Don’t be generic. Landing an internship is not a one-step act. It involves a process of elimination, and many sets of eyes will see your application. Though you may only be interviewed once, your application is going through multiple stages in the backend. The best way to avoid being eliminated is to stand out from the crowd. Don’t follow a cookie-cutter resume and portfolio format that everyone is doing. Show something that grabs the attention of potential employers, such as an independent project or a live installation or design that you’ve built.
Do your research. Instead of getting a list of architects and applying to all of them, take some time to do your own elimination. Don’t apply to a firm you know nothing about. Go through the websites of different firms and see their work. If it doesn’t inspire you, you shouldn’t be applying. Make sure you are a good fit to the firm you’re applying to. Try to find out about the team and work culture. You don’t want to be stuck at a place you don’t enjoy and that makes you miserable for 6-9 months.
Don’t underestimate the power of your network. Start early on and cultivate a network of people in your profession who would be genuinely interested in helping you. Many times, professors and visiting faculty will notice an exceptional student and recommend them to firms, which increases your chances of getting selected. Even if you apply on your own, most firms will not hire anyone new without speaking to their faculty or previous employer. Make sure you provide strong professional references who are familiar with your work and ethics (not your relatives or friends).
Don’t wait till the last minute to apply. Many candidates apply a good 2-3 months in advance. If you wait or put it off, chances are the firms you’re eyeing will already be full up.
Follow the application format. Many firms will not even consider applications that disregard the application guidelines they’ve given. Applying to the wrong address or sending multiple applications to all the email addresses on the website is a big turn-off.
Be professional and courteous. Email each firm individually, with a tailored cover letter. Applications without a cover letter will mostly likely be trashed. If you’re not bothered to even write to them, you probably won’t be going the extra mile in work. Show that you’ve done your research by talking about why you chose that particular firm, and what you like about them. This is a differentiator and will make you stand out from the piles of generic applicants. Don’t address the recipient by name if you don’t know them.
Be genuine and specific. Don’t use platitudes such as “You are the leader in the industry,” or “Your firm has a range of projects I would like to learn from.” It may sound flattering, but that doesn’t help you get an internship. Be concise and to the point. Don’t ramble on in your cover letter. Keep sentences short and simple, and share all relevant information, such as your location, your dates of availability for an interview, and duration and official dates of your internship, if you’re applying as a college requirement.
Have someone you trust look over your application before you send it. Have them check for typos and redundancies. Edit, edit, edit to make it to the point.
Don’t hesitate to apply if you don’t meet all the criteria. If your work is good, and you seem like a valuable candidate, the decision-maker will move things around and at least meet you for an interview. Once your foot is in the door, you can pitch why they should hire you.
Follow up, but don’t be a nuisance. If there’s a firm you’ve really set your heart on, you can call them a couple of weeks after you apply as a gentle reminder and to put your name in their ear. But don’t call incessantly and insist on an answer. If you do, the answer will be no, because they probably received a lot of applications that require time looking through. Don’t call to ask if there are vacancies, just check the website, most firms will have the information on there. If you do need to call, call on the landline so that someone can help you instead of dialling the chief architect’s personal number.
Don’t forget to include a resume. And don’t make your resume look like a graphic explosion or a website. Keep it simple. Believe it, there’s a lot of graphic design you can do in black and white with text and without distracting logos. Learn it.
Don’t attach a compressed file. It’s a pain downloading a file and then unzipping it. It will also raise security issues, and may not be scannable for viruses. Send a Dropbox or Google Drive link if your file is too big. You can reuse the link for any number of applications.
Don’t use images and work that’s not yours. If your portfolio cover page shows an image of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, and a quote by Norman Foster, your own work inside is going to pale by comparison. Be genuine and original.
Do it yourself. Make sure your portfolio is done by you. If you’ve had help from a friend, be sure to mention it. If you’ve shown a rendering of a skyscraper than you designed and your friend modeled, and you neglect to mention it, next thing you know, you will be sitting in front of a computer in your new office, trying to take a sneak peek at 3Ds Max tutorials.
Mention your role. If you’re presenting group work, clearly mention your exact role in each sheet or drawing. The same goes for professional work. Your portfolio should focus more on your individual work rather than group work.
Show a range of work. Don’t limit yourself to a few of your best projects. Even if the presentation isn’t well done or it looks silly to you in hindsight, your Third Semester playschool says more about your design ability than a Birla White competition for a utopian city you worked on with a group of your friends. If you’re applying to an architecture firm, don’t include more than one urban design or masterplanning project. Most of the projects should be a range of architectural ones of different typologies, ranging from residential to commercial to a bit of interiors. Whatever showcases your design skills best should be shared, even if it’s outdated. Also include limited samples of working drawings, and related design work, such as furniture or lighting.
Know your audience. If you’re applying to a design-oriented architecture firm, include more architectural projects, and images of physical models showing your modeling skills. If you’re applying to an interior design firm, show interior views. Don’t pile on portrait sketches or pictures of your cat or the sunset if you’re not applying to an art studio or a photography practice.
Keep it concise. I usually stop scrolling after the fourth or fifth page, so make sure your first couple of pages are really good.
How to Ensure You Don’t Get an Internship
Have your advisor or faculty apply on your behalf. If you’re old enough to get a job, you’re old enough to get it on your own.
Send the same email to 25 different firms, with all their emails in the CC field. Instant trash.
Write your entire cover letter in the subject field. Believe me, it has happened.
Send selfies. Or funny pictures of yourself. Or pictures which could be hashtagged #farawaylook or #fashionista or #swag or #iwokeuplikethis on your Instagram. To be on the safe side, don’t include a picture when in doubt.
Use emoticons or smileys. Making jokes in your application is unprofessional. Sarcasm will seal the deal for rejection.
Apply again and again if you haven’t received a reply. Or keep calling to find out the status. We receive a lot of internship applications throughout the year. A helluva lot. Our inbox is always overflowing with applications, interspersed with other work email. It takes us a while to get through the entire volume of applications, and surely, this is the case with most firms. Be patient.
Ask for another chance if you’ve been rejected. Don’t offer to work for no pay, or work extra hours. Don’t say you can be fired if things don’t work out. This doesn’t work, and wastes both yours and your employer’s time.
Reply with a joke or sarcasm after receiving a rejection.
Just show up for an interview without being asked. You may think it shows hunger and enthusiasm, but it may also come across as impatient and pushy. You don’t want to risk being misinterpreted. More often than not, it will make people uncomfortable, because you’ve shown up without an appointment and don’t respect the other person’s busy schedule.
Apply even if you don’t intend to join. This wastes the firm’s time, because they could be interviewing real and serious candidates instead. It also makes them form a negative opinion about you, and maybe even your college. Don’t ruin it for others.
Mind Your Digital Footprint
Every potential employer will be Googling you once they start to think about interviewing you. It’s a good idea to Google yourself (but from an anonymous browser, otherwise it only shows you what you know) before applying for an internship to see what comes up. You may need to do some manicuring and toggle privacy settings so that your weekend adventures aren’t public. The same goes for flame wars you may have had on subjects you know very little about. Hide them all. Let’s not kid ourselves, you will be judged. If landing an internship is more important to you, make sure that your interviewer isn’t already prejudiced before they ever meet you.