Tips for Avoiding the Intern Applicant "Declined" Pile


That’s the number of internship applications I have reviewed since starting our business in 2007.  Of these 800 applicants, over 100 have been accepted for a position with Cressey Sports Performance.  As you might imagine, some of these applications were fantastic, while others were less than impressive.  I will spend a solid chunk of my next two weeks interviewing candidates for our Semester 2 Internship Program, so I am fresh off of yet another application review process.  My wife thinks I am overly expressive about my frustration with the intern application habits on social media, so in an effort to get it all on paper and call it a day, here's the key to my application review process.

This past spring I had the pleasure of reading 150+ applications for just 10 spots in our summer internship program (spread over our two facilities).  With an applicant pool this large, I often find myself looking for easy ways to slide a candidate into the “no” pile as quickly as possible.  The best way to avoid this fate is to pay attention to detail and apply some common sense.

In 2010 Eric outlined 10 examples of mistakes intern applicants make in a two-part series on his website (Part 1 & Part 2).  Each point is of great importance to this day, so I’d encourage you to give it a read.  Here’s a look at five more of the most common reasons I choose to dismiss candidates:

Tony Bonvecchio's attitude and approach made him too good not to hire.

Tony Bonvecchio's attitude and approach made him too good not to hire.


You Don’t Read Instructions

The ability to follow basic instructions is becoming a lost art. I have built a couple of simple hurdles in to the application process to ensure that people can demonstrate a baseline level of attention to detail and also convey a certain level of professionalism.

You’d be surprised how many applicants fail to submit their application in a single file despite having seen the instruction highlighted in red font to emphasize its importance.  The actual number of candidates who committed this error from the summer applicant pool was 38.  While it is disappointing to see more than 25% of the intern candidates make the same mistake, it is extremely helpful in streamlining my review process!

Your Application Implies that You’re Only Interested in Learning from Eric

I love the fact that you’ve read 100% of the material Eric has ever published.  I think it is great that you follow him on Twitter and Instagram.  I completely agree that Eric’s post covering 21 Reasons You’re Not Tim Collins was hilarious.  This being said, there is more to the internship experience here at CSP than following Eric around the gym.  As a matter of fact, Eric can only be in one place at a time, so some interns are going to find themselves coaching 1,500 miles away from him.

It is important to remember that you are applying to be part of a team, as opposed to being Eric’s protégé.  Here in Massachusetts alone, we’ve got 6 fantastic full-time strength coaches to learn from.  The last time that Eric thoroughly reviewed an application or handled an interview was right around 2011, so addressing your cover letters (and every email you send us) specifically to him isn’t sending the right message.  

You Use Acronyms and Fail To Concern Yourself With Formal Greetings and/or Punctuation

We no longer allow for people to download our internship application directly from our website.  I made this change because like to see how the candidates handle themselves in an email format when requesting an application.  You’d be surprised how many applicants fail to simply say “Hello” at the start of their application request.

“please send me an internship application for semester 2. TTYS”

While use of acronyms and a failure to embrace proper grammar or punctuation don’t necessarily reflect your ability to coach athletes, they absolutely represent your attention to detail and your motivation to professionally represent yourself from initial impression.  The margin of difference between the top half of our typical applicant pool is so thin that this demonstration of laziness will cost you my eyes.

If you can’t pay attention to detail while sitting down to write a basic email, good luck with supervising full-speed athletic movements while on our training floor…
— Tony Bonvecchio

Your Resume is Far Too Long

We host a number of continuing education events here at CSP each year.  In order to offer Continuing Education Units (commonly known as CEU’s) issued by the National Strength & Conditioning Association at these seminars and mentorships, I need to submit an application that includes an event description and resumes for each of the featured presenters.  I rarely come across a resume from our presenters that are more than a single page long.

Eric Cressey has managed to assemble a one-page resume.  Mike Reinold figured out how to keep it under a page of relevant professional material.  Why is it that your professional background heading in to an unpaid internship is so jam-packed that it needs to span 5-pages?  As a potential employer, I’m not meticulously scanning a resume to be sure that you’ve been gainfully employed for each and every day dating back to a part-time job you had back in high school.  What matters to me is relevant employment experience, so you can leave the Dairy Queen job description off the list.

Andrew Zomberg's unparalleled professionalism earned him a job following his internship.

Andrew Zomberg's unparalleled professionalism earned him a job following his internship.


Your Intent is Only to Obtain Credits

One of my biggest pet peeves is a candidate who requests an application by saying “my school requires that I complete a 300 hour internship to graduate so I’m emailing you for an application.”  How am I supposed to conclude that you’ll have a great work ethic and bring a positive attitude to the gym every day when you articulate your reasoning for applying as “because my school said so”?

Remember the Importance of Customer Service Above All Else

The most common question I am asked regarding our internship program is what I look for in the ideal candidate.  While most assume that my answer is going to cover a combination of academic credentials and training-specific certifications, the reality is that my best interns are simply extroverts with a good work ethic.  I’d much rather accept a candidate with an eternally positive attitude and desire to learn than I would one with a graduate degree in kinesiology and no personality.  If you can reflect a great attitude and good intentions beginning as early as the moment you request an application, you’re already off to a good start.

Hopefully this will reduce the number of future urges I have to publicly shame a candidate's misstep moving forward!