The fallacy that plagues far too many ambitious teens (and their parents) is the idea that summer internships are reserved for college students or adults. In reality, those summer internships simply aren’t heavily marketed or promoted to teens, and high schools don’t often popularize them either. Nonetheless, countless driven, forward-thinking teens out there are strategizing, networking, and hustling themselves into summer internships that exponentially enhance their teenage experience, elevate their resumes, and often give them an immeasurable head-start on their future success.
If you suspect your teen could better optimize their future summer breaks, an internship just may be the untapped opportunity they should be striving for.
While summer internships available for teens are out there, preparing and positioning your teen to score one requires a few crucial steps. Here are five 5-minute hacks to 5x your teen’s chances of getting that summer internship, regardless of their lack of work experience, minimal network, and the all-around mystery surrounding the process of acquiring these esteemed opportunities.
1. Timing (Start early and be first!)
While Fall might seem like an early time to start thinking about the coming summer, as the last one’s still slowly fading, this is actually the best way for teens to uniquely position themselves for that ideal summer internship before the competition catches a whiff of the opportunity ahead. Companies may not be planning summer hiring eight months in advance, but they will take note if a promising aspiring intern reaches out to start forging the relationship when all their peers are sleeping on this prime time to stand out.
As a common-sense quick tip to maximize the effectiveness of your initial outreach, be sure you’re conveying a few things:
- Who you are and why you care: No, this is not the time for your parent to reach out on your behalf. It’s also not the time to send a form email or copy-paste LinkedIn DM blast out to every company you like. This outreach should be customized to you and the company, and it should be personal, genuine, and unique enough to remain memorable for months to come.
- Desire to help: The biggest mistakes both teens and some adults make with respect to networking, outreach, and applying to jobs and internships is by making their messaging all about them. The harsh truth is that companies don’t care how their internship program or employment opportunity can help you as the intern or employee; they care about how it can help them as a business. Therefore, use this knowledge to your advantage and communicate how you plan to and believe you could benefit their organization.
- Will you help them free up administrative tasks to concentrate more on sales or their core offer?
- Will you introduce an innovative, youth-honed perspective that will enable them to better attract a younger customer audience?
- What will you bring to the table to benefit them?
- There’s no point reaching out if you haven’t thought this one crucial question through and arrived at a solid, genuine, generous, outwardly focused (organization-centric) answer.
- Be humble, curious, and teachable: The last thing any company or organization wants in an intern, employee, or even volunteer is someone new who comes in thinking they know better or are too bright, arrogant, or closed-minded to learn. As the outsider at any company or organization you join as an intern, you should be eager to soak up the culture, the jargon, the processes, the industry, and anything else they’re willing to teach. If a hiring manager senses even a small hint of ego in your outreach, that’s likely a red flag from which you may not be able to come back.
While the above three tips are key to optimizing your outreach, if you wait too late (think April or May) and they’ve already filled their summer hiring, you may be out of luck regardless. It costs you $0 and approximately five minutes to send a message early (once you craft it), so do yourself a favor and go out early.
2. The off-season generosity hack
Speaking of demonstrating a desire to help, actions go much farther than words – especially when those actions are unexpected, free, and purely generous in nature. Therefore, if you really want to impress and wiggle your way into a summer internship, one brilliant hack to stand out and instantly get in the good graces of the company contact or hiring manager you reach out to is to offer up your free off-season, unstructured involvement.
By “off-season” and “unstructured”, we mean putting yourself in a position to get involved with and help the target organization outside of the confines or schedule of an official internship. If you instead begin by volunteering, even in an unofficial, unorthodox way, be that helping their marketing analyst craft LinkedIn posts or hanging flyers to promote local events with no request for compensation, you instantly make yourself a valuable key player the organization can’t ignore.
The way generosity works is that while it may begin for free, without the request of any action or compensation, it often instills the goodwill that results in some form of reciprocity. Reciprocity may mean the organization offers you an hourly rate, shortlists you for the following summer’s internship, or perhaps even decides to create their own off-season paid internship program custom just for you, as a “thanks” for all the work you’ve done.
Simply put, being a desirable intern isn’t about taking orders or falling in line. It’s about proactively finding ways to add value to the organization. Even better if you can “surprise and delight” by adding unsolicited value at unexpected times. Once the company sees how invested you’ve already become or how integral you are to the tasks you’ve adopted, they may feel like the only logical choice is to hire you as an intern, since you clearly know about and care about their organization more intimately and concretely than any new hire.
3. Start building your network
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how few teens realize the power of building a network early on. For teens who may lack work experience or initially have very few and limited professional connections, LinkedIn can be a great way to boost their professional persona, as well as quickly expand their sphere of relevant connections.
The trick with LinkedIn and email outreach is to ensure you’re connecting with the right people. Students aspiring to internships don’t necessarily need to contact a recruiter, hiring manager, or a company’s CEO. Instead, they can look for former interns or lower-level hires who may be flattered enough by the outreach to hop on a phone call or pass along their information to the more powerful person in charge of internship hiring.
