With summer break looming into view, I am sure that many of you have begun the hunt for a coveted internship in the international development field. Having just applied for a slew of jobs, internships and fellowships myself, I felt that it might be beneficial to pass along some of the tips that I have learned having undergone this exciting (and yet sometimes tedious) application process for the past four years.
In the current economy, applying for a summer position has become even more competitive and stressful. Students and young professionals are no longer afforded the luxury of cutting corners or being generic when applying for a position. The days of being able to send the same cover letter and resume to multiple organizations and merely tweaking the ‘to’ line are long, long gone.
Since I’m fairly certain that most people are not completely clueless when it comes to the interview process, I’ll spare you the lecture on common tips such as what to wear, controlling nerves, speaking clearly and confidently, etc. Below are my top seven tips for setting your job application apart, nailing the interview, and landing your desired summer position.
1. Use your networks.
Many of the internship opportunities that I have applied for I heard about through a friend, former colleague, or classmate. Talking to my classmates about their different internship experiences has provided me with a good indication of who are the top employers, where to look for exciting job opportunities, the culture of different organizations and which organization may be the best fit for me. I have also had many former colleagues forward me job opportunities that they thought I may be interested in. With so few opportunities available these days, utilizing your network is an absolute must. Make sure to talk to as many people in the field as you can, and ask everyone to send you any opportunities that they may stumble upon.
2. Don’t be lazy. Tailor your application.
As I mentioned above, do NOT submit a generic or ambiguous cover letter or CV. I know that it can be tempting, especially if you are applying to dozens of jobs. However, you must resist the urge and put in the extra time! Be sure to read the position description, do your research about the organization, and customize each application to reflect how your previous experience and future ambitions make you a perfect fit for this specific position.
3. Preparation is key.
After weeks of playing the waiting game, you hear back and have been offered an interview. First, take some time to appreciate and celebrate this small success! You deserve it.
You should start preparing for the interview a few days in advance (at the latest). Before the interview, you should know the organization’s website like the back of your hand. It is important to know the company’s mission, values and anything related to the position or team you have applied to work with. If they are available, skim some of the organization’s annual reports and try to incorporate what you have learned about their past and present projects into your interview answers. Also, if you have any kind of connection to someone who works for or has worked at the organization, be sure to ask them for the insider scoop on what the interviewer is looking for.
4. Don’t be afraid to creep.
Okay. I’ll admit it. I used the internet to do some serious research (read: creeping) on my interviewers, and even the intern who had previously held the position. It actually turned out to be extremely helpful. In the process, I found a series of YouTube videos in which my interviewer had spoken at length about some of projects that the team was working on. When I researched the student who had previously held the position, I was extremely surprised to find some of the interview questions! It turns out that someone had written an article about her getting the internship and the article mentioned that “the applicants were asked to outline a proposed innovation to address a complex global health challenge” which turned out to be very similar to one of the questions I was asked during the interview. Don’t be afraid to use the creepiness of the internet to your advantage.
5. Do a mock interview.
Make up a list of questions that you think may be asked by the interviewer and do a couple run throughs with a friend or a family member. Trust me, it will help to ensure that your answers are more clear and confident during the actual interview.
6. Be yourself.
The interviewer is looking for someone who will be an ideal fit with the organization and the team. Do everything in your power to come across as professional and extremely interested in the position, but do not try to be something that you are not. I personally am an extremely outgoing, animated and sometimes overly enthusiastic person, which can be very off-putting to some people. Although I try to tone it down in interviews, I often don’t succeed. At the end of the day, that is the way that I am and the way that I would act as an employee. If the team leader does not feel that I am the type of person that they want to work with – it is probably for the best. Make sure you are portraying an accurate representation of yourself in the interview, it will probably be the reason you get the job. If being yourself works against you, at least you won’t be working in a terrible work environment with people who don’t like you!
7. Don’t beat yourself up! Every interview is a learning experience.
One time I had to do a two hour long case study-based interview for a position I was completely unqualified for. Calling my performance in the interview an utter failure would probably be considered an understatement – I literally almost started crying in the interview! You are not going to have a perfect interview every single time so don’t beat yourself up about it. Treat it as a learning experience: write down the questions you were asked and think about how you could improve your answers. I can almost guarantee you that the interview will go better next time.
Do you have a particularly interesting or cringe-worthy job interview story? Maybe some tips for other aspiring international development professionals? Be sure to leave them in the comments section, I would love to read them!