One of the best ways to get your foot through the door to your dream job is a hands-on experience. That kind of experience gives you an edge in just about any field and will help you stand out from the crowd in some of the most competitive markets.
As a student or young professional, you’ll probably find that experience through an internship. Internships can also be competitive, so how exactly do you get an internship? How do you keep the internship? How do internships help you land other jobs?
There are several resources out there to answer that question, and this article is one of them. This article specifically guides you through the internship process as follows:
- What’s an Internship?
- Why You Need an Internship
- The Application Process
- The Interview
- You Have an Internship — Now What?
- A Real-World Internship Story
- For More Reading
- Available elitefts Internships
Special thanks to these contributors:
- Coach G
- David Adamson
- Matt Rhodes
- Ashley Jones
- Jeremy Frey
- Todd Hamer
- Ty Gregg
- Nic Bronkall
- Joe Schillero
- Nate Harvey
- Matt Cooney
- Julia Anto
- Mark Watts
- Don Day
- Chris Janek
- Ellie Kim
- Rose Hasegawa
- Timothy Martin
Jrg Schiemann © 123RF.com
1. What's an Internship?
An internship is a hands-on work experience, usually for college students, set for a limited amount of time.
There are different types of internships:
- Paid: Paid interns receive financial compensation for their work. These are more common in larger business settings.
- Unpaid: Unpaid interns do not receive financial compensation for their work. These are more common in small business and nonprofit settings.
- Graduate assistantships: Graduate Assistants (GAs) are interns who are working on their master’s degree (graduate level, not undergrad). This is a term you’ll commonly see in the strength and conditioning field, where GAs work closely with a collegiate sport(s) staff and team members.
2. Why You Need an Internship
- Requirements. Some schools and certain career paths require an internship, which may even be used as a credit, in order to graduate. Talk to your advisor(s) about what constitutes as an internship or credit, as the requirements may differ from school to school.
- Experience. As defined above, internships are hands-on work experiences. Think of an internship like an apprenticeship — interns work closely with people who have more experience than they do. Yes, interns do have some background and experience from their classes or other jobs, but they do not have as much experience as someone who’s worked in a certain field for a few years. You’ll be able to learn a lot from someone with experience and get a feel for what the job might be like. Depending on the nature of the internship, you might be able to include the work you did in a portfolio for future job applications.
- Network. You’ve probably heard it a million times by now, but it’s a phrase that bears repeating: It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. In just about every industry, that’s pretty accurate. If you land an internship, you’ll be able to network with people in your industry. That’s also why it’s important to put your best foot forward. If you do a poor job in your internship, that means that if you put your supervisor down as a reference, they might not be able to give you a positive recommendation to potential employers.
Jrg Schiemann © 123RF.com
3. The Application Process
Treat the application process for an internship the same as you would for the job of your dreams because an internship just might be what opens up that door for you.
A successful application process usually goes in this order:
- You find a position that you are qualified for
- You apply for the job and include your resume and cover letter in the application (possibly through an introductory email)
- The employer contacts you to schedule an interview
- The employer may contact you for a second interview
- Interview again
- The employer contacts you with an internship offer
At this point, we’re assuming you’ve networked with the right people and have some certifications and qualifications, but if not, review the article “6 Steps to Landing An Internship.”
The First Impression
Whether you are applying for a job, internship, graduate assistantship, or what have you, treat the introductory email as a cover letter! Know how to spell, address it to the person stated, not just a random “Hello, good sir.”
Make sure you double-check the school’s name and use it. I understand that you are applying to a bunch of GA spots but not changing that and sending the wrong school on your opening email is an automatic delete. Why, it’s just a little mistake, you say? Wrong. That email is your first impression, and you will never get that back. People who are hiring you are making an investment in you and your future.
Ask anyone drowning in student loan debt right now if they could have had their graduate degree paid off by someone else: Would they spell a potential supervisor’s name right or make sure it is going to the correct institution? Grad school or your first job is not a continuation of the just sliding by partying college life. By this time, you have better have your mind made up for what you want to do with your life, and it is time to take the steps it takes to get there. Knowing how to make a good first impression is a step in the right direction.
