I just ran through another round of intern applicants and it brought me back to some fundamental issues that young applicants have when they are looking for a first job or a college internship in marketing.
Admittedly, these tips apply more to those who are interviewing with me (and those like me) than perhaps a more stoic law firm or financial institution. Nevertheless, I consider them to be a good rule of thumb to keep in mind.
- Try not to be nervous. I know that’s hard – especially if you’ve never had a “big kid job” – but if your voice is wavering, or you’ve failed to prepare, or you look like a deer in headlights, I have no idea if that’s going to go away in a 3 or 4-month internship. Practice your interview questions with teachers, family, and friends, before sitting down with me. It will make you more comfortable and give me confidence that you won’t be too terrified to actually get work done. I can’t have someone that’s too afraid of me or my account manager to speak up if there’s a problem, that’s afraid to ask questions, or that’s going to jump anytime I ask them questions.
- Proofread. Three times. Then have someone else proofread. I have yet to receive a single cover letter or writing sample that doesn’t have an error in it. Either the English teachers in high schools and colleges are doing a crappy job now (which I’d hate to think is the case), or kids these days are too reliant on spell check to even download something like Grammarly to check their work.
- Don’t be too eager – unless you’re genuinely super interested. One of our former interns (now a team member), saw our job posting and was very eager to get the position. She wrote a “cover letter” email that was incredibly genuine. It read the way she spoke – intelligent, enthusiastic, and eager. It wasn’t filled with thesaurus writing (you aren’t “ardently excited”) it wasn’t copied and pasted, and it was specific to our company, our voice, and our job posting. You will not be called in for an interview if I feel like all you did was swap out our names and email addresses.
- Practice interview questions. You should expect to be asked about yourself and your interests, your goals in 5-10 years, your strengths and weaknesses, how you respond to stress and pressure, and what your schedule is for the semester (if applying for an internship). Also, we will ask you if you have questions for us and I expect you to have some. You can write them down if you fear you won’t remember in your nervousness (we don’t mind that). Ask about our clients, our goals as a company, how the team interacts outside of work, what a typical day would look like, etc. These are great starting points for discussion.
- Notes about writing samples. For virtually every position we request a writing sample. This is simply because you must have excellent written communication to work at a marketing agency. I don’t feel this is too much to ask. Here are some notes based on what we’ve seen that should help narrow down the process:
- I reiterate, PROOFREAD. Every writing sample I have received has had typos or grammatical errors. Every. Single. One. Regardless of the candidate’s major. Take it to the career counselor or an English major, please.
- Don’t be afraid to ask what type of writing sample would be best. If you don’t have one, write one. As a marketing agency, we want non-fiction, short blog posts that demonstrate a clear voice and an error-free style of writing, or press releases, or white papers and case studies. But nobody ever bothers to ask what type of writing we want and so out of laziness or fear of following up they send us a college paper. This isn’t awful, but typically I can’t tell how great of a writer you are if you send me a 5-page term paper on a topic you clearly hate. If anyone ever asked, we’d say we would like a 350-500 word blog post that you’d write for a company’s blog (any company). Write me a blog about your favorite Starbucks drink or good tips for getting an internship or choose from one of our clients in our portfolio and write a pretend post for them (this would be HUGE and would immediately put you at the top of my list).
- Don’t use slang in your sample in most cases (there are a few exceptions). I don’t want to see bae, on fleek, Kardashian references, or Kanye in your writing sample. It shows me you can’t speak like an adult and that’s a liability in front of my clients. Brands that say “bae” are massively out of touch or are using it ironically, so it is a very fine line in using slang. Better options: good grammar, perfect spelling, a fun topic, and a unique perspective on it.
- Try a few different types of writing samples. Maybe show me a few sample Facebook posts, a few tweets, and a sample blog post all for Smarter Searches. This shows me you are adaptable, that I can use you in multiple job roles, and that you’ve taken initiative.
- Don’t expect to get an interview scheduled without one. We move fast in the agency world and in a college town like Knoxville, there is a huge pool from which to draw. If you wait a month to send us a writing sample, I can guarantee you the position has been filled.
- Finally, DO NOT FORGET THE THANK YOU FOLLOW-UP. Whether it’s a physical card or an email to your interviewer, you must must must must send a thank you. It’s a rule of etiquette and one we unquestioningly take into account.
I hope that these tips help you as you seek initial experience and internship opportunities.