In a couple of days, I’ll be helping with my program’s Open House. Open Houses are great opportunities for you to talk to current interns and to get an idea of what the internship will be like. Pretty much every program has some sort of open house, information session, information seminar, etc – some sort of event where the internship director promotes their internship, introduces some of the preceptors, sometimes gives you a tour of the facility, and the interns get a chance to tell you about the program and give you an inside scoop.
Do you have to go to the open house of every internship you’re interested in? Absolutely not. Go to the open houses that you can. Of the nine places I applied to, I only went to three open houses. I went to a total of five open houses and did one online info session, and after two of the open houses, I decided I wasn’t going to apply to those programs.
Was going to an open house and then not applying to the program a waste of my time? Absolutely not. By going to the open houses, I realized that the programs just weren’t for me. For one program I just absolutely had no financial means of attending. For the other program I found myself disliking the internship director immensely and I knew I wouldn’t be happy there. As much as people say “An internship is an internship is an internship- just get one” I disagree. If I ended up in an internship that I hated, I wouldn’t do well. When you apply to an internship, it should be to an internship you’ll feel okay/good/happy/thrilled with and that your interests align with. For example, if you’re interested in promoting a vegan lifestyle and you get matched to a program that sends interns to spend a month with the local meat association, it’s not a good match. (By the way, I don’t think there actually is an internship like that…)
Many open houses occur while people are still in school. Professors know this and most are pretty cool with you skipping class to go to an open house. When I skipped a class to go to an open house, the professor had me share with the rest of the class what I learned at the open house. If you tell your professor that you’re going to an open house, really go to the open house. I know of some students who told their professor they went to one, but they didn’t, and the professor found out. It probably didn’t reflect well in their letters.
Some open houses occur during the holidays. If you’re traveling (home/to relatives/to friends/for vacation) for the holidays, check out the programs near wherever you’ll be traveling. Some “open houses” are online and are basically webcast information sessions with a chat component. Try to go to as many open houses of programs that you’re interested in, but don’t sweat it if you can’t go. If there’s a program that you’re not interested in, but they’re having an open house you can attend, go ahead and go to the open house. It’s good practice for interacting with the directors, preceptors, and current interns. Plus, you may realize you really like the program!
So if you do go, what to do at an open house? Some tips:
1. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY. I’m not talking a three-piece business suit, but you don’t really want to show up in a dirty pair of jeans, flip flops, and a see-through shirt. Go for business casual – nice blouse or collared shirt, slacks or skirt, nice shoes. You may not feel like you stand out, but it does show that you take the application seriously.
2. BE EARLY. I’m not talking hours early – just fifteen to twenty minutes early. With info sessions, it’s always better to be early than late. I showed up half an hour early to the open houses I went to, just to make sure I could find the place and the room the session was in. Leave earlier than you think you need to because there might be traffic or you might get lost. For one open house, I arrived 45 minutes early because I was expecting traffic so I just sat in my car thinking of questions to ask and reviewing the program’s webpage on my smartphone. While that might seem like overkill, I ended up just beating traffic caused by an accident. A lot of attendees were late to that open house.
3. REVIEW THE PROGRAM’S WEBPAGE BEFORE YOU GO. Seriously. I cannot stress this enough. I can’t speak for how internship directors feel, but as an attendee, I always got annoyed when someone asked a question about the program that was answered on the program’s webpage. I imagine internship directors get annoyed by it, too. It’s one thing to ask for clarification for something on the webpage (ex “Your webpage said____. What exactly does that entail?”) and it’s another to ask for basic information that you could’ve gotten from the webpage (ex “What’s the minimum GPA I need for this program?”). One question shows that you really are interested in the program and you’ve looked into it; the other question shows that you lack basic reading skills.
4. HAVE SOMETHING TO TAKE NOTES WITH. Take a portfolio (not the kind that showcases your work, but one like this, with a notepad and pen) if you have one. At the very least, you want to take a notebook or notepad and a pen or pencil. This way you can take notes during the presentation and write down any questions as you think of them so you won’t forget them if questions are taken at the end of the presentation.
5. TAKE BUSINESS CARDS. Business cards, calling cards, visiting cards….whatever you want to call it, take a small card with your name and contact information (email, phone, or both) printed on it. They’re not expensive – if you do some quick Googling, you should be able to find some really good deals. You can make some using Microsoft Word and either print them at home using business card paper or take them to FedExKinko’s. I made some up and printed them on my home printer. While I don’t think the internship directors keep the cards and so giving cards to the directors is hit or miss, I had great success with giving my cards to the interns. After the open houses, some of the interns emailed me back with tips and examples of what they had done. This was super-helpful.
6. TAKE YOUR RESUME. This is really hit-or-miss. The internship director may not look at your resume. I mean, why should they? A copy of it will be in your application. But you also don’t want to be caught empty-handed when a director or preceptor asks “Do you have a copy of your resume?” (I did have a preceptor ask. Why? Not sure, but I still gave her a copy!) Take at least two physical copies of your resume printed on resume paper. (Resume paper is just professional paper usually a bit thicker than the plain, white printing paper.) Of course, make sure there are no mistakes in your resume. If you’re a year or two from applying, ask for feedback on your resume and for suggestions where you could improve, but don’t expect an immediate response. And don’t try to force your resume on the director. If you really, really want to leave your resume, politely ask if the director is accepting resumes and if the answer is no, don’t push it.
7. SILENCE YOUR PHONE. Don’t put it on vibrate. Put it on silent. Better yet, turn it off completely. Don’t be the rude person whose phone rings during the internship director’s presentation about the program. If you are expecting an emergency call, keep your phone on vibrate, try to sit next to an exit, and don’t answer it until you’re outside the presentation room.
8. DON’T PLAY AROUND ON YOUR PHONE. During the open house, your attention should be focused entirely on the presentation. Again, your best bet is to turn off your phone and put it away so you don’t even have the temptation of playing on it.
9. DON’T IGNORE THE INTERNS. Talk to them. Ask them questions. The interns were in your shoes not that long ago. They can totally relate to the stress and anxiety you’re going through with the application. They’ll be able to give you tips you can’t pick up anywhere else. If any of them offer help, give them your contact info. (Refer back to #5.)
10. ASK QUESTIONS. Voice concerns you might have. Ask about financial assistance. Ask about the rotations. Ask about preceptors. Ask about anything you’re curious about regarding the program. Just make sure the question isn’t answered on the webpage. (Refer back to #3.)
11. GET SOME FACETIME WITH THE DIRECTOR. After the session, the director and the interns usually hang around for a little bit to get some one-on-one time with the potential applicants. Use this time to introduce yourself to the director. Don’t push someone out of the way to do it- be polite and wait your turn. Greet them, state your name, shake her or his hand (not too hard, but don’t do a dead fish handshake either), and thank them for hosting the open house. If you have a question that you didn’t get to ask, now is a good time to ask. Don’t monopolize the director’s time, though – there are other applicants who would like a word, too. Keep it to one or two questions.
Any questions, thoughts, or suggestions?