Mistakes to Avoid While Pursuing an Internship

By Joanna Kalemba
Economics Undergraduate Student

1) The Subtle Art of Making Sure You’re In

There comes a point during our time at university when each of us will ask ourselves: Is it the right time? Is it that moment? Am I ready? Ready to start looking for an internship.

Regardless of the degree you pursue, sooner or later, having something to put in the ‘Work experience’ section of your CV will become necessary. For this reason, I have decided to share with you a few of my observations that will hopefully help you avoid the most common application mistakes as you attempt to climb the first step of the career ladder.

2) Being Desperate  

We’ve all been there: A networking event, crowded room, you circle around with your complimentary glass of (good quality) wine, decide to join one of the groups of people clustered around one of the company’s employees, and immediately notice that one person. Their tone of voice and frequency of contributions to the general conversation reveals that they are probably in their final year, recently woke up at night realizing that their CV is unacceptably blank, and would do almost anything for that internship.

You do not want to be that person. We are all desperate for an internship and everyone enters the networking event hoping that they will be remembered. This is common knowledge. You know it and so does the recruiting officer who greets you. A better strategy than overt desperation, is asking yourself before you leave: What do I want to get out of the evening? What do I want to learn? Read about the company, try to understand what they really do, and find things you would like to know more about. And once you’re there, ask about it. Make sure to ask specific questions, rather than the general questions that the employees are already tired of answering. Most of all, be sure to meet both employees and the other participants, keeping in mind that they’re not machines to answer your questions.

Everyone has been helped at some point in their lives. And people want to return that, people want to help. If you chatted to someone for a while, enjoyed it, and feel that it would be wise to let them talk to others, thank them for their time and simply ask for their email address. Then you can follow up with some questions and you’re already way ahead of the desperate one.

3) Underestimating the Power of Insight Days/Weeks

Have you ever wondered why it is so tough to get an internship? One of the reasons is that people from insight weeks might have been offered positions before the applications had even opened. The ridiculously long application process for insight weeks/days may sometimes discourage you from applying, but don’t let yourself be fooled: the keyword is ‘fast-tracking’. It is rarely advertised, but big companies tend to treat insight weeks as a trial-period. A selected pool of applicants will be assessed on whether they are able to adapt to the business environment and whether they would suit the company culture. In the end of an insight week, you might be given an option to be fast-tracked to the final round of interviews. It’s like a trampoline that sends you right to the very end. In addition, after you’ve spent a considerable amount of time among the employees of the company, listening about what they do, you do have an advantage.

Even if you are not fast-tracked, an insight week is a perfect opportunity to learn what the firm and particular department really does and find out whether this has fits your expectations. Watch out for events such as Leadership and Talent academies organized by companies (have a look at EY and PwC) which will also help you to develop your professional skills. Even if you think you’re not interested in the firm in the longer term, make sure you make the most of the experience – the lessons you’ll learn from it can be used across industries and companies, not to mention the unparalleled networking opportunities.

4) Keeping it Quiet

This is a delicate one. It might be true that hiding your internship pursuits from your friends might keep the greatest opportunities from potential competition, but I will leave that for you to decide. From my own experience, I can certainly say that letting your friends and fellow IR/economics/mathematics/art history students know that you’re looking for work experience in a certain field can greatly help you. Sometimes they might know a person who works in the area you’re interested in and can put you in touch with them. Also, there’s nothing more motivating than having a friend who’s going through the same hell. Mock interviews, sharing tips and ideas – doesn’t that sound appealing?

5) Believing What They Tell You

As in many other situations in life, the truth differs greatly from reality. I have been told multiple times that there are no internships for non-penultimate students and I can show you several people who have been accepted without nepotism or family contacts. It is not easy to do, but being proactive (for example, asking the recruiting officer at a careers fair about opportunities) and an early start can lead you to success.

Don’t be put off by what they say, where there’s a will (and a good candidate), there’s a way.

6) Staying in your comfort zone

Interviews usually require you to turn your life into a series of bullet points and you into a skilled salesman. We haven’t all been born with the skill of selling ourselves, and seeing those who seem to be wired to do so can be daunting. But every day of our lives teaches us something and isn’t the purpose of a human life to grow and overcome our weaknesses? At the beginning we all start from the bottom: even the person who always speaks so confidently that they could persuade you to buy their old hoodie, had to learn the skill somehow. But if you are really motivated, speak up, reach out for opportunities that you might be tempted to give up because you think that you’re not good enough. You have absolutely nothing to lose and a lot to gain.

7) Waiting until it comes

Unfortunately internships, unlike Christmas, do not come every year regardless of all circumstances. They will not just arrive at your door. Hence effort and self-motivation is highly recommended. Most of us doesn’t know what we would like to do with our lives so trying something out for a few months (or even a few weeks) is the perfect way, if not to find out, then at least to cross things out of the potential list.

Starting is usually the toughest point. Staying motivated in the long run and accepting the failures comes next and although it is tough, lessons can be learnt from every part of the journey. I keep my fingers crossed for you all as you embark on, or continue fiercely, your internship pursuit!

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Feature image by Flazingo Photos

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