Landing a dream internship in the US is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you’re just starting out in your chosen career, it’s a chance to learn the ropes at some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world. But how should you go about it?
Even if you know what sort of internship you want, you probably have a lot of questions. Do you need to sign up with an agency? Should you be studying at a university right now? And how do you give yourself the best chance at impressing your potential mentor?
While there’s no easy way to secure that dream position, it’s certainly doable if you go about it the right way. Follow our four rules and you’ll be well on your way to the Big Apple or Silicon Valley before you know it.
Know your visas
The immigration office might sound a long way away from your dream work placement, but it’s the first thing you’ll need to know about if you want to go stateside.
If you’re not currently in the US, you’ll probably need to enter the country on a J-1 visa (also known as the ‘Exchange Visitor Programme’ visa). J-1 visas allow foreign nationals to come to the states for cultural or educational experiences such as becoming a counselor at a summer camp, working as an au pair with an American family or taking a work experience placement at a US firm.
There are two types of J-1 visa available, depending on how far along you are in your career or studies. The first is the intern visa, and the second is the trainee visa. If you’re still studying or only graduated in the past twelve months, you’ll want to go for an intern visa. If you’ve got up to five years’ work experience under your belt, you’ll want to go for a trainee visa.
Whichever visa you choose, you’ll need a designated sponsor to support your visa application. Some of these agencies can help with placements and other practicalities, but it’s often cheaper to do those things yourself and just pay the sponsorship fee.
Find your dream placement
If money is no object, you can opt to use a service like Global Experiences to find your internship, which can match you with a 12-week placement at well-known companies in Washington D.C. or New York. With some of these programs costings thousands of dollars, however, this just isn’t feasible for most.
If you’re going down the DIY route, scour the internet for internships and traineeships that fit your career goals. These days there are numerous sites that specialize in listings for internships in the US. Some of these, like USA Internships, offer full access to their listings for an annual subscription fee. Others, like Go Overseas or Indeed, function more like ordinary job boards.
Another route is to write a list of some of your dream workplaces in your field and check on their websites to see if their offer traineeships in the US. Remember that some companies may be open to offering placements but don’t advertise them, so it could also be worth reaching out to someone at the company with a prospective application.
Write the perfect resume and cover letter
If you’re desperate to become a trainee programmer at Google or marketing intern at Coca Cola, you’ll need to ditch your old CV and write yourself an American resume. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but there are some conventions you’ll need to watch out for.
Firstly, American resumes don’t tend to include personal additions like marital status or photos of the applicant. If you want to give a sense of who you are, it’ll need to come out in your writing. Start with a punchy, concise statement summarising who you are and what you’ve achieved so far. Something like ‘Aspiring news reporter with a Journalism BA, impeccable prose and a track-record of breaking big stories on campus’ is perfect.
Next, summarise your education and work experience. If you haven’t started your career yet, you can include things like a role on a school committee, working on your student newspaper or that part-time retail job you took when you were studying. Just make sure you link it back to the skills you might need for your internship in the US, like organization skills and meeting tight deadlines.
Under education, include your college degree and details of any exceptional grades or awards you’ve received. Companies in the US are keen to take on the best and brightest, so if you were one of the top students in your year, don’t be afraid to shout about it!
It’s also a good idea to include a skills section on your US-style resume. Here you can include any additional languages you speak (aside from English), useful technical skills like data analysis or coding, and anything else that may be relevant to the role.
Next, it’s time to write the perfect cover letter. This is where you get a chance to personalize your application and tell your story to your potential employer. We love this advice by job listings site Indeed, which provides examples of effective cover letters and takes you through the process step by step.
Oh, and don’t forget to use American English!
Ace the interview
Once you’ve written your killer resume and cover letter, the next step to securing an internship in the US is to ace the interview. If you’re still at college or university, your careers service may be happy to set up a practice interview with you and provide feedback. If not, why not rope some English-speaking friends and family members into a little roleplay exercise?
While you never know what an interviewer will ask you, there are some questions that crop up time and time again. If your internship in the US is at a major fashion brand, they may want to know why you chose them in particular, or who your favourite fashion designer is and why.
We also recommend spending some time thinking about your career goals and what you want to get out the internship. Then consider any questions you might want to ask them. Nobody wants to spend 12 weeks making tea for everybody, so be sure to check if the internship is a fit for you – not just them!
According to CNBC, you can give yourself the edge of the competition with a bit of old-fashioned politeness, too. Sending a thankyou note after an interview is rarely done these days, but it may just help you stand out in a crowded field.
Ready to start your US adventure?
If so, you can give yourself a head-start by banking with Sable. We’ve designed a bank account with zero fees and zero bureaucracy that you can open in minutes online – designed especially for newcomers to the United States.
So once you’ve got that dream internship in the bag, get off on the right start with an easy-to-use, customer-friendly US account. But for now, happy placement-hunting, and good luck on your US adventure!