The Cover Letter
The second step is the actual cover letter. Same issues as above: know who it is going to and address it accordingly. Use spellcheck and do a grammar-check. Do the right school-check.
Your purpose is next on the checklist. It should be clear and concise. State why you want this position and why you think you deserve this position.
It would not hurt to do some research on the school or the individual you are writing to and personalize the letter. Make sure everything you write pertains to the job listed, not just because you want to be a strength coach. Which one looks better to you: “I want to be a strength coach graduate assistant” or “I want to be a strength coach graduate assistant at (insert school here)”? The second looks a lot better, doesn’t it?
There are a thousand places where you can get information on how to write a successful, professional cover letter, and you should take a look.
Also, make sure you have all of your contact information on the cover letter. It makes it look more polished, and it is a fast reference if the potential employer needs one.
liravega258 © 123rf.com
A resume will make or break your application. Sure, not every strength and conditioning coach is a good writer (you’ve been reading our content long enough to figure that out), but there is no excuse when it comes to writing a resume. There are hundreds if not thousands of resources when it comes to resumes. Plus, with all of the information below, you really do not have an excuse.
Aesthetics and formatting
First off, your resume needs to be pleasing to the eye. It should not just be plain text typed on a sheet of paper. Using bold/italics, different fonts, and proper spacing between sections all make a difference in how your resume is viewed by the reader.
Formatting should be consistent from start to finish. Each section of your resume should use the same basic formatting. Each section should be clearly differentiated from the previous and next sections.
All of these things make it easier to be read by the prospective employer. When looking at over 100 resumes, you do not want to have to sort through a resume to figure it out. Many coaches won’t take the time to do so.
All of your contact information should be at the top of your resume and presented in an easy to understand manner. This may sound like a given, but you’d be surprised how confusing some applicants make their contact info. Also, when you list your address, also list the state you live in, not just the city.
Finally, keep it updated. If things don’t add up, you may have just eliminated yourself.
While there are different methods of writing resumes, most strength coaches I have talked to seem to want to see the same basic thing.
First off, your education should be the first section of your resume. We work long hours and are looking at a lot of resumes (100 plus for each position), so don’t make our heads spin trying to find the information for which we are looking.
Next, use reverse chronological order for each section of your resume. Start with the most recent position and work to the oldest. Do not jump around as you see fit. Even if you are trying to highlight certain positions, don’t list them first just to get our attention. List them in the proper order. Remember, you don’t want to make our heads spin. In the process of pulling out our hair, we may just toss your resume in the trash can.
Include dates for everything on your resume. Create a timeline for us. We want to see when you held each position and how you have moved through your career. If you don’t list the dates, we may assume there is something you don’t want us to know — and that tells us what we need to know.
Don’t list your objective. It is completely pointless and a waste of space. We already know why you are applying.
Put your education on your resume! There are minimum requirements for every position. We have to know what your education level is, and we are not going to call you to find out when we can just as easily move on to the next resume that is done correctly.
Also, don’t just tell us you went to Big Time U. Tell us what degree you received or when you will complete your degree. Tell us what you studied and the years you attended each school. Even if you have an unrelated degree, you should still list it on your resume, unless you have another degree that is more relevant.
Number of pages
There seems to be a lot of disagreement on this topic, and I personally feel it is way over-discussed.
Some people are in the one-page camp, while others say list everything that is important. A one-page or a three-page resume makes no difference to me when I am reading it.
However, 10- to 15-page resumes are definitely overkill and unnecessary. We don’t want to read a book about your career.
Your references should be listed on a separate page at the end of your resume and need to follow the same formatting as the resume. Don’t just type a few names with contact info on a sheet and leave it at that. Make the reference page presentable. Make each name stand out with bold or italics. The names of your references are important, so make it easy for us to see.
Keep your references updated. If you make it to the interview process and we call your references, the last thing we want to do is have an invalid phone number. Don’t make us work harder than we need to. If you want us to hire you, make it easy on us.
