How To Land An Internship Early
For university students studying Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Data Science, and related fields, internships are the most powerful career tool that we have. Internships provide a mutually beneficial relationship between students seeking experience and companies searching for reliable talent. 🤝 Many people complain about “No job because no experience, no experience because no job,” a truly abysmal paradox. Internships are designed to find and train junior talent with little to no experience is your key to breaking that cycle! Why is it then, that most students wait until their third or even fourth year to start the search?
The truth is, getting that first internship is the hardest. Once you have serious professional experience to point to, each job will likely come exponentially easier. If you can secure a position after your first year, your career search from then on will be that much more successful. It’s never too early (looking at you, freshmen), and it’s never too late!
The narrative stands that “companies aren’t looking to hire underclassmen.” For a while, I believed this. But the truth is that companies are thrilled to take on students with the right characteristics early in their education. So here are the steps I took to get hired for a summer internship before I even finished my first semester of college.
Getting Involved at School
As students, we no longer stand out just for having stellar grades. Obviously that’s important, but it’s not all that employers care about. Use your free time to develop soft skills. Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively with other people, a clearly important aspect of successful professional life. So here’s the advice someone gave me:
- Join 1 club that involves your academic field of study. For me, this was Cyber Security Club.
- Join 1 club that involves activities you would otherwise never do. I found was the Collegiate Web Developers Group, and I got to use these skills at my first internship.
- Join 1 club out of pure interest. This is your chance to just enjoy yourself. I joined Cru. It was very cool and helped me develop leadership skills, pursue my faith, and make friends!
If you intentionally split your free time like this, you’ll enjoy school and have plenty to talk about with recruiters. Making friends, building your network, learning new skills, and giving back to the community are huge benefits just from going to clubs!
A resume isn’t everything, but it’s certainly important. After all, recruiters only spend 6 seconds on average looking at a resume. This can be taken one of two ways.
- Recruiters don’t spend a lot of time looking at resume’s, so it’s not important. (not true)
- Recruiters don’t spend a lot of time looking at resume’s, so I have to make an impression and fast. (this is the true one)
Your resume is your opportunity to showcase what makes you different. If you’re still in school, the general rule of thumb is under a page. If you have relevant work experience, put it on there. If you’ve taken classes that employers might find particularly interesting (algorithms, data structures, team projects), highlight it! This is also your chance to showcase any volunteering you do and the ways that you are engaged in your campus community. If you are submitting electronically, go with a PDF to avoid formatting errors.
Communication and Confidence
Internships are without a doubt the best way to get your foot in the door of a company. Hiring a new employee is an incredibly labor-intensive and an expensive process. Letting an employee go is equally as taxing on the company. Internships give companies a way to hire employees, evaluate how they perform on the job, and decide if they want to continue working with that employee.
If you don’t have any work experience to point to (like another internship), you have to convince the company:
- You’re respectful and professional
- You know how to take direction and (😱) criticism
- You’re incredibly excited to learn
If these are true about you, the company will likely jump at the chance to have you join their team, even without work experience, because they know you’ll work as hard as you can to learn what you need.
Worth it? Even more yes.
A lot of my peers consider the career fair a waste of time. In fact, even mentors mentioned that I wouldn’t have any luck with recruiting at the career fair while still a Freshman. If you’re feeling any of this, remember that even if you don’t get a job out of it the first time you go, you’ve still made an incredible investment in yourself. Just by putting yourself out there, you’ve made your next career fair experience a little bit better. You may even end up making the connections for your first job after all — in fact, that’s what I did.
It doesn’t matter if you hear “Sorry, we aren’t looking for freshman,” 100 times — All you need is for 1 person to say, “Tell me more about yourself!”
Every “no” is closer to a “yes”.
Get yourself some professional clothes 👔, print a bunch of copies of your resume, and drag yourself to the career fair.
Follow Up Online 👩💻
When recruiters leave career fairs, they’re undoubtedly exhausted and overwhelmed from meeting dozens to hundreds of students who seem all alike. They’ll likely go through the resumes they were handed to sift through who seems like a good candidate and who doesn’t. If you spent some time researching how to make a killer resume, you’ll make the “good” pile. Even still, they have to narrow down their applicants even further to make interviewing feasible.
The best possible thing you can do after the career fair is reach out to anyone whose contact information you were given. Send recruiters you chatted with a thank you for coming out, goodness knows they work hard. Follow up on any meaningful points of conversation you shared, and ask about the next steps in the interview process. To make things easier, go ahead and send your resume along too. Odds are high you just pushed yourself to the top of the stack. Nice work!
Job referrals are the single most effective way to land an interview. If you have the contact information of someone (pretty much anyone) in the company you’re looking to get into, reach out and see if they would be willing to refer you to recruiting! For many companies, having a current employee vouch for someone is enough to shift your resume to the top of the stack. For a few, it might even get you an automatic interview 👀
Obviously, it helps if you have an existing relationship with the person you’re asking to refer you. This is where the value of networking pays off BIG TIME. Even if you don’t, some people are willing to refer you based off some breif conversations.
Every job I have applied to with a referral has resulted in at least a first round interview. This is true for all types of companies, as referrals have landed me interviews at Google, Facebook, Amazon, and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The simple truth is this, people hire people, not resumes. Building relationships will be a gigantic part of your future job in technology, so why wouldn’t it be a critical part of your journey there?
Interviewing is your chance to put your best foot forward and advocate for yourself. Make sure your interviewer knows not just that you’d be a good hire, but why you’d be a joy to work with.
Oftentimes, interviewing in tech is a multi-stage process. Some companies may send out “interview screens,” which could be virtual get to know you questions, or some coding exercises. On a small scale, this mirrors the two formats most interviews will take: Behavioral, and Technical. Behavioral interviews are full of questions that are designed to get a feel for how you interact with people! Technical questions are designed to observe how well you understand the technology surrounding the job. Mostly, these are explicitly separated, but sometimes they’re pushed into one session.
Some great ways to prepare for this are by practicing with a friend. Try and answer as many questions about yourself as you can, going back and forth with your friend! For technical questions, Leetcode is the single most effective tool at your disposal!
At the end of the day, hiring someone with no experience and even no grades is an incredible risk. I was ridiculously fortunate that a company took a chance and invested in me. I’m crazy grateful, and I’d love to give back. Leave a comment below or ping me on Twitter if I can help your journey. Obviously, this task is going to take a ton of effort, but getting an internship early in your college years will pay dividends over the course of your career! Remember, only a fraction of people who apply to a job get an interview and only a fraction of those that interview get hired. To maximize your chances of success, you have to apply to many, many, many places. Attend your career fair, apply to dozens of places (online too!) and reach out to everyone you know!