Completing an internship (or two) is one of the most powerful tools for landing an ideal career position after graduation. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' 2013 Student Survey, graduates who worked as interns are paid more in their first career position. But to land an interesting and informative internship, you need to look ready to be hired. Invest in these four tools to increase your chances of looking the part and landing the internship.
1. Hair products. Like it or not, stylish, well-groomed hair is often one of the first things an interviewer notices. Hair that works on campus is often wildly different from hair that works in the business world. Take a moment to review your style in the mirror. Does your hair say, "I have thought through this style and spent time on achieving it"? Or, "I look like I could walk into a meeting with a typical client of my target employer and he would be impressed with what he saw"? Notice the notion that "you must be attractive or have been blessed with a mane of perfect hair" hasn't been mentioned. What you're targeting is that you have thought through a hair style that is respectful, took some attention and is on trend for the environment where you're interviewing.
If you're unsure of what is on trend, attend an on-campus job fair to see what the company representatives are wearing. You can also look at the "Career" section of desired employers' websites. The images shown there are intentionally chosen to convey a desired appearance.
2. Shoe polish. Think the polished shoe is a thing of the past? Or maybe you never even knew that people shined their shoes? Well think again. Unblemished shoes display attention to detail. Your shoes are always visible, so make sure they paint a professional image. Shoes are often one of the few ways men in particular might distinguish themselves from a sea of other dark suits.
Choose the style carefully and make sure you clean and polish your shoes before any meetings. If you have scraped leather, you may be able to see a cobbler to fix the damaged area. Synthetic materials are more difficult -- but a Sharpie in a matching color can cover up a scratch in a pinch if actual polish isn't accessible. Also look at your heels to check for excessive wear. Most men's and women's shoes can be re-heeled or have tips replaced for reasonable costs.
3. The jacket. A well-fitting jacket makes a strategic, professional statement. The ideal jacket should button comfortably. Also check that there is minimal pull, especially when sitting down. For women, the arm length should hit right around where your hand meets your arm, erring on the side of covering your wrist. A man's sleeve should hit the top of the hand right below the wrist and usually can be touched on your palm side if you bend your fingers as if you were making a fist. You also want to make sure that the body of the jacket is not too large, resulting in an unnecessary boxy appearance. It should graze your waistline and fit well when standing and sitting.
Check to make sure the pockets and back pleat have been unstitched. Many new items have light stitching that keeps pockets and pleats closed and in alignment with the jacket. These can be easily removed with a seam ripper -- which you most likely don't have -- but alternatively you could use manicure scissors or some other small and sharp item that can lift and sever the stitch away from the fabric without cutting the fabric or ripping a hole.
Choose a color and fabric that is on trend with the industry and profession you're targeting. Subtle differentiation goes a long way in getting attention, setting yourself apart and displaying your personality. Especially if you're attending a job fair or will be one of many candidates interviewing for a specific role, having a jacket that is slightly different from the expected black or navy blue may be the reason one interviewer remembers you over everyone else. For conservative professionals, this may mean a gray or brown jacket with a barely discernible pattern. For more creative fields, you may be able to work with other colors. Make sure that the fabric is comfortable, breathable (since interviewing is a sweaty business) and difficult to wrinkle. And remember to remove your jacket while driving to keep it looking as crisp as possible.
4. A well-fitting, clean shirt is a must. There are several things to consider: First, similar to the jacket, your shirt should fit just right, both when sitting and standing, and should look great even without your jacket. For women in particular, make sure your shirt doesn't gape between buttons and isn't see-through. Accidentally or intentionally displaying undergarments can be distracting and uncomfortable for the hiring professional, and no matter which effect you achieve, it usually isn't good for getting hired. Men should wear an undershirt to manage perspiration and maintain a professional look while meeting.
Second, achieve clean. Usually the interview clothes worn by college students are used for a round of meetings and then hung back up in the closet until the next interview. Double check that your shirt is free of food, coffee and sweat stains (and smell). Dry cleaning isn't cheap, but it's worthwhile if it's required to make a great first impression.
Finally, iron your shirt (along with everything else you'll wear). Don't try to hide a wrinkled shirt under a jacket, because it's a Murphy's Law way to make sure the room you're interviewing in is two degrees cooler than Dante's Inferno, forcing you to remove your jacket and reveal your wrinkles.
Remember that most hiring decision makers who you're trying to impress are at least 10 years older than you. The image that fares best in an internship interview is the one that looks ideal from the eyes of these decision makers. Looking your best is a key component to succeeding in the hiring process. Take a little time to work through the details, and you'll take a giant step toward landing that internship.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.