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Internships and Your Resume

Internships and Your Resume

by Kim Isaacs

Looking for a proven way to jump-start your postcollege job search, pursue a career change or just get an edge? Internships could be the answer. Here's how to use your resume to get an internship as well as portray your experience once you've completed one.

The Internship Advantage

Recent graduates and career changers have something in common: Minimal real-world work experience in their targeted career fields. "By securing an internship and then leveraging this fully on your resume, you will increase your chances of winning a full-time employment offer," says Howard Polskin, senior vice president of communication and events for Magazine Publishers of America.

"When you are hiring for an entry-level job, you are looking for something that stands out in the field, and nothing says it louder than an internship," says Polskin, who has hired interns both at CNN and in his current position. "Internships say to an employer that you were willing to work for little or no money in your desired career field, because you have an intense interest in it."

Beyond giving you hands-on, applicable work experience, internships can result in a full-time employment offer. "The majority of our entry-level positions are filled by previous interns," says Shira Roman, manager of Human Rights Watch. "We see how they work, they get to know the job, and when an entry-level position opens, we look to fill it with an experienced intern."

Resume Strategies to Get Your First Internship

If you are writing your resume to secure your first internship, you must clearly communicate your intentions and demonstrate your value. Follow these tips:

  • State Your Goal: Create a succinct headline or objective that communicates your internship goal, such as:  Accounting Major Seeking Finance Internship

  • Write a Compelling Opening Summary: Instead of focusing on your interest in learning and gaining practical experience, emphasize how you would contribute to the team. Highlight any work experience, as well as education, key skills, and passion for your career goal.

  • Showcase Your Education: Students with minimal work history should highlight the education section. To indicate that your degree is in progress, state "Pursuing (degree) in (major)," and indicate when you expect to graduate. Include a list of classes and special projects relevant to your internship goal.

  • Highlight Volunteerism or Any Work Experience: Even if it's unrelated to your internship, you can still demonstrate you have transferable skills valued by any employer. Focus on ways you demonstrated dedication, dependability, creativity, outstanding service, enthusiasm, and work ethic.

If You Completed Internships

Polskin sees many resumes for entry-level positions, but the ones that consistently stand out include internship experience. "I've hired people on the basis of one quality internship, and it resulted in recruitment of an outstanding star," he says.

Follow these tips for getting your internships on your resume:

  • Use Your Internship as a Stand-in for Professional Experience: Students, recent graduates or career changers with little or no relevant work experience may use internships to substitute for professional experience. But be sure you clearly label this work as internship experience to avoid misleading employers and looking like a job-hopper, since internships generally are relatively short.

  • Highlight Accomplishments: Even if you weren't single-handedly responsible for a project or initiative, you can include your accomplishments. Here's one example of such a statement:

    Contributed to efforts that resolved a six-month work backlog. Used analytical strengths to assist finance team with research and reconciliation of 150 problematic accounts.

  • Add Testimonials: If you received a favourable performance review, you can include excerpts in your internship section. For example:

    "...Robert proved himself to be a very diligent and hard-working intern…a true team player...I highly recommend him…" -- M. Jones, Intern Supervisor, Acme Inc.

  • Keep It Brief: "I'm a big fan of short and to-the-point communication," says Polskin, who cautions job seekers not to exaggerate their internships. "Most employers realize people aren't going to be given an extreme level of responsibility during an internship. A few bullets will suffice, but six or seven bullets will look foolish."

Don't Forget the Cover Letter

Whether you're applying for an internship or a paid position, always accompany your resume with a customized cover letter. "I will not continue reading an internship letter if it feels like a template," Roman says. "It's a good opportunity to show that you understand the organization's mission, and you can make an excellent impression if you do some research."


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