What Not to Do When Applying for an Internship

I had two paid internships while I was in college. I learned so much from these experiences, but they weren’t easy to get. I had to submit references, cover letters, resumes and clips… and I had to interview. I was the worst at interviewing—and still am—but somehow the employers on the other end of the line sensed my enthusiasm and took a chance on me. After all of my interviews, I followed up with thank you cards. I didn’t land several of the internships I applied to because, as I found out later from a couple of editors, the clips I presented did not fit on a letter-sized page. (Yes, these were the days when we had to physically cut out clips from newspapers.) Another factor may have been that I was up against fierce competition with Ivy League students who also wanted to work for The New York Times. (I found out I was one of the few interns at The Dallas Morning News at the time who didn’t attend a prestigious university, such as Yale or Princeton). In any case, the experiences I gained from my time interning at the nation’s most respectable publications were invaluable—so while I was designing an internship for Small Coffee, I decided that the only way I would get quality candidates was to offer a paid internship. I had a call for applications just recently. Here’s how the numbers broke down:

Fifteen people expressed interest in the position.

Eleven people sent me complete applications on time and ten people submitted their applications on time. One person sent me a generic cover letter and skeletal email, saying she wanted me to consider her for a full-time job. 

I set up nine interviews over the course of three days.

Eight people showed up and five people showed up on time.

Of the three who showed up late, one person turned the tables on me and said he wanted to know why they should hire me for their company. Toward the end of the “interview,” he said, “I think you may be too small for me.” The nerve.

Two people sent me a follow up email after the interview. And out of all of the people I interviewed, one person brought prepared questions and a notebook to take notes. She got the job.

This experience got me thinking that perhaps students applying for internships are not getting the right information about etiquette. Let me step in with a few guidelines to consider if you want to work for me, or another agency, as an intern. 

Do your homework.

Do some research about my business before showing up for your interview, and come prepared with thoughtful questions. Nobody wants to hear, “So… this is your full time job?” (No, I just do this for fun. Of course it is!)

No hugs on first meetings.

If someone sticks out his or her hand to shake, then shake it.

Be professional.

Professionalism goes beyond dress. Maintain eye contact with the person interviewing you, don’t put on too much perfume, and treat the interview seriously.

Be on time.

I would never hire anyone who showed up late to the first meeting because that sets the tone moving forward. Always give yourself at least 15 minutes of flextime, and if you’re running late then let the person know. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time…ever!

Be communicative.

Always email a thank you note to the person interviewing you. A friend of mine told me that applicants not sending her follow-up thank you cards were a deal-breaker. If interviewers remember you fondly, they might think of you for a future position. If you flaked out, please apologize. And if you don’t plan on showing up at all, don’t stand the interviewer up. It’s just plain rude, and people talk.

Bring a copy of your resume.

I’m personally not as big of a stickler on this as other people are, but it is a nice touch. (One intern I interviewed cooed over the fact that I brought printed copies of her resume, saying, “That’s so cute!”)



P.S. Am I missing anything? Leave me a comment!