The Caffeinated Internship Series, Part I: Doing the research

Welcome to Part 1 of my internship series! In this series of blog posts, I give advice on the internship search (a lot of which can also be applied to the entry level job search)! I’ve scored my share of life-changing internships, so I’m super excited to pass on what I’ve learned to all of you.

Once January hits, it’s go time for internship application season. A few applications might have already opened, especially in the accounting/finance sector, but most companies across industries don’t start the hiring process until late winter/spring. So you’re here at the right time! Welcome, you ambitious badass, you.

Okay, so let’s dive right in. First things first– you need to find internships to apply to in the first place, right? For many, this is the hard part, because it can be time-consuming to find openings. But don’t worry, I gotchu. Here are some of my favorite tricks for starting the search:

Create a spreadsheet.

This is your home base for all things internship search. On a Google sheet or Excel– whichever scares you less– make an Internship Search 2018 sheet, with columns for the following categories:

  • company name
  • internship title
  • a link to the application
  • materials needed (does it ask for recommendation letters? does it have a weird essay or project to test your skills?)
  • deadline
  • extra details (anything interesting about the company or connections you have)
  • status (here is where you’ll fill in whether you’ve applied, gotten a response back, etc.).

Once you have a place to list all the applications and openings you find, it’s time to go find them!

Narrow down your criteria for a good fit.

Do you need to be in a specific location, or are you open to a number of cities? Does it need to be paid? What kind of company are you looking for– a big advertising agency? A small local business? These will all be important to keep in mind as you start searching.

Let the Googling begin.

Start with the basic job sites, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed and Monster are all fine and good, but not every company will post their openings there (especially internships). So in many cases, you’ll need to go directly through the company website, which means you should be googling the companies themselves.

When I was looking for PR internships my junior year of college, I knew I wanted to work in fashion, beauty or lifestyle, so I specifically searched for Free People, Nordstrom, etc. Some of these seemed way beyond my reach, but you never know what will happen: Nordstrom reached out to me for interviews, and I ended up making it to the final round even though I was just a junior.

Once you start finding openings, you’ll put them into your handy dandy spreadsheet that you created earlier. Woohoo!

As you keep going, you’ll see new opportunities pop up. Internships are constantly being posted, so you pretty much never run out of things to apply to. It’s also a good idea to set up notifications for new job postings on apps like LinkedIn Jobs and Glassdoor, so that you receive constant updates on what’s opening up.

Network. Network network network.

I know. It’s a necessary evil. But you know what? Sometimes it’s exactly what needs to happen for your dreams to fall in to place. It’s not as scary as people make it sound, especially now that we have LinkedIn. So start reaching out to professors that might have industry connections. Go to career fairs (they’re fun! I swear!) and find out what companies look for. Use your school alumni network. Talk up the guy at the bar who just happened to intern in your dream industry last summer. Yes, even parties are the perfect place to network. See? Not scary. Fun. I can tell you’re not convinced. But trust me.

There are so many networking opportunities that you wouldn’t have even thought about before. Go get ’em, tiger.

Question Time (things you might be wondering at this point)

Q: How many internships should be on my list?

A: Don’t stop ’til you get enough! You should always be adding to the list, right up to when you get that offer letter from your dream job. But if you want a solid number, the reality is that you should be applying to around 30 jobs. I am not joking around.

Q: Are you trying to kill me?

A: Maybe. But okay, you can make this so much more manageable than you think. Break down your list into 7-10 “priority” applications to focus on at a time, based on their deadline/urgency, and how much you want it. Then knock out one or two apps a day. See? Not so bad.

Q: What if my dream company doesn’t have an internship program?

A: List them anyways, and see if you can still intern there by reaching out directly and offering your services. This is where the cold email comes in: You find the right person to contact, figure out what their needs are, and send them an email describing who you are and how you can contribute to filling those needs with your skills. Kinda like a cover letter, but shorter and in email form. You got this.

And FYI, cold emails are often a great idea even when you apply through a formal application system. We’ll cover that next in Part II: The Cover Letter and Resume. Stay tuned!

How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Excited? Internship/job apps can be stressful, but I’m super hopeful that I can help. The search is on!!



How I landed my first fashion internship

It’s never too early to start your dream career, especially when it’s a tough industry like fashion. The problem is, you have the catch-22 of getting entry-level experience: To get experience, you need experience. So how do you go about getting your first job or internship when you don’t have a previous experience? WHAT IS THIS CONSPIRACY??

What they don’t tell you is that you do have previous experience. Maybe it’s not an internship, but by the time you’re in college looking for internships, you’ve got plenty of valuable stuff under your belt, from school to extracurricular activities, to your personal passions and interests. The trick is packaging. Yup, packaging. It’s all in the presentation.

