Internships: Top Ten Tips
Updated: Jun 1
So, its internship season for you students out there!
Now, I’m no expert, and you should also do some of your own research, but here are a few tips I hope might help you get started.
Disclaimer: This is advice given from my own personal point of view, don't take it as biblical, and only with a pinch of salt! There are SO many resources online to help support you and your application so please do lots of research!!
First, what makes me so qualified as to give you advice on getting an internship? Well, I'm probably not, but I'm going to anyway. I was lucky enough to find two internships in my second and third year at uni, and both were very different. The first one was working in industry in Bristol, and the other was a research project based in Grenoble in France. Like I said, very different, thus, the application process was very different.
So what made me choose these internships?
MBDA - Systems and Simulations
It was mostly to do with my interests at the time. I was always curious about the defence industry, and part of me always wanted to know more about it, having been interested in joining the armed forces (which some of you might find a bit shocking if you know me personally, as it’s not something I talk about very often). So, I applied for multiple defence companies, and I wasn’t sure where I sat with it ethically - thus, I wanted to learn more and find out for myself if it was the right fit for me. I applied for a simulations role at MBDA, I wanted to improve my coding skills, as well as work in simulations and in defence, as it linked well to my interests in physics (for people who do not have a science background - physicists make many simulation programs to model real-life systems and test theories - follow this link for an awesome cosmology example). This internship ended up being one of my best experiences ever! I can't wait to share details of it with you in a future post, but for now here is a little teaser of what I got up to!
I must admit, a small part of my decision to apply to defence is because there are SO many roles in it! I also applied for banking jobs as well as a few other randoms I found on gradcracker - It can be very tempting when applying for your first role to go for anything and everything, because you would feel lucky to land any role!
Although I would advise you to apply for as many as possible, please do try and apply for internships that you find interesting - it makes writing cover letters way easier and authentic…Also, it is 3 months of your summer holidays after all, and you want it to be a valuable experience.
IPAG - Research Intern, studying astrochemistry
The second internship, was also focused on my interests at the time, and I wanted to get better at doing some ‘real’ physics research. At the time, I wasn’t that bothered about finding a new role, because I was lucky enough to have been asked back by MBDA. However, my laboratory projects were so enjoyable I wanted to do more. I was also inspired by my boyfriend, Alex. He had found an internship abroad in France doing research, something that seemed unattainable for me at the time, as I wasn't very confident in getting one given I had just failed that entire semester - of which I will go into another time. Applying for another role in physics seemed completely out of reach, having lost all faith in myself as a physicist (sigh - deep, I know). After a good old talking to, from the bright light that is Alex, and some own personal reflection, I decided to send off a few of applications abroad. I spent weeks and weeks researching projects and perfecting my CV and multiple cover letters. Once I sent them off, one of the approximately seven I applied to got back immediately, and I knew it was the perfect fit for me! I was extremely lucky to find such a great match in terms of supervisor, research project and location (because who doesn't love the alps)! Again, I am SO excited to share with you my experience at IPAG, here's another little teaser for future a post!
Anyway, that experience ended up being the highlight of my career as a physicist (LOOK AT THE TELESCOPE!) and inspired me to carry on with my masters, and I am even considering doing a PhD afterwards. (Yes, I was so close to dropping out - but more on that later)!
So given this intro to my own experience, here are some of what I consider the top 10 tips in applying for internships:
Top Ten Tips
1. Be confident
The application process itself is the first filter to put potential candidates off.
So many people are put off by the idea of even applying to an internship due to their confidence, skill set and lack of experience (as was I). However, deciding on whether or not to apply is the first part of the process, and without even applying, you are already deciding the fate of not getting one. There is a reason companies and organisations make the application process awful - it filters out those who don’t really want it or who simply can’t be bothered.
“Fake it until you make it” is a real thing. In order to reach our full potential, we need to believe we are good enough to get there first. Men are literally better at this than women - it's been proven, but doesn't need to stay this way!
Hold up.. what?
