Seven Do’s and Don’ts for internship seekers—first of two blog posts

In the last….  Ahem…. thirty years, I must have had more than a hundred young people work for me as interns, in the nonprofit organizations and government programs I led, and more recently as a private consultant. 

I have always felt that internships provide a unique way to learn about the historic preservation field, in an environment where students can get “hands on” skills and be introduced to more people in the field.  I have always paid my interns the going rate in the area because unpaid internships would ultimately be open only to those who were able to work free.  This is not what I want to see in the preservation movement.  I want interns of all economic backgrounds to work for me.  I hope they learn valuable skills and ideas as well as provide high quality work for me, so paying the going rate has made it easy for me to recruit very high quality students from some of the best graduate programs in the country no matter where I lived.

I have just completed another internship cycle, where I sought candidates, reviewed more than 20 resumes and interviewed eight young people from a variety of schools for a part time position with Heritage Consulting Inc. for this summer.   This blog post distills some of the experiences I had this year in my search for interns and provides advice that I would give to any preservation student as they seek an internship for the summer or during the school year.  This blog post deals with the Seven Do’s for Internship Seekers.  Next Wednesday look for the seven Don’ts.

Seven Do’s for Internship seekers

Do learn about the organization before you write your cover letter

Please make an effort to learn something about the firm or organization posting the internship before you start to write your cover letter.  Read their web site and any newspaper articles you can find (from the last six months) by doing a basic Google Search.  Have a good idea about the major activities of the organization, and then decide if your skills could be helpful based on the job description and duties. Trust me, if you take even 15 minutes to learn about the organization or firm by reviewing the web site or the Executive Director or firm principal’s LinkedIn profile, you will be a better applicant and stand out from the rest.

Do follow up by email after you send your application package 

After you send a well-crafted letter and all the required information (see info in the Don’ts tomorrow about this issue), follow up with a brief email after about a week.  Some internship applications and most job applications go to a generic email address and the job description expressly says “No Phone Calls Please” so don’t call.  Rather,  send an email and make contact with someone at the organization to see if your application package arrived.  If the person you reach says they do not know about your application, ask to send your materials to them personally.  This shows initiative and interest in the job/organization.

Do prepare if you are called for an interview

If you are invited to interview, please go back and review the press clippings and the firm/organization’s web site.  Come prepared with three or four questions about the job, the organization and the person interviewing you (if you know who it will be).  Please appear interested in the job, even if you think it is stretch based on your skills.  Do not ruin your chances (by determining even before you interview for the job) that it is not for you. Be enthusiastic.  The goal of an interview is to be invited back for another interview and maybe get the job. So please prepare well even if you don’t think the job is the right fit. Every interview is experience for the next interview.

Do be on time and look sharp.

Reconfirm with your interviewer the date, time and location of the interview a day or two before.  This shows interest.  Show up on time, or even a few minutes early.  Look sharp. Wear business clothing. Make a good impression.  Showing up on time or early shows respect for the interviewer’s time.

Do contact your references in advance

Call your references before the interview and ask if they would be willing to speak very highly of you.  If there is any doubt that they will not, then find someone else.  Employers want to talk to your supervisor, and it is always suspect if you list your peers rather than your boss as a reference.  Employers understand that  you may not want your current boss (if you have one) to know you are looking for something new, so having a colleague serve as a reference for that job is ok.  However, having only peers as references and not supervisors is a red flag.  Tell the interviewer that your references are ready to speak highly about you.  Make sure that the interviewer’s call to your references is not a surprise. It won’t be if you call your references in advance.

Do ask for feedback and suggestions about other places to look, if you are not successful this time

It is always disappointing, not getting the job.  If you followed up after the interview (see info tomorrow about thank you notes), you would know when a decision might be made.  If you do not get the job, turn this to your advantage by asking for sincere feedback.  Maybe there is something that you could do to improve your chances next time,  so ask for suggestions.  Also, ask for advice about other places where you should be looking.  The interviewer has already invested in you and thought you were a good prospect for their job.  Ask for their help to network with other organizations/firms  in the area (we will be writing about networking 101 for preservationists later in the month).

Do connect with your interviewer on LinkedIn and maybe Facebook

As a person new to the field, students need to gather many good contacts into your network.  People who you interact with during any job interview are good prospects.  Ask to connect with them on the major social networking sites, either before or right after your interview.  LinkedIn is an excellent networking site.  See if the organization has a Facebook Fan Page and join that too.

I hope this post and the one coming next Wednesday about some Dont’s for your internship search, are useful. Please share any other bits of advice that you want to share in the comments section below.  Next week we will talk about Seven Don’ts for internship seekers.  Look for all four blog post about starting and growing a career in historic preservation this month.