List your references. Do not use "references available upon request." Yes, the people listed as your references are important. That may be the one thing on your resume that gets you the interview.
How many references should you list? Three is the standard. Three to five is perfectly acceptable. There is no need to list more than five. Put your best ones down.
—David Adamson, Resume Writing Rules for Strength Coaches
Common Application Mistakes
Let’s get you your next job. I recently spoke with my colleague Simon Price at the Samoan Rugby Union, who had to work through over 125 resumes to select five applicants to interview in order to fill two intern positions. I think we went through close to 125 of the same resume with a different name and contact details on the top of each. This leads me to consider the following:
- What is your point of difference, and how are you going to catch the attention of the person wading through numerous resumes? What do you stand for?
- The longer I am in this industry, I am more taken by the why you want to do it and who you are rather than what you have done. As Kevin Costner says in my favorite film Draft Day when he’s asked about why he passed on a particular player, “It’s a character thing for me.” Who you know may get you an interview, but who you are is the reason I am going to give you the job.
- If you do not grab me in the first paragraph, it is more than likely you will be in the discard file. It does not have to be a try-hard attempt, but a sincere rationale of who you are and what you stand for is more than likely going to get my attention. I have been told recently that there were 5,000 graduates from a sports-related degree in the UK and Ireland last year alone, and there certainly were not 5,000 new jobs available.
- Keep your resume to one to two pages long and keep it relevant to the job you are applying for. No one wants to read a novel of irrelevant aspects of your life. Keep it concise and precise, highlight your key achievements, recent job history, and qualifications, and briefly summarize your training philosophy.
- If the position asks for anything specific, ensure you provide it; you would be amazed at the number of resumes that came without a cover letter.
- In regards to the cover letter, personalize it. Do some research and find out who the head of HR is rather than just addressing it to the HR Manager. I have done this very poorly in the past and believe that it has hurt my chances in some applications that I have put forward.
- Use spell check and grammar check. Ensure you have the correct spelling of the person’s name in the cover letter’s address. Nothing kills an application more than in the cover letter saying that you “have an attention to detail” and then you misspell words in the letter. It is clear that you do not have an attention to detail.
This is the rejection letter that we made sure each applicant received as a feedback opportunity for them to assist in their future applications (Simon Price put it together):
Thank you for your application for the Samoa Rugby Union Strength and Conditioning Internship. We were overwhelmed with the number of quality applicants that were prepared to move to Samoa for an intern position. Unfortunately, on this occasion, your application has been unsuccessful. Please don’t be disheartened by this, use it as motivation to continue to work harder towards your future career goals.
Below are some keys points why an application may have not been successful. All feedback points may not be referring to your application; this is a feedback summary. From an employer’s point of view, this is your first introduction, and in a competitive industry, first impressions count, so you need a point of difference, and an excellent cover letter and CV certainly help.
- Be sure to correctly read the advertisement and address the application to the correct person.
- Learn how to format a professional business letter, including spacing, dates, and correct wording.
- Use formal introductions when addressing the application in your cover letter and introduction email; try to use names when provided. “Hello” and “Hi" are not appropriate.
- Don’t send your CV in Word format; change it to a PDF file.
- Combine both documents into one file. There are free websites that allow PDFs to be combined and downloaded, such as pdfmerge.com.
- Spell check, spell check, spell check. Then have someone else read your application.
- Make sure the CV is clear and easy to read. Don’t include long paragraphs. Bullet point summaries are easier to read.
- When applying for an internship, submitting a 5-page CV isn’t appropriate; I would recommend a 2- to 3-page document. Only include information that is appropriate to the position.
- Be sure to include essential information, contact details, qualifications, and current and previous work relevant experience.
This industry is extremely competitive, and we understand that showing initiative and being confident are traits that go a long way, but be cautioned not to sound arrogant. Asking for a Skype chat to “discuss how you could help me” before even applying is extremely presumptuous and will leave a sour first impression.
Please don’t take this information to heart; we are merely trying to offer constructive feedback to assist you with future applications. Personally, I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve been rejected by this industry, but I kept persisting and vowed I would always provide feedback to unsuccessful applicants because I never received any.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to submit your application and good luck with your career.