That said, if the company is a small one, a startup, or if you have an intermediary who can connect you directly, there’s no harm in attempting to reach out to the founder, CEO, or other higher-level executives. Just ensure you go out with your best professional foot forward, and if they don’t respond or accept your request, be swift to transfer your time and focus to the lower-hanging fruit who might have more bandwidth to field interest from aspiring teen interns.
4. Cast a wide net (double digits is not that many)
When companies want to sell products, they don’t market to dozens of prospects; they market to hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands (or more). Similarly, when you’re looking for potential summer internship opportunities (or most any other future opportunity in life), you should assume reaching out to a handful or even a dozen target companies is far from sufficient.
If you haven’t reached out to triple-digits (hundreds) of potential companies to probe the possibility of a future summer internship, you definitely can’t say you’ve exhausted the pool of options, and you likely don’t have a critical mass or large enough sample size to say if your efforts were successful or not. You didn’t fail; you simply don’t have enough data and didn’t reach enough people.
If this amount of outreach seems tedious, time-consuming, or unbearable, take heed in the fact that you can structure it to be far less arduous of a task. For example, what if you decided to reach out to 5 companies per night with a quick LinkedIn DM or email? Over a month, that would be approximately 150 companies you would have contacted, and it could take as little as five minutes per night. If you don’t have five minutes per night to allocate to your internship search, then perhaps you aren’t really that committed to scoring a summer internship after all.
5. Follow up is not a one-time thing
One aspect of internship and job searching that teens are not particularly used to is the importance of follow-up, and school typically doesn’t prepare them. In school, they have a syllabus and a schedule to adhere to, and teachers reciprocate by turning around their graded tests and assignments.
There’s rarely an element of sales training, professional communication, or a class on strategic outreach and follow-ups. To be honest, that’s really too bad, since these are such critical skills in real-life and career-building situations, which most students will encounter a few years post-graduation anyway.
Regardless, the lesson here is simple: Follow-up is a necessary part of networking and internship seeking, and it is rarely if ever a one-time thing. The key is for teens to find ways to follow-up strategically and professionally without being annoying or a burden, but also without letting so much grass grow in between communications that they go forgotten altogether.
Here are three tips for a more effective follow-up:
- Timing: An acceptable follow-up schedule isn’t once a week, but it also isn’t once a year. A good rule of thumb is to follow up every 1.5 to 3 months, depending on the news or progress you have to add and overall timing of their business, industry, and the world at large.
- Progress: The fastest way to an ineffective, pointless, and annoying follow-up is to send one without a progress update. The idea of a “follow-up” is often conflated with a “reminder tap on the shoulder”. Here’s the problem: Those reminder taps are just plain annoying, and that’s the last way you want to be perceived by the person you’re asking for an opportunity. Instead, you want to show what you’ve been busy accomplishing and hopefully somehow relate it to their organization or industry.
- Likewise, you could also mention a change, update, or achievement you notice they’ve made, revealing that you’re truly tapped into their business with a vested interest in a future working relationship.
- Offer: Lastly, you want to remind them of your offer, not your ask. While the “offer” and “ask” refer to the same thing, the way you position them is vastly different. An offer is something you could do for them, such as help them out with their marketing as a summer intern. An ask is something they could do for you, like give you a paid summer internship. As long as you remember the goal is to make yourself a no-brainer value-add with a genuine interest in helping their organization, you’ll be on the right track in your communications and positioning.
If following up to all those companies you contacted seems overwhelming, you can apply the same 5 and 5-minutes per night strategy as you did with your outreach. If you spend five minutes per night following up to those companies ever 1.5 to 3 months, you’re pretty likely to get some positive feedback that turns into an internship opportunity in the near future.
Bonus tip #6: Remove friction
At the end of the day, people – including companies, recruiters, and hiring managers – are kind of lazy, especially when it comes to favors of which they’re being asked. If you’re reaching out asking for an internship, even if you demonstrate your interest and prove your future value-add, you are putting another task on their plate, which is an obstacle to overcome. One easy way to make that obstacle significantly more surmountable, palatable, and pain-free to the hiring manager or company contact is to proactively remove friction as much as possible.
Friction is any difficulty or challenge that makes hiring you as an intern more of a headache. Removing that friction can be offering to work remotely if you’re in a different location and they run an online business or only need interns for digital tasks.
Removing friction can be letting them know that you’ll be staying with family in their city for the summer, so you’ll be right there in person regardless, for jobs that require in-office interns. Removing friction can also be acquiring skills or learning tools, processes, or technology the company uses to get a head-start and let them know you won’t require as much training as the average, brand-new, unskilled intern.
These are just a few suggestions, but this all boils down to making hiring you as an intern the most convenient, no-brainer, entirely positive decision that will undoubtedly benefit the organization. Once you convince the hiring manager you’re a net positive addition, they’ll have a hard time finding a good reason why you shouldn’t be their summer intern.