OK so, in an internal study at Hewlett-Packard, it was found that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. So basically, men are confident to apply for a role when they meet only 60% of the requirements, whereby a woman would only have that same confidence if she met 100%. MAD. Although I am a true believer that everyone is their own person, and we shouldn’t really split between the sexes, I have seen this to be true and data doesn’t lie (most of the time).
Basically, girls (and boys) - You need to have more confidence in your selves!! If you are interested in a role, you should apply for it anyway - no matter what the spec!
2. Get some experience
This is where you need to make up for not having 100% of the requirements.
..it doesn't matter what experiences you have, as long as you have some.
So you know that classic paradox where its like, ‘I need a role, but to get this role, I need experience, but without experience, how will I get this role?” - a classic right.
So, even if you have only ever worked in hospitality, or baby sitting, or bar work, or if you have never worked a day in your life - you need to learn to talk about your experiences and make them relatable to the role you are applying for. Also, if you haven’t worked a day in your life, I would try and get some experience.. Volunteering, tutoring, outreach events or even societies (sports or social) within your university, are all fantastic (and SUPER fun) ways to get some brilliant experiences. They will bring you exposure to practising teamwork, leadership and working with others in difficult situations - great for you and also for interview content! If you have never seen an application before, most of them have these classics:
‘Explain a time where you had to show leadership:’
‘Give an example of a time where you experiences conflict with an employer:’
‘Give us a time where something didn’t go to plan and you had to think on your feet:’
You get the jist..
As aforementioned, it doesn't matter what experiences you have, as long as you have some. People skills are transferable and are needed in any role you do - even if you want to become a programmer and sit in a dungeon all day on your laptop - if you can’t communicate your ideas to others, you won’t ever be successful in selling that idea or making anything of it.
3. Think outside the box
So here are a few websites to get you going (click for direct link). However, I would recommend thinking outside the box from the standard industry and company roles that are advertised on these websites.
Think about what interests you as an individual. Do you really want to work for a company or would you prefer to do research within a university? Would you rather spend three months doing an internship, volunteering, or doing conservation? How long do you want to be interning for? Do you need flexibility?
These are all things you should think about before applying.
There are a few reasons why I bring this up, and how I thought outside the box when I applied for my second role in my third year.
I thought applying for a company would be easier, because the application process was there, they are already advertising an internship - so surely that's what I am more likely to get, because that role already exists… ? Not necessarily.
Yes, these roles exist, and they need filling, however, everyone will resort to these kinds of internships and the competition is real. Now I am not trying to put you off - my internship with MBDA was the best thing that I could have done in that moment of my life, and I am so grateful I did it. However, I am also SO grateful that I reached out personally to a professor in France, who wasn’t advertising.
Find your own internship:
Google your project interests, universities or companies that have departments which look into that interest. If you have found a recent paper that you enjoyed or found fascinating - why not email one of the writers? Make a google document on all these potential opportunities, and if you can, try and get in touch with someone directly within that department, or who is running the project you want to work on. Send them an email with a CV and cover letter catered specifically for that role - Do not use the same cover letter again and again - this must change for each role. Do cater each CV for each role. This isn’t as important as a cover letter, because if you are an undergrad, you might not have that much on your CV anyway, so don’t worry too much.
4. Write a KILLER cover letter
So with your new google doc filled with potential opportunities, start doing some more research. This is when you need to ‘wow’ your potential future boss. People love people who are interested in what they do, and love hearing good things about themselves or their work. Now you don’t want to ‘bum-lick’ your employer, but you do want them to know you’re legitimately interested in what they are doing, and express your interest in getting involved in an authentic and honest manner. So, the best way to do this is to read up about the company/organisation. If it is a research role, make sure you read up about the on-going projects, the department, and if you can, try and find some recent research papers by the professor or team you are applying for. This shows initiative and that you are really keen, and also that you know what you are getting yourself into.
Now, start to cater your application specifically to the role, and to you personally - think about your skills (personal and professional) and start to note down ways in which you are a suitable candidate for that role specifically.
That's pretty much the jist, and now you can start writing! Using your research about the organisation and role, in the covering letter, express your enthusiasm to get involved, name dropping what you found about the project, and use your personal experiences to back up why you are a perfect fit in support of your application. Also, make sure you inform them on your available dates and contact details near the top.