—Ashley Jones, Are You Ready for the Inevitable?
4. The Interview
Yes, the interview is part of the application process, but it’s so important, it deserves a section of its own.
11 Interview Rules
1. Be you!
I know that this sounds simple and that everyone says it, but it's true, and so many fail at it.
I had an interview today and was asked, "How would you deal with our student body (non-athletes) if they happened to walk into your area?"
My answer was, "Be as unwelcoming as possible. Then, I would make sure that my body language was as negative as I could make it, and I'd tell them to get out."
The committee laughed, and I went on to explain my approach to dealing with people from all walks of life. I like humor and I use it often, so loosen up and be you!
2. Listen for clues about what they expect.
I once took a job (I was young and dumb) that may have been the worst strength and conditioning job in the country. Yes, I said the worst. I wasn't clearly informed that I was also the full-time student rec guy. Now, there were clues, and I should've read them, but I wanted to be a head strength coach so much that I didn't care or I was blind to the truth of the position.
During the interview, the athletic director was swearing at drivers as we drove to dinner together. This, too, should've been a big clue that this wasn't the place for me. Look for clues and remember that you applied but that they asked to interview you. It's a two-way street.
3. Tell stories.
Be specific about situations that you have dealt with in the past. If you haven't dealt with certain situations, say that and move on. There is a time and a place to stretch the truth, but if you try it during an interview, you may find yourself doing a job you don't want to be doing.
4. Know when to stretch the truth.
I know that I just said don't do this, but all rules need to be broken. If you’re asked if you have done something that you haven't done but you've been exposed to it and you can learn it in under a day, stretch away.
Do you know Teambuildr? Say yes. You can learn the basics in under an hour and it isn't a lie. You just don't know it... yet.
5. Be clear about your expectations of them.
I've had a lot of fun doing all this interviewing, and it has taught me that I need to know who I'm working for.
I turned down a job a few weeks ago that was a great job. I was honestly surprised at how good of a job it was. It just wasn't the right job for my family and me.
When I explained to the athletic director that this was a family decision, he was very supportive, and when I explained to him that my family came first, he understood.
I may not be working at that school right now, but I would be proud to work for them one day in the future.
6. Do your homework.
Know who you're meeting with. Where did they go to school? Who do they know? Know who knows who. It's important to know who is going to help you and maybe even hurt you. I have many friends in this industry, and there are some people who don't like me (I know! I, too, don't believe it)
So, if someone on the committee is friends with your old boss, are you on good terms with your old boss? I speak to most of my old bosses regularly so that I know that I'm good with them. Thank you, Handy and Kontos, for allowing me to be a dumb, young know-it-all and not killing or firing me.
7. Interview them.
As I stated earlier, they called you, so you have every right to ask them the right questions. This doesn't give you a green light to "go at" someone who wants to hire you. This does give you the responsibility to make sure that you ask the right questions. This is where it can get tricky.
Phone interviews aren't the time to haggle over salary, benefits, or responsibilities. If you move to a second round of interviews, that's your chance to ask more poignant questions.
8. Learn about chances for advancement.
A former intern and an assistant of mine (Rick Canter) at the time took a job that I thought was the worse move he could have made professionally. I remember telling him not to take the job.
Here we are, six years later, and Rick is an associate athletic director, whereas I'm unemployed.
What Rick may or may not have known is that his boss was willing to allow him to advance and to help him to succeed. I'm sure part of this was that Rick is smart and part was Rick was lucky with his boss. It doesn't matter because Rick is doing great things for our industry.
9. Know that you aren't perfect.
I have used this saying more times than I can count, and here I go again: "America isn't perfect, but I will hold her hand until she gets there." Find someone who is going to help you to grow and will allow you to make mistakes. This quote is from a Tuskegee Airman war memorial.
10. Reach out post-interview whether you move forward with the job or not.
Always leave the situation on a positive note. You have a long career ahead of you, and just because the company didn’t hire you or you didn’t take the job doesn't mean that you won't work together in the future. Make sure that they know you're a professional who is going places in this field.
