Student Post: How to Evaluate Yourself Against an Internship Opportunity

Updated: September 2, 2020

By Gloria Shao
New York University, Class of 2021

Before starting a new application, I always run a background check on myself. I ask myself the following questions: What am I lacking in terms of my previous experience? How will this upcoming internship fix that? What is my reason for finding a job this time? You want to keep in mind that reason because that is the ultimate motivator that will help you maintain your momentum throughout your internship. 

Like many, I am highly goal-oriented, but I also have periods of self-doubt and insecurity. I have spent months reflecting on my recent decisions. Here are my reflections and advice on how to get past a negative mindset, build confidence, and evaluate yourself against internship opportunities. 


1. Are you really unqualified?


Most importantly, being an outstanding candidate means being able to evaluate yourself without external distractions. These distractions can include comparing yourself to others, internalizing critiques from others, distrust, and intentional pressure from competitors. It is natural to take those voices seriously, but we need to constantly remind ourselves to break away from these harmful patterns and not let negative emotions dominate our thoughts. 

If we’re being brutally honest, any one of us who comes from a similar academic background has over 80% of the same hard skill capabilities. For example, for marketing analytics students like me, over 70% of us have basic coding skills, over 80% of us have web analytics experience, and over 90% of us tend to use data to evaluate marketing campaign effectiveness. However, not every one of us has the ability to break out of a marketing mindset, and definitely not every one of us has the ability to courageously expand our territory to search beyond marketing roles and explore something new. And it is those exact visions and qualities that will help you to truly stand out because they show that you are a high achiever. 

My advice here is to use your resume and cover letter to your advantage. While a resume isn’t everything, it is the most critical part of any job application. And if my resume demonstrates my hard skills and experience, then my cover letter can be more of a reflection of my personality. I would suggest avoiding having your resume overlap with your cover letter. Make the cover letter as personalized as possible. I know many of us go online to search for cover letter templates as references, but I suggest you avoid doing this, since your cover letter should be highly personal. Using a cover letter to tell your own story is my ultimate advice.


2. Be clear about what you want to learn


I come from a humanities background, which means I used to spend most of my time interacting with people from a psychological standpoint. Due to my curiosity, I started my career in public relations, then moved to social media marketing, which led to my current career in digital marketing. Throughout my journey, I always had a particular urge to improve my ability to interpret market data and identify the impact of different big data sets on a consumer’s decision making. This interest has grown recently, as market demands on data segmentation have increased significantly during COVID-19. It is very important to define your own learning objective before deciding to take any job. 


3. Evaluate the compatibility between your experience and the position’s expectation


The next thing to focus on is whether you’re compatible with the position. I like to personalize resumes for companies that I apply to or interview for, because in digital marketing, we believe in offering customers what they want to hear. I apply this to my resumes: hiring managers or recruiters are the audience, and I am the person who is “selling” myself. 

As a marketing student who started her digital marketing career in SEO/SEM analytics, I spend quite a lot of time reviewing each job posting and reading the company’s introduction, responsibility descriptions, and preferences. Then, I extract certain keywords that have appeared more than twice and replace old expressions on my resume with those new expressions that have already been used by the company. If those keywords are frequently matched with my own work experience, then I know it’s a position worth applying to. 

To evaluate career compatibility, another strategy I use is my intuition. This is applicable for students from any academic background. I learned and practised this strategy in my web analytics classes at NYU, where we were trained to use business intuition to predict A/B testing results. To better trust my gut, I often ask myself: Can I imagine myself being a part of this team? Can I imagine myself taking on this role? If my answer is positive, then I will definitely click on the ‘submit’ button. Otherwise, I will prioritize other positions that could be a better fit for me. 


4. Startups or corporations? 


I care about my opportunities for growth a lot. Finding an internship that offers growth can be a tricky topic, as it requires two-way-street thinking. On one hand, how much growth an intern can get depends on how much flexibility a company is willing to offer; on the other hand, how much interns grow depends on how big they think. Personally, I trust that individual initiative can make up for a lot. Among the companies that I considered joining, 23% of them had over 2,000 employees and 36% of them had less than 100 employees. I prioritized startups this time because I wanted to try something new. For me, the main difference between working at startups and working at big corporations is the amount of initiative you are willing to take. 

Most startups are privately held and have flatter management systems, so start-up employees are usually expected to take on multiple roles at the same time. Therefore, at a startup, you usually need to have a strong ability to figure out things on your own and be ready for fast-paced change. Corporations have their own benefits, as they allow you to focus on building specific skills and going deep into one role. Plus, more people mean here are more talented people you can work with and learn from.