It’s fall, which means it’s time for young journalists to start getting their internship applications ready. It’s best to work on your applications sooner rather than later, and to find ways to make your application stand out from all the others. Crafting a strong application takes time, but it’s worth it if it lands you an internship — and possibly a job later down the road.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when applying for internships this fall.
Start looking now. It’s October. If you haven’t looked into newsroom internships or at least started researching deadline dates and application materials you’ll need, you’re behind. There’s no reason you can’t start researching possible newsrooms where you’d like to work, even if the application deadline isn’t until early next year. Start now, so you’re not scrambling later.
Become reacquainted with your cover letter and resume. It’s the season to update both of these items. Get a friend or mentor to proofread them and make sure they exemplify your qualities and qualifications. Read your resume and cover letter out loud to make sure the writing sounds OK and to check for typos. You wouldn’t want an editor to put your application in the trash bin just because of a small typo.
Get in touch with your references. Look through your list of contacts and get in touch with former editors to tell them about your plans for the year ahead. Ask them for advice on what you should be applying for, and goals you should be trying to accomplish this school year. If you don’t have references, try to get at least three of them.
Stick to the professional experience you want to have. Don’t apply to be a design intern if you really want to be a reporter. If you know what you want your internship experience to be, apply for the exact position you want. Once you get the internship you want, you can ask to get experience in other areas that interest you.
Look locally and nationally. Don’t confine yourself to your hometown or the city you go to school in. If there’s a publication or station you like in a different city, see if they have an internship program and apply for it. If they ask you why you want to work out of state, be ready to explain why. Sometimes, the best way to get to know a new city is to be a reporter or photojournalist in it; you get to visit different parts of the city while on assignment, and you meet a lot of people in the process.
Take advantage of subletters. I’m always amazed by the number of students who let their summer living situation hold them back from applying for (often paid) internships out of state. Don’t put yourself out of the running for competitive internships just because you don’t think you’ll find a subletter or haven’t considered trying to find one. Chances are, you’ll be able to find a place to say. Cross that bridge when you actually get an internship offer.
Keep your (paid and unpaid) options open. Despite the criticism surrounding unpaid internships, I don’t think you should discredit them altogether. My philosophy has been: don’t turn down an opportunity until you’ve assessed the offers on the table. Apply for a combination of unpaid and paid internships and see which ones come through. If you don’t have at least one newsroom internship, it’s going to be difficult to land a paid summer gig. Don’t put yourself above an unpaid internship. It might mean taking on a part-time job, especially if money is tight, but experience is experience. A small weekly or daily could give you some great sink or swim reporting experiences.
Have a Web presence (beyond social media). Google could be your best friend or worst enemy when applying for internships. Recruiters will Google your name to see what comes up first. Ideally, your blog/digital portfolio would pop-up first. Update it with new clips from the summer, and make sure the blog entries are current. If you’re a broadcast journalist, upload new videos to your YouTube/Vimeo accounts. Take a weekend to sit down and create a digital portfolio. It also looks good when you claim your domain name.
Clean up your social media. Plain and simple: if you wouldn’t want your parents and grandmother to see what you post on Twitter or Facebook, then either don’t post it or change your privacy settings. Show prospective editors that you know how to use social media to promote your work, build an audience and engage with others. In addition to being on Facebook and Twitter, you should have a LinkedIn account that details your experience and the opportunities you’re looking for.
Regardless of the outcome, find ways to practice journalism. If you don’t get an internship, that’s OK. There are steps you can take to make up for it. Find a news site you could freelance for, write news and new analysis on your blog, grab a camera and do your own stand-ups and packages, teach yourself skills like coding, infographic making and Final Cut. And join your college newspaper, if you haven’t already. Create a learning opportunity for yourself and run with it.