The application process
Don't be afraid to aim high, but also make sure to not overlook certain opportunities because you are hoping for "something better" to come along. Honestly, just apply for as much as you can, accept any chance for an interview (they are always valuable, even if it doesn't lead directly to a job, it is still great practice), and be sure to put the word out that you are looking, as its likely that one of your contacts knows someone who knows someone who is looking to hire. Be yourself, show your eagerness to learn, and remember that you aren't expected to know everything!
Emails are often the best way to get a hold of a Creative Director or HR Manager. Keep your emails short, to the point, but always personalize them in some way. Do not make it seem like a cookie-cutter email. Tell them why you really want to work there. Always include your resumé, portfolio as a link or reduced file size PDF, and if you’re feeling ambitious, a cover letter. You often won’t get a response, so follow up 3-5 days later. Use this opportunity to try out a new subject line or intro sentence. Don’t simply copy and paste your previous message.
"This is pretty gutsy, and I wouldn't write something this cheeky to any other company. I did get a response for an interview after this so I guess it worked... This intro text was accompanied by the additional requirements for the application."
Before you apply, do some research. Know the company's history, understand its core values and understand how your role will help the company. You can also talk to someone (perhaps a fellow college alumni) who works in the company. Invite them to coffee, and ask about the company culture, the workspace and about the team you will be joining.
Tailoring your portfolio and resume
In your portfolio, show the type of work that you would like to do more of in the future. Doing so will help employers understand what type of work you're most interested in and what experience you are looking to acquire during your internship there.
When it comes time to interview, you should always tailor your portfolio. Show them the type of work they deal with everyday. For example, if you are interviewing for a UI/UX position, showing print isn’t your best idea.
Once you've done your research about the company, try to connect yourself with the company's values. While your resume shows your experience and education in numbers, your cover letter should explain your past work or educational experience and how it connects to the company's values.
It’s important to remember to express eagerness and a willingness to learn. You want to avoid coming across as if you are doing them a favour by being their intern. While new to the industry, you can show your passion for design, why you love it, and why you want to work for them in order to develop your skills. I always stress my desire for mentorship and what they do that I want to learn more about/aspire to.
When speaking about your pieces, keep your rationales short. This allows your interviewer to process their thoughts independently and gives them time to ask you questions.
Be yourself. Your portfolio may get you the interview, but YOU have to get the job.