There are TONNES of extra stuff to consider when writing a cover letter, so ensure you do some more reading about this!!
Now I mentioned the cover letter first, because I do feel it is somewhat more important than a CV, because everyone will probably have a CV, but a cover letter is what makes you stand out.
So, take your time!! The cover letter is what landed me my second role - my supervisor said he didn't even look at my CV!
5. Write a KILLER CV
As with a cover letter, you need a CV. And you need a good one. Now this can be a tricky thing to give advice on because it depends on how much experience you have. Bu the standard outline for a CV for undergraduate level might look like this:
(RESEARCH - for a role in industry, you might want to consider putting employment/experience first- as this might be more relevant to the role)
<> denotes additional
NAME (not the words Curriculum Vitae - stating the obvious)
Date of birth, address, Email, Phone number, <LinkedIn, GitHub address>
Personal intro (optional)
Basically a little introduction to yourself, what you are currently doing and what role you are applying for. This should be a maximum of 2 lines long.
Education (dates/duration) DD/MM/YYYY - DD/MM/YYYY
This should be a list of your previous education. So for an internship, it could be your GCSEs, A-Levels, and maybe the most recent grade at university or a predicted grade. It should be in the order of most recent at the top, going back in time (reverse chronological order). This section should show the school/university, the grades, and the dates and duration you were at the institution. Highlight anything relevant to the role here.
Employment/Experience (dates/duration) DD/MM/YYYY - DD/MM/YYYY
This is where you need to state any work experience or volunteering you have had - now some people may think that waitressing or whatever is not relevant, however, I think it is important as it shows people skills and willingness to work. It should also be in reverse-chronological order. This section, like education, should show the job title/position, dates and duration, as well as a brief description of the relevant skills relating to the role of interest.
<Additional skills/interests> (dates/duration) DD/MM/YYYY - DD/MM/YYYY
Here is an additional section to talk about any personal projects, hobbies or interests which might relate to the role, or add a bit of personality to the CV. This section doesn’t normally exist on a CV, however, as an undergraduate with not much experience, it might be good to talk about personal projects which support your application and to give the potential employer an idea of what you are like as an individual.
Here, you can either put something like ‘References available upon request’ or alternatively list a few contacts (which you got permission from), who would happily give you a reference. This could be an academic adviser, personal tutor, lab tutor, or someone whom you have worked with in the past. During my undergraduate, I had two ‘physics’ references, and two ‘work’ references, from jobs I currently had (or most recently worked with).
Your CV should be one or two side long, avoid white spaces.
Now, of course this is what I personally used for an undergraduate CV and please do not take my word for it. There are SO many sources online to help with your application but I hope this helps to get you started.
6. Cater cover letters and CVs for EACH ROLE
As I mentioned before, you need to cater each CV and cover letter to each role. Be very careful with this as you might forget to change the wording e.g.reusing the same cover letter you sent to company1 to apply for a role at company2 might start with:
“ I am applying for the role of XX at company1 because…” … You can see how this is a problem.
So DO cater your CV for each role, as I mentioned before, not much may change due to lack of experience, however the personal section, education and experience might need a little altering to cater to that role or organisation. More importantly, the covering letter will need to be started from scratch! DO NOT copy and paste. You can use the same layout, for example, if you are using Overleaf or Latex, however, do make sure you write a new cover letter for each role. I was unaware that two professors I emailed were actually very close friends, and luckily I wrote them both very different cover letters (as they were in different departments and the research was very different) - I can assume my application might not have been as successful if I hadn’t.
Now, one thing that might come to mind is: ‘But if I cater to each role/company, does that mean I am pretending or not legitimate in saying that I am interested in them all’. And the answer is, no. You can be interested in more than one role, even if they are entirely different. You are an undergrad, and you are finding your way to the career of your dreams. You are still figuring it all out. You want to try everything you can. So don’t feel like your applications aren’t authentic because they are all different. But make sure you do your research and know what you’re talking about - The employer can see straight through an application where there has been no thought into it.
7. Follow up
OK, so you’ve spent a good few weeks researching, writing, and sending off applications.
