6 Mistakes To Avoid When Applying for an Internship

Woman taking notes before filling out an internship application on her computer.

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If you are looking for the perfect internship for the summer, you will want to avoid making these six deadly mistakes. It's no doubt internships are increasingly hard to come by as students must face stiff competition when seeking a summer internship. By reviewing and avoiding the following mistakes when applying for an internship, you can greatly increase your chances of landing an interview.

Key Takeaways

  • Sending the same application for numerous internships rather than customizing each application is a common mistake made by internship applicants.
  • Getting a head start in the process and applying and searching early will give you the best chance of receiving an interview.
  • Casting a wide net and applying to more than a few internships will also help your chances.

Waiting Too Long to Apply

If you haven’t already started your internship search, what are you waiting for? High school students, college students, and recent grads are all constantly looking and applying for internships, so get started today. If you are applying for fall internships, start sending in materials around June or July. If you are applying for a spring internship, you should be looking in October or November.

And if you want a summer internship, you should start looking in October of the year prior (just to make sure the company you are interested in doesn’t have super early deadlines). The bigger companies often have very early summer deadlines. Mid-sized companies usually have either February, March, or April deadlines. And there is always a bunch of companies that forget to post their summer listing and end up doing their internship hiring in May or June.

In any case, beginning your search early will allow you to get a clearer sense of what's out there, what the requirements are, and what materials you'll need to provide for the application.


Some internships require a letter of recommendation or your official college transcripts. By starting the process early, you won't lose out on your dream internship because you were waiting on materials from a secondary party.

Sending in Generic Materials

The number one trap internship applicants fall into is sending in generic materials—the same resume and cover letter for every single position. You must customize your materials for the position and the company. If every resume and cover letter you send is the same, there’s a problem. Hiring managers can easily tell when they are looking at a document that you’ve sent to 15 other places.


In your cover letter, try to address the hiring manager or the person who will be reviewing your application directly, using their first and last name. This small step goes a long way in showing the company you truly care about the internship and are not mass-applying.

To best customize your materials, print out the internship or job listing and go through it with a highlighter. Think of it this way: they are telling you exactly what should be on your resume or cover letter in the listing. For example, if the company says they want someone who is social media savvy, make sure your resume speaks to your social media experience with concrete examples.

Applying for Only a Handful of Internships

Remember: Internships are more competitive than ever before. If you only apply for a handful of opportunities, the odds are not in your favor—there’s a pretty good chance you won't get an interview, let alone a summer internship. To make sure you land something, apply for at least 10 to 20 internships every two to three weeks. If you hear back from a few and receive an invitation for an interview, you can stop aggressively applying. But remember you want to make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

For context, in 2019 Google received 125,000 applications for its internship program. To say it's a competitive internship market is an understatement.

Fail to Follow Company Instructions

If you can’t follow the application rules, how will the employer know you will follow the rules and standards of the actual internship?

Your application is the first impression you are giving an employer. If you aren’t following directions, that first impression won’t be very positive. By not following a company’s specific instructions, you could end up being placed in the “no” pile even if you possess all of the qualifications the company is looking for. Make sure to read through their requested process closely. For example, they might post their internships on a third-party website, but they might state in their posting that applicants should go directly to their website to apply.

You might have to submit specific materials, like writing samples, to a specific email. Whatever the application calls for, be sure to follow it to a tee.

Forget to Follow Up

Once you start applying for internships, follow up one to two weeks after you send in your application to confirm the company received your materials and to ask if they need to look at anything else. If you can’t find anyone to follow up with, use LinkedIn and try to connect with people who went to your school and work at that company.

Be sure to also follow up immediately after your first interview thanking the interviewer for their time.


Although following up is usually a good call, make sure there isn't any direction in the application itself on how long to wait to hear back from someone. If the application directs you to wait one month before reaching out, you don't want to seem pesky.

Not Passionate About the Interview

After an interview, an employer shouldn’t have to wonder if you really want the position. Make sure you make it very clear that you want the position and that you’d do anything you need to secure the position. An employer wants to hire someone they know will love and appreciate the job, so make sure that comes across in the interview.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the most common internship interview questions?

Some of the most common interview questions internship applicants are asked include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in this internship
  • What attracted you to our company?
  • Describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it.
  • What is your ideal work environment?

When is the best time to do an internship?

Generally, the summer after your junior year of college is the ideal time to land an internship in your industry. By this time, your major is set, you may have some previous experience, and the company may even offer to hire you after you graduate.

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  1. Google. "While School Was Out, Interns Were In: Our 20th Intern Class."

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