11. Just because you didn't get the job doesn't mean that someone else is better than you, and if you got the job, that doesn't mean you're better than someone else.
Getting a job just means that you're the right fit at the right time. I was passed over on a job that many said was mine last year. When asked how I felt about not getting the position, I replied that the company made the right hire.
Some people may never understand this, but I truly believe that the school in question hired the person it was looking for, and that is the right hire. Ironically, a week after not getting that job, I bumped into the athletic director at an event, and we shared a libation.
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I’ve been writing for @elitefts for almost a decade now and I was reminded of this article yesterday in a conversation with @c_kohlasch and @lindenwoodstrength Something I should have written more about in this article is the point that you (and I) aren’t perfect. Buddy Morris has been saying this for years, all programs are imperfect. I’ll add just as all coaches are imperfect. One of the easiest parts of our jobs is to find others issues and weaknesses and point them out. Yet how many of us are willing to look in the mirror and address their own weaknesses? The beauty of owning our own weakness and being vulnerable is how it humanize us to those around us. So I ask you to find you weakness, show your weakness and admit your weakness. This will not only make you a better coach but a more valuable coach and more employable. https://www.elitefts.com/education/coaching-education/rules-for-interviewing/
5. You Have An Internship — Now What?
Expectations (and Rising Above them)
One of the best strength interns Nate Harvey ever had was a kid who wasn’t the best at programming or terribly book smart. This intern was able to communicate well with the athletes. That said, don’t get too hung up on your degree, programming ability, or overall book-related knowledge. Work hard and communicate well. If you can’t get the athletes to listen to you, the rest of that won’t matter.
As an intern, expect the following:
- Be ready to wake up early, like 5 a.m. We have a ton of early morning groups, and you will be expected to be there. If you are not a morning person or don’t want to be, don’t bother.
- As collegiate strength coaches, we are already at the bottom of the totem pole. You are interning for us, so what do you think that makes you? Be prepared to do anything and everything.
- You will not be running groups (initially, or maybe ever). Your sole purpose is to do the jobs the strength staff doesn’t want to do (even though we still have to, especially when we don’t have interns). We all started here, and so will you. Lose the pride and ego.
- I’m not going to write more expectations because every coach is different, but simply show up on time and when you are supposed to, be willing to do what you are told, and don’t get too big for your britches. Interns are a dime a dozen.
As an intern, do the following:
- Show up 10 minutes before the coach does. Who cares if you are standing outside forever? Dress warmly. If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late.
- Bust your ass. If stuff needs set up, get it done. If the floor needs to be mopped and benches need to be cleaned, do it before you are asked to.
- Keep your mouth shut and your ears and eyes open. Pay attention to the coaching cues and how the staff stands and moves. Listen to the cues and see how they apply to the movement. Listen to how the coaches interact with the student-athletes.
- Keep a pen, stopwatch, whistle, and little notepad on you at all times. Maybe you will never use the watch or whistle, but the coach might need a watch or have you blow the whistle when they need to get the attention of someone. The notepad is so that you can write down questions to ask the coach after the training session has concluded. Also, if you need to remember what an athlete told you or if you need to make an adjustment to a program later, then you have that information, so this plays into your job later down the road of keeping track of information.
- Don’t have sex or a relationship with the student-athletes! Jesus, you are a coach now! They are off-limits. I don’t care if you knew them before or if you are the same age or did the deed with them prior. That shit is all over. You are a coach; start acting like one from Day 1. Understand that if you are afforded the opportunity to intern with anyone, you now represent that department and university. It doesn’t look as bad on you as it will to the department, university, and public.
- Stick around, talk shop, and pick brains. Ask why things are done a certain way. Anyone who asks me why I do what I do receives an answer. You will learn more doing this than doing anything else. The weight room has now started to take over your life if it hadn’t already. Embrace it.