Well, you can relax a little now, but as some time goes past (maybe a couple of weeks) and you have not had an answer, do not feel scared to send a follow up email. Something short and sweet like “Dear so and so, I hope you are well. I am just following up my recent email regarding an interest working in X and X. ..” And then reiterate why you are interested and perfect for the role, whilst staying humble and polite.
You may also want to ask if they require any additional documents to support your application. Again, advice on this can be found online, so get some fabby advice there. The main reason I mention this is because sometimes, people assume they didn’t get the job. Most of the time this isn’t the case. If you emailed someone directly, they may have accidentally swiped past it or made a personal note to reply later, and then forgot (remember, these people are humans too) - so don’t hesitate to get in touch!!
Be nice and polite, as well as showing you're still interested, like this Master Cookie Monster.
8. Don’t get disheartened, get used to no's and stick with it!!
One thing is for sure about applying for roles, is that it is time consuming and loads of effort.
You wake up one morning with an email from that company you sent an application off a month ago, they kept you guessing that entire time *Was I successful?*, and your heart skips when you see the subject 'Application for X role'. Upon opening that email, you see...
We would like to thank you for your application and interest in the role of X at X. Unfortunately you have not been successful…”
This can be extremely disheartening, especially first thing in the morning before your coffee.
But do not worry!! Someone got the job - and that someone can and will be YOU, but just not for this role. So go make a coffee, cheer up, and keep on applying!
I heard some funny stat that said for every 10 applications only 1 gets back. Now this isn’t to put you off, and this might not even be true. But, the reason I mention it is to let you know that ‘No’ or ‘Unsuccessful’ isn’t personal, and it's all part of the process. Also, if you are unsure why you didn’t get the role, send an email or ask HR for some feedback on your application - they might not do this for everyone, as it takes too much time and isn't a priority for that organisation. However, if you ask personally, they might give you some great feedback to help in future applications!
Ask for feedback
There are SO many things that go into job applications, and although you might have got a ‘no’ you don’t know how close you were to a ‘yes’. It might have been the tiniest thing, or you might not have been right for the role - which if you think about it, is actually a blessing in disguise for you anyway!
So don't feel bad! Don’t overthink it. Keep your head up, keep smiling, keep going and GOOD LUCK! Soon you'll be such a pro at applications it will become easier to complete more of them in a shorter amount of time!
9. Prioritise your time!
It may also seem like a great waste of time, applying for roles, when you have shot tonnes of work to be doing. So, make sure you get a good balance, and try and do applications instead of procrastinating, and only when you have caught up with all your uni work! It can be super frustrating if you have sacrificed uni work and potentially good grades for a role you didn't even get. So be smart, and prioritise your time!
This tends to put people off, but writing applications is a skill in itself. Every application and every interview, whether successful or not, is a learning curve and is just making you a better candidate for the next role, the one that might be perfect for you!
Remember: as one door closes, another one opens!
10. Interview and time saver tip
Make a google doc summarising all your experiences and answers to interview questions!
As I stated before, it's good to use a google doc when researching a role. Another good habit to do is to save each section ‘edit’ of your CV to a new google doc, in case you apply to a similar role. Now I know I said copying and pasting is bad, however, a little reuse and recycle is never bad for anyone.. As long as you make sure when you do put it back into the CV or cover letter, that it remains relevant and catered for that role/organisation. Once you have done this, you should have a document that contains every experience, role, job, volunteering or outreach work and project you have ever done. Ready for future you to use these as a reference to pick and choose the relevant experiences for the role you are applying for.
This will save you a tonne of time, and is also really great prep for an interview, should you become successful. That way, you have all your experiences, written up and ready for you to review as preparation for an interview - with additional ones that aren't on the original CV, so you will have fresh content to surprise the interviewer with! Another great tip, is to have a google doc with lots of interview questions on it, with your own personalised answers, ready for an interview! Of course each interview will differ, and you will need to do research for each one, however, there will always be some standard 'competency' based questions, which this little google doc will prep you for!
Believe me, when you get the confirmation email stating you were successful, there is no doubt your reaction will be like this...