How to stand out when competing for a summer internship

I recently spoke at USC and shared with the students what it looks like from my end as the employer when we open up an internship for applications. They were RIVETED, because they said they really want that visibility into how everyone else is applying to these roles. So I had a bit of fun, and came up with the 5 types of internship applications a company receives.

I went through all of our internships applications and calculated the percentage of applications that fit into each category. I’ll detail the pros and cons of each type and give you examples of how your peers are applying for internships and how you can snatch those opportunities for yourself with the best possible application!

The 5 types of internship applications:

1. Resume sprayer

Percent of candidates: 79%

What the application looks like: They use the same resume and cover letter for every job they apply to, because their strategy is to send as many resumes out as humanly possible. They look at the title of internship, if the title sounds something remotely related to the kind of role they would want, they shoot off their canned application. It’s also common for resume sprayer application to say a different company’s name, or the wrong title for the role they are applying for. Recruiters are able to detect a resume sprayer within seconds of looking at a resume, here is the truth of how we automatically know an applicant did not read the job description.

The pros: They at least feel like they are making progress in getting an internship so they can sleep at night feeling like they were productive. And when they don’t get an internship they can blame it on external circumstances, saying, “I applied to 100s of internships and none responded, the process is broken.”

The cons: They are massively wasting their time. Them trying to spit out as many applications as possible actually will burn more of their time and get fewer results than focusing on the most appropriate internships, writing a tailored resume and cover letter, creating relevant deliverables and projects, and following up about the opportunity with someone at the company.

If you are a Resume Sprayer, don’t worry, there are many things you can start doing today to help. Here is a video playlist to get you started.

2. The no nonsenser

Percent of candidates: 9%

What the application looks like: The No Nonsensers sometimes seem like Resume Sprayers, because they put minimal effort into their applications. However, these candidates seem to be directed about the opportunities they are applying for and are moderately to well qualified. These candidates see that an opportunity is a good fit skills-wise so they submit their information without taking much additional time to include details on why they are interested in the company, and do not reach out to anyone in the company.

The pros: They are qualified and will likely get a decent amount of interviews.

The cons: To build a great intern cohort it isn’t just about the skills, companies also look for people with specific passion and interests that are often absent from the No Nonsenser applications.

  • For example, I interviewed a No Nonsenser and through the conversation I find out that she has her own side project and website dedicated to our industry, and is hugely passionate about our mission. None of this was shown on her resume and she did not write a cover letter — if she had, we would have not hesitated to contact her, she would have been our top candidate! We could have easily passed up on her resume since there were so many other talented interns in the pipeline, but fortunately in this case it all worked out. Though, I can only imagine how many No Nonsenser applicants are rejected because they don’t include specific details like why they are passionate about the company and industry where they are applying.

3. The eager beaver

Percent of candidates: 5%

What the application looks like: They talk about how passionate they are about the role, company, and industry, and how they are excited to contribute and go above and beyond. I honestly get pumped up reading their cover letters.

The pros: Exactly what the first two categories were missing, they have that drive and passion that goes a long way in breathing fresh energy into an organization. Also, their eagerness often alludes to the idea that they will take initiative to seek knowledge on their own, which in my opinion is the best trait an intern can have.

The cons: Enthusiasm only goes so far and these applications can be sloppy. I see these people messaging everyone in the company that they are excited for the role, but actually haven’t applied yet. It’s better to be strategic about who you reach out to, focus on a few people in the company to reach out to, here’s a video that gives you scripts and tips on what to say in these messages.

  • And most importantly, these people sometimes leave out an emphasis on their track record of achievement and important skills they bring to the table. Enthusiasm can only get you so far.

4. The formal sir or madam

Percent of candidates: 5%

What the application looks like: These applications sound like they were written by an extremely polite robot like C3PO, where any sort of personality or uniqueness to their resume or cover letter is completely absent, likely due to poor advice from an outdated college career center. A cover letter by a Formal Sir or Madam goes something like this,

  • “Dear sir or madam, Enclosed is my resume for this role for you to review. I believe that my educational experience, strong work ethic, and communication skills will enable me to make a positive contribution to your organization. I am available by phone and email and will provide references upon request. Thank you for taking the time to review my qualifications and I look forward to hearing from you.”
  • Their resume is a bunch of tasks they’ve done but no accomplishments, it reads like a job description. And it has an unnecessary objective statement (here is a video about the only time you should put an objective statement on your resume).

The pros: They do not offend anyone or are ever considered unprofessional.

The cons: There is no differentiation between them or anyone else on the planet. The overly formal applications are so focused on seeming professional and following a script, that there is no individuality, no details on their accomplishments, or why they are specifically interested in the company. Here is an article on how to write a killer cover letter that can change your tone from generic to focused and interesting.

5. Out-of-the-boxer

Percent of candidates: 2%

What the application looks like: These people completely buck any sort of convention and apply in a unique way.

The pros: I personally love people who take chances and get creative. Some Out-of-the-Box candidates do customized deliverables for a company that show a lot of thought, understanding of the business, and initiative. Others take a bit of a wacky approach, like a video or a song, which can totally land if they know their audience.

The cons: A lot of these unusual applications try to sound different, use a different voice and approach, but lack substance. Creative energy should show understanding of the company, enthusiasm, and articulate the value you could contribute. Here’s a video that walks through the pros and cons of three highly creative job applications.

So there’s a glimpse into what summer intern applications look like at a tech company. What’s the best approach? That depends on the role, company, and industry you are applying in. I recommend taking inspiration from the “Pros” of each type and elevating your application to stand out among the rest. Best of luck!

This post first appeared on Quora.