Tribune DataViz

Matters of interest, from the data reporters and developers across Tribune Publishing

How to get the interview

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Say you’re interested in an internship with the Chicago Tribune News Applications team (or, really, anywhere). You see our post on the Tribune Media Group jobs site, or right here on this blog. You respond. We don’t call you in for an interview.

“What went wrong?” you wonder.

Well, any number of things. Maybe nothing. Maybe we just didn’t think you were a good fit.

“But I would have been a great fit!” you wail to the heavens. You shake your fists and rend your garments. And then you ponder, “What could I have done differently that would have at least merited an interview?”

Okay, dry your eyes, get a drink of water, and prepare for some advice. I’ve been handling the annual Search for the Summer Intern for three years and I have thoughts.

First, though, you should know one thing: I want you to have the best possible shot at this (or any other) internship.

I’m not looking to arbitrarily disqualify candidates. I hope that we have more qualified applicants than we can handle—from a totally selfish perspective, options are great! Therefore I have provided the following list of the Five Most Important Things to Do on Your Internship Application:


Excuse the shouting, but this one piece of advice could stand in for the entire list if necessary. If you neglect to follow instructions in the application process, it seems like you either don’t care enough to pay attention to directions or don’t think the directions apply to you. Either option is a bad message to send.

If, for example, the instructions say (perhaps even in three separate places…) to include a cover letter, you should include a cover letter. If you choose to skip that step, I will choose to skip reading your resume. By not even meeting the basic requirements of the application, you’ve wasted your own time and that of a lovely gentleman in HR—and the only reason you’re not wasting my time as well is that I eventually asked said gentleman to not bother forwarding me any applications missing cover letters.

2. Demonstrate understanding of the role, relevance, and interest

No, the job description probably won’t spell out every duty the internship encompasses, but you should at least be able to figure out what the role broadly entails…and only apply if it’s something you want to do.

Sometimes your experience doesn’t seem like an obvious fit for the role you’re hoping to fill. That ostensible mismatch doesn’t automatically disqualify you from consideration, provided you explain why you’re interested in and think you would be a good fit for the internship. If your resume says you’re in culinary school and your cover letter is a generic copy-and-paste job, I won’t assume you’re learning to code on weekends and are an avid hackathon participant. But maybe you are! Make it explicit.

3. Pay attention to details

One typo isn’t going to disqualify you, even with someone as nitpicky as I am. But if your entire application is riddled with typos? Not good. If your cover letter is obviously copied and pasted and I can see where you’ve forgotten to change some of the relevant details? Also not good. If you get the name of the company or team wrong? Pretty bad. And I would always prefer “Dear News Apps Team” or the old standby, “To Whom It May Concern” over entirely the wrong name. If you’re not sure, don’t just guess.

All of the above come across as sloppy and lazy—you didn’t pay attention the first time and you didn’t look over your work before sending. Those are not traits we want in an intern, particularly one whose role will entail committing code to a live site.

4. Don’t squander opportunities

If for any reason one of my teammates or I do contact you (perhaps a colleague recommended you, or I have reason to suspect some form of technology botched your cover letter), make the most of the opportunity. Theoretically, we’re reaching out because we’re interested in you or want to give you a chance to explain or elaborate. If you’re really interested in the internship, this is the time to put in a little extra effort, not just copy and paste your generic cover letter, typos and all.

5. Follow the directions already!

Yes, it’s *that* important.


Written by Kaitlen Exum

May 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Jobs, Uncategorized

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