After lots of trial and error and Internet research, I was able to spin what little experience I had into resume gold. I turned my after-school retail job and my one year of college education into the first internship of my dreams at Note To You Little Sister (NTYLS), a San Diego-based online fashion retailer with killer clothes and an amazing brand story.

Here’s how I did it:

The internship search

Finding your passions and shooting for the moon and all that

It’s a rough time applying to summer internships as a sophomore. You’re competing with people who have eons of experience ahead of you. But I was both stubborn and stupid, which isn’t a bad combination when it comes to the gutsy experience of going for jobs way beyond your reach. Because guess what? You’ll get rejected, but you never know where you’ll get accepted. I applied to PR agencies that would probably not even give a junior in college the time of day, but what did I know? I just kept trying.

Tip: Start with what you’re naturally interested in, and go from there. Make a list of everything you want to apply to, even if you don’t think you’re qualified yet.

I knew I wanted to work in fashion, so I applied to big fashion brands like Free People, Nordstrom, and also smaller boutiques that I found on Instagram and just Google. I made a spreadsheet of all my dream jobs and internships, from ones I thought I had a reasonable chance with, to ones I had no business applying to. And I ended up landing one of the internships I thought I had no business applying to. You are not wasting your time if you really care about the places you apply to.

The resume

Standing out both visually and verbally

Knowing I had to stand out even more as a sophomore, and because I was applying to a creative industry, I designed my resume with some flair. I used Canva to create a gorgeous, personalized resume that was so unbelievably extra I couldn’t even believe what I had done. But guess what? BEING EXTRA WORKS. Job searches are the time to be extra, ladies and gentlemen.

(Are there any gentlemen reading my blog? I have no idea, to be super honest.)

Then, I had to make the content sing. Since I was focusing on fashion jobs, I focused my experience on fashion. My first job was at a local clothing store, so that was great, but I also had to connect my jobs as a cashier at the campus bookstore, a ride operator at Legoland, and a writing tutor. Not as easy. Yet there are so many ways to make connections– for example, with the writing tutor position, I described how I build relationships with each unique individual that comes in for tutoring, and connected that with managing client relationships in PR.

Tip: Think about how your experiences can directly apply to the job you want, even if it doesn’t seem applicable at first.

At your first job in Hollister (or Taco Bell, or wherever), you may think that all you did was fold clothes and operate a cash register. But there’s more to it, so don’t sell yourself short. You have experience working with customers. You worked on a team. You addressed problems and handled challenges that came up.

The cover letter

Being direct and being different

How many cover letters in fashion do you think have the phrase, “I have a passion for fashion”? I would literally guess that 90% of them. And the people in charge are tired of it. They’re also tired of cover letters that aren’t personalized.

Tip: Cookie cutters are for cookies, not cover letters.

When sending out applications and emails, I always, ALWAYS started with a personal connection to the company, and then made everything I talked about directly relate to what I could do for that company. NTYLS was founded by sisters, and operates with the mission of offering sisterly advice and hand-picked clothes. When applying, I told the founders that I related because my own sister and I steal each other’s clothes, and I genuinely loved what they were all about.

The portfolio

Fake it ’till you make it (in a good way)

Don’t have professional work samples yet? Make them up. I don’t mean lie– I mean impress the company you’re interviewing for with work samples that you created on your own as if you already worked there. For example, when I applied to places like Nordstrom and Free People, I sent a press release announcing Nordstrom’s new fall boot looks, with actual photos and links to shoes they carried. For FP, I wrote a pitch as if I were pitching Free People products for a holiday gift guide to an editor at Refinery29. And for NTYLS, the job I got, I wrote copy for an advice column I saw on their website. The devil is in the details, and you can show the company that you did your research.

Tip: Use your resources to look as professional and polished as possible.

I didn’t have enough school training yet to know exactly how to write a press release or a good pitch, but thankfully Google exists and you can learn a thing or two yourself! Be confident that you are capable of more than you know!

The interview

Show up prepared. In fact, overprepared.

I don’t actually think it’s possible to be overprepared for an interview. Beyond the typical answers to interview questions like “Tell me your greatest accomplishment” and “What do you think makes you different from other candidates?” I came in armed with knowledge of everything there was to know about fashion and NTYLS.

I made a list of fashion industry trends and my favorite bloggers, and scoured the NTYLS website and social media to prove I understood the company and meant business. During the interview, I referred to specific things, like a kimono I saw for sale on the site or an Instagram post. My interviewer let me know later that very day that I was hired.

Remember that you should have all the confidence in the world. After all, if you’re applying to internships early in the game, you’re already proving that you can think one (or two) steps ahead. 

Coming up next, I’ll post about my experience in the fashion world, and how I eventually made the move to beauty!