Become a Competitive Candidate for Internships

When I entered into the didactic program in dietetics, I was set on pursuing an internship right after graduation. Instead, I worked for two years and then was accepted into an out-of-state internship program.

Before graduating, I figured that a good GPA, a few extracurriculars and a part-time job were enough to be a competitive candidate. However, for those of you who have been through this journey or are just embarking on it, you know there is more to it. The chances of being matched with an internship are around 50 percent. Due to growing interest in the field, there are increasingly more students studying dietetics — and unfortunately the availability of internships has yet to catch up. Thus, you must market yourself as a strong candidate through your experience, resume and essays.

Regardless of whether you apply to an internship pre- or post-graduation, there are a few things I wished I had known before starting the application process.

Be versatile. Yes, it is wonderful to be the president of your nutrition club, volunteer at the food bank and work as an assistant in the school’s food lab, but do not limit yourself to strictly nutrition-centric activities. Take on commitments that set you apart. Programs seek well-rounded applicants that will bring unique talents and perspectives. Don’t be afraid to take on leadership roles or challenge yourself in ways that might be out of your comfort zone. The willingness to learn and grow is a great attribute and will not go unnoticed.

Say yes. No matter the opportunity, big or small, say yes if it adds to your professional experience or to your expertise in the field of nutrition. Find a way to fit it into your schedule and make it a productive learning experience.

Be a self-starter. Internships look for candidates that can function independently and assertively when pursuing their goals. Programs simulate real-life work situations and they want to see that you are highly motivated and can successfully complete tasks on your own.

Play to your strengths. Apply to programs that align with your personal goals and strengths. If you have experience in community nutrition, emphasize that in your resume and essays and seek out programs with that focus. If you excel in medical nutrition therapy, apply to clinical or generalized programs. Be strategic and seek programs that are more likely to view you as an asset.

Maintain a good GPA. GPA is an important factor; but depending on the program, there may be some flexibility. When I applied to internships, the GPA requirements ranged from 2.75-3.8, so I made sure to apply to programs where my GPA surpassed their standards. If the program website does not state a cutoff, reach out to the program director for a definitive answer.

Make connections. Reach out to dietitians in your community. They can provide great insight into the application process as well as job opportunities in the future.

Talk to your director. Your director can be an invaluable resource when applications roll around. Make it a priority to meet with them as often as possible to discuss options and ways to improve your standing and chances of matching.

Update your resume often. It can be easy to add to the growing list of achievements and experiences on your resume. But, if you do not update that list often or update it in a hurry, you may accidentally forget to include important experiences.

Reach out to programs. I found particular value in contacting program directors — before applications were due — to ask questions and identify the qualities and qualifications they were seeking in applicants. This helped me tailor my resume, essays and applications to the individual programs.

Do your research. When researching internship programs, look at ALL of the facts. Be aware of: program emphasis (clinical, community, etc.), length of the program, number of accepted students, location, costs, application due date, if they offer distance education and their RD exam success rates.

Lock down recommendations. Ask for recommendations early. This enables the professor or supervisor enough time to both commit and write a thoughtful and strong letter. Waiting until the last minute may mean losing out on a valuable commendation due to time constraints or prior obligations.

Be flexible. Applying the fall after graduation versus the spring before may increase your chances of matching with an internship. Go with the option that will yield the most successful outcomes.

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Brieanna Casperson
Brieanna Casperson, RDN, is a Connecticut-based dietitian with a focus on plant-based cooking and baking. Read her blog, B.Flavorful, and follow her on Facebook.