I’ve been involved with the internship process in one way or another for nearly eight years. I’ve been an intern, worked with interns, supervised an internship program, and I think there are some important things to consider when applying for and choosing an internship. I’m not suggesting any of you wouldn’t have figured these out, but you’d be surprised with some of the things that have come across my desk.
There are internship experiences on all points of the spectrum; while occasionally someone is hired or gets to go on tour with a big band, the majority of them are fairly standard. There is always a way to learn and grow with an internship, but some are just not very exciting. If you can manage your expectations with this and not expect to do high-level or creative work, it’s less likely you’ll come to your internship unmotivated. I’ve seen it happen a number of times, where I’ve had interns tell me at the end of their term they were disappointed they didn’t get to do more creative work. Well, to put it bluntly, we had other things that needed more urgent help, and it would take a while for anyone to be trusted with that kind of work anyway. As an intern, you need to show enough initiative and skill to warrant that kind of trust, but expect that you’ll mainly be doing more basic office help such as filing, mailers, etc.
Another benefit to this is that you’ll have a generally better attitude at work, and attitude is a huge part of the game. At one of my jobs we had an intern who did a number of great things: he came to work energized every day, he made sure he kept busy by asking who needed help if he was free, and he never complained about the work we gave him. Before his internship was up, the head of our department spoke to HR and told them they needed to find him a job in the building; she didn’t care what department it was in since we didn’t have space at the time. He got a temp gig on another floor and was eventually brought back to our department.
The other common mistake is the resume and the way in which it is sent. When submitting your resume via email, you should attach a cover letter as well as a complete resume; your email does not count as your cover letter, just a quick introduction and a chance to mention your interest in the job.
Resumes can be in all kinds of formats, but your word processor should have some templates for you. Check those out, even if you plan on designing your own layout. Include only relevant information but don’t put anything in just to fill space; even though you may not have much coming straight from school, if the item isn’t related to the job you’re applying for it doesn’t need to be on the resume. As I learned in my first job, it is extremely important to pay attention to the details; this starts with how well you present yourself when you initially make contact.
The last thing I want to mention is making sure you are maximizing the opportunity of your internship. Read everything that comes across your hands, while making sure you’re getting your tasks done efficiently. Ask questions – learn from the people you work with about what they do and how they do it, even if you’re not planning on going into their field. The more they see you engaged in what you are doing, the more you’ll stand out. We’ve had interns that we recommended for other jobs, and ones who we only interviewed and passed along to other colleagues, even though we didn’t take them for our internship.
Hopefully this post has given you some additional things to consider when looking for an internship. I strongly believe that an internship can be a great way to gain some experience, and get your foot in the door with good people/companies. As long as you approach it with the right strategy and the proper attitude, you’re bound to come away feeling like it was a success.
Mike Swartz (Berklee alum ’03) is the owner of One Louder Creative, a Film/TV creative services company based in Nashville. He recently relocated there after almost 8 years in Los Angeles, where he interned (and worked) for top music supervisors, as well as stints in the Film/TV departments at Universal Music Publishing, EMI Music Group, and SONGS Music Publishing.