It’s internship hunting season. All across the country, college students are donning suits and fanning out to land the perfect summer gig. And they should! According to an annual survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 95 percent of employers said candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions. Many of those same employers see internships as a great way to gain that experience. With so much on the line, and so many students vying for so few prime spots, how do you gain a leg-up?

Use Your Network

Although websites like Monster and Simply Hired can be one weapon in your arsenal, they shouldn’t be the only one. Many students spend countless hours applying to job post after job post, only to become frustrated when their efforts yield few results. The reality is that they’re often just tossing their resume into a black hole. Many of the job postings on these sites are quickly outdated. And many of the positions are filled by someone with a personal connection to the company. So use your time and energy making those personal connections yourself! Here’s a few ways to do so:

1. LinkedIn: Surprisingly few college students have LinkedIn profiles. But 95 percent of hiring managers use the site as a way to find and screen candidates! Think of LinkedIn as your resume that never sleeps. Create a profile, build it out as much as possible, and then have friends, classmates, anyone who can testify to your character and abilities post a recommendation for you. From there, create as many authentic connections as you can with people you know (don’t just blast out random connection requests to anyone). Then use the site to research opportunities. You don’t need to pay for the premium version; the free one will work just fine.

2. Job Fairs: Company representatives spend their time and money to come to your school because they know the best candidates are found in-person. Go meet them! But have a plan. Don’t wander aimlessly among the booths. Instead, review the list of companies slated to be there ahead of time, pick the 5 that you’re most interested in, and target them with laser focus. Research the companies ahead of time. Know their core business. Become familiar with their website and social media channels. Know the answers to things like employee count, locations, core products/brands, etc. Prepare a version of your resume that speaks directly to that company’s needs. Demonstrating this level of interest and preparedness will distinguish you from the students who just happen by the booth.

3. Your Parents: I can hear you groaning, and trust me, I get it. But the reality is, your parents have likely spent a lifetime building a network of friends and colleagues, and if you’re not using them as a resource, you’re missing out! Networking is all about people helping people, and most of your parents’ colleagues would be all-too-eager to give you a hand-up…you just have to swallow your pride and ask!

4. Professors, Alumni, Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, etc.: Again, they likely have extensive networks of their own. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice or introductions. What’s the worst that could happen? If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “no”!

Pre-Interview Communication Should be About Them

So your networking efforts pay off and now you’re ready to make connections with some potential employers. Always try and make contact with hiring managers prior to any interviews. Simply making that phone call will set you apart as a motivated candidate, and it’s the first step to forming a connection with the decision-maker.

But be aware: this will be your first test. All of your communication with them (whether email, phone, or in-person) needs to be about them, not you. From a hiring manager’s standpoint, the hiring process can be exhausting. You should always be thinking, “What can I do to make their job easier?” For example: if you get invited to interview, call or email and ask what you should provide, do, or prepare ahead of time in order to not waste their time. This mindset will set you apart from a lot of candidates who approach these opportunities with a “What can you do for me?” attitude.

In the Interview, Focus on Connection

Here’s the bottom line: if you’ve been invited to interview for an internship, you have already been deemed qualified for the position. You wouldn’t be there if the hiring manager wasn’t satisfied with your pedigree. In the interview, just ticking off a list of “look at me’s” is futile, because all of the other candidates they’re interviewing have an equally impressive list, and it won’t distinguish you.

In the interview, your only goal is to establish a connection with the interviewer. In their minds, they’re not hiring an employee: they’re entering into a relationship. So they have to feel comfortable that you’re going to be good fit for the organization. They want to know that they’re going to enjoy having you there as much as you’ll enjoy working there.

To establish that connection, focus on three things:

1. Eye Contact and Energy:

  1. When the interviewer comes out to greet you, stand up straight, make strong eye contact with them, walk like you’re wearing cowboy boots (not bedroom slippers!), and offer a firm handshake. Act excited to be there!
  2. When you sit at the table, sit with an “executive presence.” This means nice and straight, shoulders and hips vertically aligned, hands on top of the table, leaning forward slightly. Keep your body language open! Don’t close up by crossing your arms or slouching (think “ESPN anchor desk”!).
  3. When you speak, speak clearly. Look the listener in the eyes. Avoid filler words (“like”, “and stuff”, “whatever”, etc.) and slang. This isn’t the time to demonstrate how hip you are; it’s time to exude professionalism. If they hire you, you’ll be representing the company. Show them that you can do so in a way that makes them look good!

2. Make it Conversational: The more conversational your interview is, the better the connection will be. Maintain nice, open body language to encourage dialogue. Give nice tight answers to their questions and avoid going into the weeds. Be sure you’re prepared to ask them some insightful questions (not questions you could have easily found the answer to!). Have some brief stories or examples to share that illustrate your experiences and skills. Stories connect better than laundry lists of facts, so use them!

3. Practice Answering Questions: The more prepared you are, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the more confidence you’ll exude. Studies show that you can anticipate more than 85% of the questions an interviewer will ask. Be sure to spend time preparing for them.

  1. Write down as many questions you can think of that you might be asked. Think about previous interview questions you’ve gotten. Ask friends what questions they’ve gotten in their interviews. Don’t just go for the easy ones; be sure you include some of the really tough questions as well.
  2. Practice answering the questions out loud (in your head doesn’t count). Ask a friend to role-play being the interviewer to make your practice as realistic as possible.
  3. Focus on keeping the answers nice and tight. Concise answers demonstrate confidence and preparedness. Long-winded answers make the listener think “Is she making this up as she goes along?” or “Has he ever even thought about this before?” Be sure to find ways to incorporate your stores and examples whenever appropriate to bring your facts to life.

By finding ways to expand and tap into your network; ensuring that your pre-interview communication focuses on the hiring manager and their needs; and using the interview as a chance to connect with the interviewer, you’ll be much better positioned to land the internship you really want. Happy hunting!

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”