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Making The Cut: 5 Tips for Landing a PAID Internship


As FI Girl mentioned in her article a few weeks back we KNOW this is our last full year in our current jobs yet we are ramping up and taking on even more responsibilities at work.  Another manager in my department is entirely focused on a strategic project this year so I was volunteered by upper management to inherit this other manager’s team and “non strategic” responsibilities.  Turning this down would have made it obvious that I didn’t have long term goals in the company so it was actually easier to take it on with a smile.

Part of this responsibility growth involved taking over the summer intern program for my department.  I remember applying for internships when I was in college and had very little luck until my senior year.  I had a high GPA from a good school and applied to hundreds of places.  I now have the insight as to why it was so hard to break in which is the topic for today’s article.


Its sad to say, but hiring interns is not the highest priority of most managers.  While it is important for companies to build their brand as a choice employer of new college grads, the reality is that the hiring manager has this as one of many activities competing for their attention.  By the time I got to reviewing the candidate list, the job requisition was 3 months old and had over 300 applicants for only 3 positions.


Let me emphasize that:  300 college students applied for 3 openings.  I asked HR if this was typical and they said it is like that every year for our company.  That means if you were selected, you had to out-compete 297 others to get it.


So as the hiring manager with 2 free hours on a Friday evening to review these resumes, I was completely caught off guard by the fact that there were 300 applicants.  I didn’t have time for that!  So I had to very quickly get the list down from 300 to less than 25.



HR did some of the work for me.  To be more precise, their filtering algorithm did.  When you apply for a position there is a program that scans the keywords of the job requisition and compares it to the content of your resume.  If you have a low match score the hiring manager doesn’t even see you as an applicant.


If you want to have a shot at making the cut and getting past the filtering algorithm, check out my top 5 tips for landing a PAID internship at a large company. (Note: You can apply most of these tips to any type of job/company)



Tip #1:  Take the time to rewrite your resume for the position you are applying to make sure the keywords are present.  Synonyms might not be enough.  If the requisition has acronyms, don’t have it spelled out in your resume, match it!
You also lose points the more positions you apply for in a short period of time with the same company.  There is an assumption (true or not) that someone who is applying to everything would have less loyalty or commitment to any specific position they are applying for.  For prior positions I have had posted, I would question HR on why I wasn’t seeing all the applicants.  Their response was they got auto-dropped for good reason… they applied to EVERYTHING.
Tip #2:  It’s not all a numbers game.  Applying to a ton of positions at the same company, without modifying your resume and cover letter for the position, could eliminate you right out of the gate.
The 300 person applicant pool was brought down to 125 via the filter.  175 resumes I never even had the ability to look at.  Good for me because it cut down my workload, bad for those 175 people who never gave themselves a shot.
Even 125 resumes for 2 hours means, on average, I have less than a minute to review any candidate. So I had to quickly create a methodology to determine who will make it to the next round.  For college kids without much work experience, the best I could do was use GPA to make cuts.  The requisition said minimum required college GPA of 3.0 out of 4.0.  The pool however was highly competitive, so I easily just made a judgement call to only look at resumes with a 3.5 or higher.
Tip #3:  Don’t let anyone tell you that GPA does not matter.  That isn’t how the world works when you are trying to get your foot into the door of a big company.  Most companies will set a cutoff that is 3.0 or higher for any college hires.  This is true of many fields across many industries.
 And just like that… 125 candidates instantly turned into 75 with this filter. Another 50 people I wasn’t even going to look at because of how deep the talent pool was to start.  Another important piece information here is that when I justify who I selected at the end of the process, I have to give my justification for hiring and demonstrate that I was consistent in my approach.  GPA is just too easy of an attribute to leverage.


Now with 75 candidates left with a goal of getting it down to 25, I started opening the cover letters.  Candidates without a cover letter were immediately cut from the pool.  Once again, I wasn’t worried about the talent left in the pool and I had to continue to get the numbers down.  I made a quick assumption that applicants who skipped the “optional” step of uploading a personalized cover letter did not want the position as much as someone who took the time to write a company specific / job specific cover letter.
Tip #4:  Care about “optional” steps when you apply.  It shows that you are willing to invest time in the process which is a nice signal to the hiring manager.
Have it be personalized to the position; tell a story as to why you fit the position.  More than one of the cover letters I opened were copy/paste jobs from other positions they applied to at other companies.  Obviously those folks were cut immediately.  Others used the cover letter to mention how their dad’s friend is a VP at the company.  That might work on other managers, not me though.  I just cut them because I disliked the tactic and once again I had a large enough pool to take that option.
There were about 35 left after the cover letter cuts.  Finally, I started looking at actual resumes,  matching their skills to both the “minimum requirements” and “preferred requirements” of the job requisition.  Generally this was a “best fit” exercise but a few folks disqualified themselves pretty easily here, with spelling and grammatical errors.
Tip #5:  We are in the world of casual writing thanks to texting and instant messaging.  The writing on this site is loaded with casual writing.  In fact, this is fine in most situations, but not on your resume to a large company.  It comes across as careless and most managers will use it as an easy tiebreaker.  Run a spell check and have others proof read your resume to be sure it is professional and free of spelling and grammatical errors.
After all of that, I was left with 23 candidates which was close enough to send back to HR to setup screening interviews.
So out of 300 only 23 even get called for an initial screening.  Even though the economic numbers out there say that unemployment is extremely low and that company earnings are growing steadily, it is still really hard to break in.
My hope is that this helps you or someone you know on their job search.

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