5 Steps to Internship Application Success

Found a job that is right up your street? Brilliant! If the role really excites you, you may be raring to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard!) and get started on that application… However, my advice is to ‘STOP’, take a breath and really think about whether you have done the preparation to complete this application to the best of your ability.

The 5 Rs model can help you pull together a great application. Most importantly the actual writing of CVs, cover letters and application forms, comes in at STEP 4, meaning there are 3 steps to take before you even start on that application!

Let’s look at what they are.

The 5 Rs Model


This first step is all about understanding what you have to offer a potential employer.

There are different ways you can do this. The more work you do at this stage the easier it will be to submit a great application.

  1. Undertake a skills audit like this one, identifying examples of times when you have demonstrated you have this particular knowledge, attribute, skill or experience.
  2. Write down all your different experiences e.g. internships, placements, previous employment (whether part-time or full time), your university course, part time jobs, clubs/societies, hobbies, study abroad. Think about some of the key challenges, achievements you faced and then identify the knowledge, skills and attributes you used to in these specific situations.  Begin to make a list of these.
  3. Try one of the many online quizzes and questionnaires available to help you identify your skills, strengths, your preferences about what type of role might suit your personality.

The key to reflecting on your skills is to consider what evidence you have to prove you have used your skills effectively. If you think you are good at a particular skill, ask yourself what you are basing this on.

Equally important is to have a good sense of your own values, preferences and goals. You may need to spend some time reflecting on what is important to you in life. Consider these questions to begin your thinking about Consider these questions to begin your thinking about your personal values:

  1. What inspires you? e.g. what makes you come alive or energises you?
  2. What are your natural talents? e.g. what are you doing when you feel you are ‘in your element?’
  3. Where do you add greatest value? e.g. what contributions do you make that are particularly valued in a team/ project situation.
  4. What would a successful life look like from your point of view?

STEP 2: REVIEW the job description

This stage focuses on understanding exactly what the employer is looking for.

Take time to go through all the information about the job and highlight the skills and attributes that are mentioned multiple times or are in the ‘essential’ criteria and create a list of the skills the employer has specific interest in.  These are the key skills that you need to focus on in your CV, cover letter or application.

Some of these will be on your ‘REFLECT’ others may need to be added to the list. For these new additions to your list, go back to the reflect stage and identify when you have used or have demonstrated these skills or attributes and what evidence you have that you used them effectively.

STEP 3: RESEARCH the organisation

Learn as much as you can about the company, how it operates and what it is like to work there. Go beyond the job description and search for news about the company; Look for mission statements, webpages about their strategic goals; Use social media such as LinkedIn to connect with employees in the company to find out about their organisational culture.

Can you answer these questions?

  • What are the company’s values, ethos, strategic goals?
  • How do they align with your own values & how can you contribute to these?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • What makes them different from their competitors and why do you want to work for their organisation?


Only now at step 4 do we get to the part where you can begin to write about your knowledge, attributes, skills and experience in a CV, Cover letter, application form or interview.

If you have been through steps 1-3 you should be in a much better position to answer one of the most important questions employers ask and you need to show in your application – Why this job?

By having a clear answer to this important question and theses 4 sub questions will help you to:

  • Complete ‘blank box’ questions on application forms that ask you to write a supporting statement
  • Structure cover letters
  • Decide what content to include in your CV
  • Articulate why you are the right fit for the role in an interview

Whether in your CV, Cover letter, application form or in an interview, it is important to give evidence and examples of how you have used these skills and not to just list them. Where you can quantify or provide information about how effective you were when using these skills helps the employer to get a sense of how competent you are at these skills.

The STAR technique can be very useful in helping you to evidence your experience effectively. It can be used to structure answers in written application forms, CVs, and verbally through face to face and video interviews.

Consider adding an extra R for Reflection- to show what you have learnt after reflecting on your experience. This level of self-awareness is valued by employers.


This final step relates to knowledge, attributes, skills or experiences that you identified in step 2 as being important to the role, but have not had chance to develop or experience… yet!

Reframing is about putting a positive spin on the fact that you have not had the experience or developed this skill yet. You could discuss this in an interview in terms of what you are currently doing to develop the skill, or refer to other skills that you do have, that can be drawn on instead of the skill/ experience that the employer is looking for, or evidence of having developed similar knowledge or skills effectively.  It is all about demonstrating your potential.

Having reflected on your skill set, you will be in a better position to identify opportunities to develop the skills that are currently lacking.

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About the Author:

Sue Edwards, Careers Consultant at Lancaster University and creator of the 5Rs model and Careers Decision Triangle