It’s true that internships at some of the top tech firms will require…previous internship experience. They aren’t trying to be exclusive. The truth is that they get a very high volume of resumes and this requirement allows them to winnow out a lot of applications. But instead of focusing on that elite internship as a first goal, make sure you’ve maximized the many other opportunities in front of you first.
You’re going to want to be as technically proficient as possible, so assuming that you are paying attention in your classes and putting in the work, you’re going to want to be doing the same outside of class as well. You should be working on side projects, the first of which should be some kind of personal portfolio website which showcases your work. Make sure that the projects feature a photo and at least a brief description, and are clickable either through to the project itself or the code on Github or someplace similar. Speaking of which, Github publicly displays the longest streak of days you’ve spent coding. No reason you shouldn’t make that number as high as possible!
You should also consider getting to as many hackathons as you can. Both Major League Hacking and Hackalist are great resources, with the latter providing search filters for events that are free, cover travel, and offer prizes. Hackathons can provide you with more projects you can add to your portfolio, but perhaps more importantly can help you grow your network. You’ll meet people and have the chance to connect them with people and resources you find valuable, and they may be willing and able to do the same for you. Remember to never be transactional when networking: give without keeping score.
Your network is going to be one of the first places you go when it’s time to start applying for internships.
- Friends who have previously landed internships. Many companies use referrals from existing staff as a soft pre-screening. Your friends, if they are willing to recommend you, are serving as an indirect vouch, and that’s valued by many tech firms.
- Contacts from career fairs and other events. If you’ve played the long game and have taken the time at events to have meaningful conversations (i.e. understanding the culture and aims of firms rather than asking them if they have any work for you) with representatives there, it’s a great time to circle back, remind them of your conversations, and let them know you’re available for work.
- School departments and professors. This is perhaps the most obvious and thus the most overlooked. Keep in mind that your school, like many other enterprises, needs help too, and if professors don’t have a connection they can make with an outside firm, perhaps they can help you pitch a school department on projects that need completion.
- Alumni. This, again, needs to be a long game play. Don’t cold email someone asking for a job. They don’t know you. Ask if they might give you 15 minutes of their time to chat on the phone about their experience at the company. Have some thoughtful and relevant questions ready to go so that you maximize whatever time they give you.
- LinkedIn. Look at companies that you are interested in and see if there are any 2nd or 3rd degree connections there. You can reach out to them using the same strategy as with alumni. This, of course, assumes that you have an updated and optimized LinkedIn profile, which you should.
Be prepared for the technical interviews and coding challenges that you may be subject to as part of the application process for an internship. This post from Palantir and this book of problems are great resources to prepare. Having a strong foundation means that you’ll do better at an internship you land and give yourself a better chance of possibly landing a full-time job later on.
Make sure your resume is solid. There are many ways (apart from your network, of course) that you can get a free resume review to make sure it’s optimized. Most recruiters and companies are going to spend 30 seconds tops looking at it, so it needs to have everything relevant easily found.
And remember, don’t take no for an answer. Should none of your outreach succeed, find a smaller local company and pitch them on a project that you’ll execute for free. Do some research on them first, of course. You don’t want to look desperate. And make sure to set the terms of the engagement: you’ll be able to list them on your resume, you’ll have certain ways you’ll use to report your progress, and what kind of autonomy you’ll have. Many companies would love to have your expertise and they can provide you with the experience you need not just to grow your resume, but grow as a future employee.
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Stephen writes about startups, hiring and career issues for VocaWorks.