How to get an internship with the “Truffle Principle”

A hiring manager puts out a description for an internship opportunity and gets 250+ applications. Yours must stand out. Here’s how to get an internship.

Ramit Sethi

Interns are like salt.

Salt is a commodity. You don’t care which brand of salt you get…they’re all the same to you. You can substitute one brand of salt for another and nobody would be able to tell the difference. And as a result, the price of commodity salt is extremely low.

Much like interns.

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Interns are easily substitutable bodies that only serve to fill headcount requirements. You do NOT want to be a commodity. If you are, you’re exactly the same as the next 100 interns. And that means it’s harder to get hired, harder to stand out, and harder to get meaningful work and experience.

Instead of being salt, you want to be a truffle.

A truffle is so unique and valuable that people will pay disproportionately to get one. If you’re a truffle, hiring managers will not be able to even conceive of substituting you because, through your application, you will uniquely solve their problems so deeply that you’ll be considered “one of a kind.”

When that happens, not only have you secured the internship, but you have laid the foundation for increased job opportunities down the road.

This is the Truffle Principle.

I’ll give you an example. By being a truffle, I beat out Stanford MBA students for a job at Sun Microsystems…as a sophomore in college.

Today, I’ll show you 3 ways to decommoditize and become a truffle so you can stand out and get an internship anywhere.

Why most internship applications never get read

Put yourself in a hiring manager’s shoes. They put out a description for an internship opportunity and get 250+ applications in 48 hours.

Most people consistently produce mediocre applications that look like everything else out there — Salt. Yours must stand out — Truffle.

I know because I’ve hired over 100 people in the 10 years of running my company. I give each applicant about 15 seconds. In fact, rather than looking deeply into each application to see the applicant’s true nature (that’s not my job), I actually looked for ways to disqualify them.

I’m not alone in this. My team and I did years of research and discovered that this is the way most hiring managers must work to filter through the sheer volume of applicants for both full-time jobs and internships.

When an application is superb, it immediately stands out.

3 ways to use the “Truffle Principle” to get an internship

When truffles decide to find an internship, they don’t start googling around to “see what’s out there.” They already know about internships that are not even public, thanks to their networks.

They can send a few emails and bypass the entire hiring apparatus and get a meeting with a hiring manager.

Their friends will vouch for them, saying, “You really need to talk to this person,” which profoundly changes the tenor of the conversation. Imagine being introduced as someone who the hiring manager “needs to talk to” rather than a random applicant desperate for college credit.

They are not salt. They cannot be substituted for another body to “meet headcount goals.” They have developed unique skills, and they communicate those skills to convince the hiring manager that they deserve special treatment.

STOP! Stop right here.

It’s easy to say, “Yeah, maybe that works if you have ____ (elite college, connected parents, the right major). Don’t put up your own psychological barrier of why these people are different than you (the barrier here is the Shrug Effect). Yes, maybe 5%-10% of these people were born with rich parents or they’re naturally gifted. The rest of them worked their asses off.

Here are 3 ways that people become truffles.

1. Use specificity to stand out. This is one of the first lessons that led me to develop the “Nod and Shrug Fallacy.” When you say “get specific,” everyone nods and shrugs — “Yeah yeah, Ramit, I got it” — but nobody actually does it.

For example, if I asked you right now, “What’s your dream internship?”, what would you say? 95% of us would say something like this: “I’m looking for an internship that’s challenging and rewarding…where I can learn…something that lets me really make an impact…I like to work with people.” This is what everyone would say. Salt.

Instead, a truffle would say:

  • “I’m looking to intern in the inside sales department at a social networking company in San Francisco.”
  • “I’m interested in interning in Development at a women’s issues nonprofit in Washington DC.”

See the difference? When you get specific, you don’t make the busy person do your work for you. YOU do the work — you don’t wait for someone else to find your internship for you. And once you can be this specific, you can go to your network and ask for their help in locating connections to these companies. In other words, if someone comes to me and says “I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” that’s a long discussion. If they say, “Do you know any sales managers at B2C tech companies in Silicon Valley?” I will introduce them to 3 within 10 minutes.

2. Master the art of preparation. Another “Nod and Shrug” area where people say, “Yeah yeah, I know I need to prepare.”

Have you had an internship interview before? How did you prepare?

  • SALT: “I spent an hour browsing their website and Googling around for news about them. I also talked to my friend on the phone for 5 minutes about what kind of questions he thought I should expect.”
  • TRUFFLE: “I’d already met with 3 people on the team before the interview, so I knew exactly what their challenges were, and even the words they used to describe them. I wrote all those notes down, then compared them with what I found on the web. Then I crafted my narrative. I invited a friend over — he’s a management consultant so he knows how to ask tough questions — and he came over to mock-interview me for 2 hours. I recorded the video and stopped every 15 minutes to calibrate.”

Sound hard? Good. Most people won’t do the hard work.

That means people who spend 2x the time can get 10x the results. Yes, you will have to work harder. But, you’ll get first pick of internships, while other people fight over the scraps.

At the bottom of this post, I’ll show you how to master the art of interviewing (just this short video alone will put you ahead of 99% of applicants).

3. Get referred — by ANYONE. People love to talk about how they don’t have a network. I ask them, “Really? Who have you tried to reach out to?” They respond with a blank look and a shrug.

  • SALT: “I tried but I just don’t know anyone! I emailed a couple friends but they have no idea. It’s frustrating when it’s all about WHO you know. How can they expect me to know all these people when I’m just a student?”
  • TRUFFLE: “First, I checked my LinkedIn profile and sent out some emails. I tested 3 emails and the third is performing best — I’m getting a 50% response rate. I set up 3 coffee meetings for next week. Then I went into my college career office. I also mentioned exactly what I’m looking for when I was talking with professors, and one of them knew a director at the company I want to work for! So we are having coffee tomorrow.”

There are several areas of the internship search where decommoditizing works:

  • The companies you target
  • The emails you send
  • The questions you ask
  • Your cover letter/resume
  • Your interview performance, including questions, answers, body language

Ask yourself: “For my interview, what do SALT applicants do? What should a TRUFFLE applicant do?” Repeat throughout the application process.

I want to give you a head start. Today, I’m giving you access to a video on how to master the art of interviewing. In the video, you’ll meet Karen — a recent college graduate with no experience who used my Dream Job material and coaching to land not just one, but two dream jobs. You can use the same strategy to get an internship.

Master the Internship Interview

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