New York is the land of possibility. As the song says, “if [you] can make it here, [you’ll] make it anywhere. But the whole point is that you actually have to make it, and that’s not an easy task, am I right Sinatra? If you’re a student, you have to work 1000x as hard because you don’t even have a solid tie to the city yet. Sure, you have four guaranteed years in the big city (if you don’t get defeated in the process), but you have to start putting down some roots otherwise eventually your four years are up and come graduation you’ll be shuffling back to whatever not-New York place you’re from. You have to work to live in New York. I’m not even back yet and I’m doing more New york things than I am Paris things because let’s face it, Paris hasn’t changed in the last 100 years and New York waits for no one.
One of the things you can do as a student to establish yourself, is to build professional experience, in other words, internships. Internships are a necessity in New York (and most large cities really), equivalent to the latest must have accessory. Except this accessory can make or break you. Most people I know have at least one internship every semester; others (who might be slightly insane) have multiple internships per semester. The pressure to have an internship attacks from every angle-parents, classmates, your university-everyone is wondering what you’re doing to get ahead in life. But I think some of these people lack awareness on just how stressful internship applications are.
First of all, you have to make time to apply to internships, contrary to popular belief, internships don’t just materialize out of nowhere (shocking, I know), That means that on top of going to class, studying, going to work, going to the museum exhibit your professor wants you to see, doing laundry, going grocery shopping, finishing your 12 page paper, cooking, doing homework, going outside and getting some sun, sleeping, working out, getting from point A to point B, not dying-on top of all that, you have to make time to sit down and actually apply to an internship. If you’ve managed to set aside a morsel of time for this purpose, you are definitely lucky, but so painfully far from being done.
Internship applications take time for a reason, There’s the actual application of course, which can be as simple as uploading a few forms or as complex as requiring several different essays, but then there are all the supplementary documents. A resume is a given and the easiest thing to have at the ready. But many times you also need to turn in letters of recommendation. It would seem that this would be simple, given that all you really need to do is reach out to people to recommend you, but when it’s November 1st and your application is due November 2nd and you’ve yet to receive your anticipated letter of recommendation, that’s when it gets personal. The sense of injustice that accompanies a completed application waiting only on letters of recommendation is indescribable.
Work samples are also generally required (at least for journalism internships) and of course these don’t come about over night. Work samples mean that your application does not even begin when you sit down to put everything together, it begins months (or years) in advance before it even occurs to you to apply to write for any actual publication. If you ‘ve been proactive and been getting published (in a school newspaper for example), this part of the application process should be a breeze. You can feel like a boss uploading you published work without breaking a sweat. But if this is your first internship or you simply haven’t been published, this is the moment when you feel like you might as well hitch a ride back home-because you’re basically screwed. You can put off the application and try to get magically published before you turn it in (and have to find time to do that work on top of everything else) or you can hope that your personality is more magnetic than it actually is and will shine through your application to attract internship offers. Either way, your confidence is very vulnerable to taking huge hits during the work sample stage. Even if you are a lucky soul and have work samples at the ready, it’s always terrifying to submit your work, and you’ll probably have a little nervous break down. Submitting your work to a mediocre school paper is absolutely no preparation for submitting it to heavyweights like the Times or the Journal.
Finally, the most feared of all internship application components, the cover letter. Good cover letters are mythical beasts like big foot, people claim they exist but no one really knows what they look like. There is so much conflicting evidence on how to write a good cover letter, it’s kind of amazing that anyone has ever gotten hired. I’ve done ample research on the qualities of a good cover letter and every time I end up confused and nauseous and ready to just crawl back in to bed and live with my parents the rest of my life. Some people say it should be creative and stand out among the stacks of black and white pages that hiring managers have to look at. Others think there is a formal business memo approach and any deviation from it is a one-way ticket to land your cover letter in the trash. Don’t even get me started on the debate about varying the structure by using bullet points. Every time internship application season rolls around, without fail, I take a good long look at my cover letter outline and immediately freak out at its possible inadequacy.
Recently I asked one of my friends who has had many flashy internships (including a very successful one with the White House) to see his cover letter so I could get a glimpse at the glorious wording and enlightened structure that landed him so many sweet gigs. It was honestly, a flop. I mean it was nice but it was the most unoriginal, run of the mill cover letter I have ever seen. I even asked him if he just gave a template or something so I wouldn’t steal his powers but he swore that this was it. So if anything, now I am quivering with fear because I’ve filled out a bunch of different applications with witty, non basic cover letters, and I’m afraid there’s someone in the BBC hiring department having a good laugh over my attempt to get a job with them.
At the end of the day, I think getting an internship is more of a luck thing than anything so I try to keep my anxiety over the process to a minimum (an 8 out of 10 on a normal person’s scale). Sure, you may be a great candidate, but when it comes down to it great candidates are everywhere and if the company you’re imploring to hire you isn’t feeling it, they’ll just move on to the next person. There’s really nothing that you can do about it, unless you happen to have a creepy ability to know what a specific hiring manager is looking for. So the only real solution is to keep sending applications until your fingers bleed from typing, and just pray to the hiring gods that someone will give you a chance.