social media internship and under tasks and responsibilities it says, “manage social media calendar” and you have experience doing that, use that exact phrase. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. You may see a correlation between the tasks you did and what is in the job description. But you can’t assume the recruiter will be able to connect the dots the same way (or that they have the time to dive deep into your resume). Spell it out for them
  2. Using keywords will help you just in case they have a bot that sorts applications (ATS)
  3. Using exact phrasing will help recruiters better understand your experience
    • Recruiters aren’t the same as hiring managers. They don’t always know the ins and outs of each job they are hiring people for

5. Include the city the job is located in on your resume

If you are applying to a job that’s different from the city you live in and you know you will definitely move there if you get the job, include the city on your resume.

If you live in a different city or state, it confuses recruiters and hiring managers because they aren’t sure if you didn’t realize the city of the company you are applying for or if you thought it was a remote position.

6. Have different people check your resumes for errors

I’ve heard the “make sure your resume doesn’t have errors in it” advice before. And I thought it didn’t matter because I ALWAYS triple checked my resumes before I sent them out. But then when I had to get back into job hunting, I opened an old resume and saw some errors.

The problems with you proofreading your own resume are (or having one dedicated person to proofread):

  • You’ve read your resume so many times that you already know what it’s supposed to say. So instead of reading it as it actually is, it’s possible that you will read it the way you intend it to be
  • Someone with fresh eyes on your resume brings both the ability to proofread and show you ways to improve your resume

7. Always make sure you follow the application instructions

I’ve seen a few job posting on LinkedIn that have the “Easy Apply” button and clear instructions at the bottom of the JD (job description) that say to email your resume and cover letter and that, “applications that don’t follow these instructions will not be considered.”

8. Don’t make yourself sound overqualified

For example, if you are applying for an internship, you don’t want the first experience on your resume to say that you are the creative director of your own company or blog. 

What a creative director does is completely different from what an intern would do. So questions that pop up are:

  • Why does this person want to be an intern when they are a creative director?
  • Will this person get bored as an intern?

Instead, make sure the focus is on:

  • what you’ve learned from blogging or owning a company and how it applies to the job you are applying for
  • the fact that you took it upon yourself to create something

The way I did this with my blog when I was applying for internships was I listed my title as “Blogger.” Then I followed up with bullet points that exemplified what I learned as a blogger and were specific to the job description.

9. Apply early

Unless the job description has a deadline on it, it’s best to apply as early as possible because companies start reaching out to candidates as applications come in. What this means is that if you see an internship you are interested in, get your application in as soon as possible.

But if you come across an internship you are interested in and it was posted a month ago, it’s still worth a shot to try. Just don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back

Like I said before. it’s possible that none of the information in this blog post is new to you. But I hope that by reading this blog post, you know to pay extra attention to these eight (seemingly small) things that can make or break your internship application.

Now you know the nine small things you can do to make your internships application stand out. Which means it’s time to get to work on your internship application. Click here to get started with the productive job-hunting cheat sheet. If you found this blog post useful, you’ll also enjoy this blog post on reasons you aren’t hearing back from employers.

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