I've decided to make a three-part (how to apply, the interview, how to succeed) series on internship in hopes that it will get at least one person their dream [temporary] job.
At this point, I should make a note that yes, most internships (especially those in Washington, DC) are unpaid. This is due in large part to the competitiveness of the internships and also that they are provided by the government, non-profits, and think tanks who for the most part, have no money. While the internships are not paid, sometimes graduate or undergraduate programs have scholarships you can apply for to get a stipend. I encourage you to look into those opportunities as soon as you realize you want an unpaid internship. Some internships provide their own stipend or include travel funds, and most internships allow you to go to lunch programs which provide FREE FOOD. Remember, an internship is an investment into your future, and also happens to be the way most young professionals get their first full-time job.
If you are having trouble figuring out what exactly you want to spend your summer doing, browse through sites like idealist, indeed, or the global job board and see what piques your interest. I found my second internship, not because there was a posting, but because I was searching organizations that had to do with Korean studies and from the organization's website I found their application for Fall internships. If you have a specific organization you want to work for, go directly to their site and look for employment opportunities. Summer internships often ask you to apply early so start your search in December for internships at the State Department, and other institutes that you may need a security clearance for.
Once you find the internship of your choice here are the MUST DOs when applying:
- Read the application directions and follow them: You will automatically be cut from the hiring process if you submit a 3,000 word document when they ask for a 1,000 word writing sample. I only bend the rule when a job summary asks for qualifications such as "3-5 years experience" or a graduate degree. The organizations are writing out their dream candidate-- just remember to highlight in your application WHY you would not need those qualifications to be a stellar candidate.
- Make sure your cover letter states the right organization that you are applying for: Anyone who is in charge of hiring has seen the cover letter come through with the wrong title/organization. Make sure you AT LEAST change the title and organization if you are not going to tailor the cover letter to that exact job/internship. Please remember that making specific ties and connections to the company you are applying to will increase your chances--this means an extra half hour research to make your resume stand out. Probably worth it in the end.
- Try to write directly to the person in charge of hiring: If you seen on the website there is an intern coordinator address the letter to him. If it's as easy as looking at the website it 100% needs to be in the cover letter or it only shows the person hiring that you do not care enough about the organization to even do 5 minutes of research
- Streamline the header for your cover letter, resume, and writing sample: This looks extremely professional and clean to someone hiring. It also shows your attention to detail.
- Have someone look over your application: In the workplace, your work will almost never have just your eyes on it, it is only realistic for you to have someone peer-edit your cover letter and resume to make sure every i is dotted.