6. A Real-World Internship Story
I am a Division III college strength coach who just took my first official assistant position. I was previously at another Division III school as a part-time strength coach, but we all know they do not exist. I was previously a high school strength coach at two small private schools, mainly working with football. As such, I have been kind of doing my own thing now for a few years. The first two weeks on the job went well, between learning from and about my coworkers and working hard on learning the names of all the football players. However, the following Monday morning, I received a text from the head strength coach that he would be out that day because he was under the weather. This day also coincided with our new intern starting as well. It turned out that the head coach needed to have emergency surgery and would be out for a prolonged amount of time. Within the first few weeks of a job, it can be daunting to have to step up to be the interim head guy. But hey, this is what everyone wants to be. So, what steps should be taken?
1. Talk to the coaches
Your workload is about to double or triple. Figure out from your teams what the head guy usually does for the team. This can include practice warm-ups, conditioning sessions, and possibly taking over programming if need be. The best thing to do is show that you are competent and do not need to constantly be told how to operate, but also show the coaches you are there to help their teams and that they are not forgotten. Also, let your sports coaches know that your workload has changed, but that their team is still the main priority and will not fall to the wayside.
2. Do the tasks expected of you
At the small college level, some strength coaches are also involved with the student recreation or fitness center. When I was hired, I was told that my focus was just strength and conditioning. This meant that I would oversee the weight room, which was below the fitness center. With my boss gone, that did not mean that I was done with the fitness center. However, I needed to make sure it was open and running. I also needed to make sure the staff knew who I was and where to find me if a situation occurred. It’s important to stay in your lane but also cover what possibly needs to be covered.
3. Work with interns
Our staff consisted of two full-time coaches and one intern. With the head guy out, what the intern would get out of this experience was on my shoulders. It would be selfish of me to overwhelm myself and completely ignore the opportunity to pass on knowledge to the intern. With great articles about internships that can be found on elitefts, it makes it easier to be able to set up a curriculum or blueprint to follow for teaching the intern along the way. Every experience they have with teams, reading articles, and discussing programming is a chance for both of us to grow in this profession, so do not take anything for granted. Also, interns: be open-minded, ask questions (not stupid ones), and be ready to learn every day.
4. Take advantage of the opportunity
This is a golden opportunity to show your boss, the staff, and also yourself that you can handle the job. Showing that you are willing to step into the line of fire, send out emails, meet with the coaches, and even train more than just your teams can go a long way for job opportunities. Maybe your boss gets another job and decides to leave, so this time of stepping up could show that you are ready to take over for him. Maybe this opportunity lends itself to you getting a head job somewhere else thanks to the huge coaching network that has opened up due to the sports coaches you might not have been able to work with otherwise.
—Ty Gregg, Thrown Into The Fire
7. For More Reading
- 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Your Staff
- 5 Innovative Assignments for Strength & Conditioning Interns
- 6 Steps to Landing An Internship
- 15 Habits You’ll Need as a Full-Time Strength and Conditioning Intern
- Are You Ready for the Inevitable?
- A Call to Young Coaches
- A Career Development Plan for GAs and Interns
- Coaches of Tomorrow — Building A Better Internship Program
- Don’t Do It: Interns
- A Fair Assessment of the CSCCa and NSCA
- Getting the New Job: Sharpen the Sword
- Grad Assistants: Read This Before Applying Anywhere
- The Hidden Value of the Unpaid Internship
- How to Get In and Stay In
- Meet Ryan Davis, Rodney Hill, Brian Johnson, and Dantonio Burnette
- My Experiences in Three Internship Settings
- The Qualities I Look for in a Strength and Conditioning Intern or Colleague
- Resume Writing Rules for Strength Coaches
- Rules for Interviewing
- So You Want to Be A Collegiate Strength Coach: Steps to Earning Your First Coaching Job
- The Top-10 Things I Learned as an Intern
- The Travels of a Strength and Conditioning Coach — Jonathan Leitch’s Story
- What to Expect as a Strength and Conditioning Intern
- Why You’re Still an Intern
- Wrapping It Up — What I Learned as an elitefts Intern
- You Never Know How You’ll Find Your First Job
8. Available elitefts Internships
- Strength and Conditioning Editorial Internship
- Web Editor Internship
- Marketing Internship
- Videographer Internship
- Video Editor Internship