It's that time of year again when my office is sifting through summer internship applications looking for the perfect candidates to help grow into full-fledged wedding planners. We take our internship program seriously here - it's not an unpaid gig and the interns get to experience literally every aspect of a wedding planning company from every perspective. So when it comes to choosing the soon-to-be and recent grads that I'm going to have to spend A LOT of time with, we are picky.
Traditionally, the current Weddings in Vieques interns help me sift through the piles of resumes and cover letters to determine who is an appropriate candidate, and who is not. And those are just the resumes that I actually print out. I receive about 500 resumes for our summer internship program, and 200-300 each for fall and winter/spring. At least half of them never make it off the computer.
My goal is to help students become amazing professionals in the field I work in (event planning), but I don't limit myself to only considering students with certain majors. I look for experience - paid or not - that shows the candidate has a bona fide interest in weddings and event planning. You know, the sort of thing you'd expect somebody applying for a destination wedding internship to highlight on their resume and in their cover letter. Fortunately, we get a lot of AWESOME applicants.
But we also get a lot of cover letters and resumes that simply make us say "hmm." Or sometimes, to be honest, we share them around the office and laugh our butts off. Do you really think sending me a self-made video of your friends holding up signs naming your good qualities and professional skillset is going to impress me in any way, shape or form? No seriously, we get those. And stop sending me your glam shot photos - if a business wants to know what a job candidate looks like, we'll ask. Or creep you on social media.
And unless you are applying for a graphic design position or some other artistic internship, skip the swirly art and colors - just make it easy for me to read your relevant information. If I can't figure out what year you are in school, how our internship applies to you, and how to get in contact with you in the first two minutes of looking at your resume, you're not going to make it to the interview stage at our company.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm a victim of some students who HAVE TO send out applications for internships for some class because they clearly haven't done their homework when they contact me. My favorite cover letters arrive addressed to an intern or account executive with the title "Owner" next to their name. Seriously folks - it's not like it's hard to research my company - I'm my own Google search term for God's sake.
Alright, while I admit to being appalled by how bad some of these resumes are and how completely awful the cover letters are, I've gotten used to it. My interns have not. Women who have just graduated or are about to graduate are reading these resumes and cover letters from their contemporaries and they are absolutely dying. Every time I walk out of my office during resume review, they have a new funny for me.
Kayla Seeger, a recent graduate of Augustana College, and Devon Gorson, a senior in her last semester at Temple University, are my interns this semester. And they're both very, very sharp women. When I tasked them with sorting out who should be interviewed for summer, they took the assignment very seriously - even taking home the resumes to review and sort at night.
But I know the truth - it isn't actually work. Looking at what their competitors in the business world (because that's what they really are - these resumes are from the other people their age whom they'll be competing for jobs against in the real world), is probably the most entertaining admin task they'll have during their entire internship. Call it "opposition research" for college kids. From their perspective, it's fascinating.
Based on Devon and Kayla's observations, and my own experience, I've created a list of five things that will make or break your resume:
1. Leave your GPA off your resume unless it's higher than a 3.5. We appreciate your honesty but would rather not know you have a C average if you're strong in other areas. NEVER list your grades for your individual classes. One applicant proudly told us she got a D in Physical Education. Really? REALLY?
2. Don't address your cover letter to the wrong person. If you're not able to figure out who to address it to, "To Whom It May Concern" always works. If you really can't find the information online, it's okay to call the business and ask to whom you should address an internship application. But do your homework first or you look foolish. Companies like mine have all sorts of internship information posted on various social media channels and websites. Demonstrating your inability to do a Google search doesn't help you get the job.
3. Know where and what you're applying for before you send that cover letter and resume. "Willing to relocate to Florida" topped a recent cover letter we received. Seeing as how we're based in Puerto Rico, I found that to be terribly helpful. Not. I'd be remiss if I didn't share some ACTUAL QUOTES with you that made us howl. Keep in mind we're a Caribbean destination wedding planning company based on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico:
"I have an interest in the management section of the retail industry." Why are you applying for an event planning internship?
"Objective: Looking for a job that's flexible with school schedule." Last time I checked, we didn't have any universities on Vieques Island. Devon's comment was priceless: "If 60-80 hours a week and relocating to an island in the Caribbean is considered flexible with your school schedule then this is the internship for you!!!"
Interested in the opportunity because she "doesn't exactly know what she wants to do" when she graduates "so moving to the Caribbean to try out wedding planning sounded like a good idea." Thanks, but no thanks. I'm not here to provide a Caribbean vacation while you figure out what you want to do when you grow up. Get a job at Starbucks until you find your true calling.
"Typing Speed: 35 words per minute." Kayla figures it probably took her 4 hours to write her resume, at least.
4. Never send an outdated resume. We just got one that hadn't been updated since 2012. In college time, we're missing a huge chunk of what you've done to make you a good candidate for any job. Where were you for the past two years? Rehab? Jail? No seriously, don't waste any potential employer's time with a resume you couldn't be bothered to polish before sending.
5. It isn't necessary for a college student to go back to 2006 on their resume. It's 2014 and you're only 20 years old. We don't care what you were doing at age 12 unless you happened to win "The Voice" that year or get a Presidential award. I loved Devon's snarky little comment in the margin on that one: "I think we might need to call her to find out more about her professional experience in the womb." Only list your high school on your resume if it's well-known or is located in the same area as the business. Awards from high school can simply be listed in your Honors section along with things you've accomplished since then.
Keep your resume as close to one page in length as possible. Even seasoned executives can do a CV in two pages. No college kid needs three. Especially if you're putting in ridiculous stuff to fill the pages. Here's one of our favorite examples (all from one applicant with a three-page resume):
Under Volunteer Services she boasts that she donated 10 inches of hair to "Locks of Love." Now look, I'm all for doing good deeds but that doesn't go on your resume. The same applicant's Experience section notes that she "walked a neighbor's dog for 30 minutes per day." After seeing this one, Devon announced our search was over because 157 hours of dog walking experience is exactly what we're looking for in a wedding planning intern.
I didn't write this blog to be mean - I wrote it to try to help EDUCATE new graduates about what to include - and what NOT to include - on their resumes if they actually want to get hired in this competitive marketplace. Even unpaid internships have standards. For a company like mine that invests in our interns, we expect applicants to give at least as much attention to their cover letters to us as we're going to give to their resumes when we receive them.
True life, if you went to Ohio State or graduated from a program at The Fund for American Studies or happen to be from my hometown of Washington, DC, I will automatically print out your resume and put it in the stack for consideration. That doesn't mean the interns will put it in the pile to interview, but I do give preference to applicants from my alma maters. IF THEY REALIZE I'M AN ALUMNUS OF THEIR OWN SCHOOL. I'm pretty public and I'm a huge Buckeye fan and when I interview an OSU intern candidate that doesn't know that I went there too, I am not impressed.
Remember, first impressions are everything in the business world. Your cover letter and resume ARE your first impression. If those suck, you'll never make it to the printer. You may give the best interview in the entire world, but first, you have to be invited to interview with the company you've applied to work for - and you won't be if you have a hysterical resume or misguided-sounding cover letter. I'm still chuckling over the one who listed her leadership experience as running the "Physical Graffiti Hip-Hop Team." Maybe we can put her in charge of the line dances at weddings.
Before I go, I'd like to give credit where it's due and tell you that the material above comes from resumes from students of not only my fave, The Ohio State University, but from other great institutions of learning such as the University of Arizona, Penn State, and the College of Charleston, just to name a few. The problem is nationwide... sigh.