Stereotypical interns get coffee, make presentations, shadow employees, or clean the fridges. Meaningful internships, though, can be awesome. My internship last summer, for example, includes BBQ at the houses of CEO and COO of the company, playing with Beast, lots of nights of Rockband, seeing Oprah Winfrey in person, and, of course, working with and learning from some of the smartest people in the world. And instead of spending my parents’ bucks, I got my first paycheck.
However, for many of us, looking for internships can be an overwhelming process. We don’t know what to expect. We read articles like this (and the long list of crazy interview questions like “How do you move Mount Fuji?”, “Why are manhole covers round?”) and say to ourselves, “How am I supposed to know this?” As a second-year undergraduate student who just entered this process last year, I can relate to that anxiety. However, as time progressed, I came to really enjoy the internship recruiting process (yes, I like interviews)…
Here are some things, from my humble and short experience, to think about to make the most out of your recruiting process. Note that since this article is written from a computer science student’s perspective, most of these might only apply to technical internship recruiting process.
The earlier you apply, the farther the deadline is, the less pressure you will feel. This applies both year-wise or time-of-year-wise.
Applying as a freshman, for example, means that most interviewers will have a low expectation of you (the only way to go is up!). If you are Computer Science, as a freshman, most of the time you will end up being judged for your algorithmic and logic, and not of your knowledge in complex specific field in CS. Can’t land that coveted internship position at Google/Facebook? Oh well, you still have two more internship chance. You have nothing to lose, and it’s never a bad thing to have a recruiter at those companies know your name this early in your education.
Applying early (first quarter / semester) in the year means that you can pace your interviews to your own liking. No more 4-5 interviews in a week because you need to get an offer by the end of the month – in place, you can have 1 interview in two / three weeks and still get a couple of offers by the end of the quarter. Most companies did their internship recruiting in a rolling manner – that is, by the time someone applied for internship at, say, Google, in February / May, they probably have hired half of their intended number of interns. By getting in the recruiting pool early, there are more available spots for you to grab. If you don’t get an offer by the end of this quarter – that’s fine 🙂 You still have two more quarters to go!
There are multiple ways to get interviews
Obviously – career fair. Don’t forget to grab all those free stuff! My parents love the five water bottles (from five different companies) I brought home last year. Some of the free stuff are really creative too – Facebook gave lip gloss and sunglasses, Microsoft gave a soil-less plant (!!!). I digress… But attending career fairs is probably the easiest way to get your foot in the door. So many companies in one place! Take your time, though, to really talk to the people (recruiters / engineers) in the booth. If all you do is dropping off your resume, you should as well just apply online. I usually try to talk to the engineers directly and ask about the technical challenges they face in the company or just chat about what they are working on. Sometimes they ask simple algorithmic questions on the spot, which is great. If you impress the engineer, you might be invited to on-site interview on the spot. If the recruiter scribbles things in your resume, instead of just putting it on top of his/her stack of resumes, it’s a good sign. Free stuff is still what career fairs are for though 🙂 Make genuine conversations with companies you might not be interested in, and sometimes they will surprise you. Companies who come to career fairs would love to answer questions, so don’t be shy. Even if the question is as rudimentary as “What does your company do?” – seriously.
There are also company open houses, company tours, recruiting talks and conferences. Interviewing during a 3-day conference is definitely interesting – you’ll get to know your interviewer personally through going to some of the sessions together. Make use of events like these, that allow you to get to know the people inside the company and the company culture in general. Echoing what Daniel mentioned in his post, networking matters. Referrals typically bypass the resume review process, so knowing somebody inside the company who can vouch for you might land you an interview. Of course, there are a lot of ways to know people inside the company – they might be your group of friends!
Aim for the jobs you want to do – not what you ideally should do
This is the time in your life that you can explore and take as many chances as you want with your career and professional life. In most cases, you don’t have to care about money, nor providing for your children or yourself, nor about getting a working visa. Prioritize and choose the companies that you are passionate about, while also aligned with your interest. This might be the company that makes products you enjoy using or products you would like to see improved. Might not pay as well, might not sponsor you for H1B or Greencard – but you can worry about those later.
Applying to the companies that you really like makes the whole process so much easier for everybody. You don’t have to ‘research’ the company before coming in for the interview, since more often than not you will know really well about the company that you like. Interviews, especially product interviews, will come naturally from the really basic fact that you want to make this product better.
Look at interviews as a chance to know awesome people
Your interviewers are often times awesome people – heck, they have the job you want. And they are required to talk and listen to you while you are still in the interviewing room! This is your chance to learn from them – get to know them as a person and not as the ‘enemy’ you should defeat in the interview. Personally, I enjoy asking female interviewers about their experience working in this men-dominated field (software engineering), or asking Stanford graduates how the transition from school to work is treating them. Asking a Bing engineer about the Bing-Google feud a year ago is definitely interesting. One of my Google interviewers worked directly with Petr Mitrichev. These are people I might not meet on a daily basis, and it’s pretty awesome to talk to them.
Realize that it’s a two-way process.
That is, the employer wants to find out whether you are a good fit for the company – but you also want to know whether the company is a good fit for you. You want to impress them, but your interviewers also want to show you how awesome their company is. Both of you are evaluating each other. Personally, this realization really strikes me at first. It brings confidence and changes the way I position myself in interviews; I stop being too nervous and scared about whether I will get an offer or whether I’m making an impression. I start asking more questions – not questions that I ask just because I am supposed to ask, but questions that might form my decision later if I am to be given an offer. Ask, for example, why your interviewer chose that company in the first place. What his/her typical workday looks like. Ask whether he/she hangs out with his/her coworker outside of work setting. Once you start being more confident in your own ability and leverage, the interview becomes so much more even and conversational – instead of 40 minutes of him evaluating you and 5 minutes of you evaluating the company, it becomes 30 minutes – 15 minutes, for example. This point of view makes the interviewing process much less nerve-wracking. This is why I think interviewing in parallel (being in contact with two or more companies at once) is much better than ‘concentrating’ on a specific company at a time – the feeling that you have multiple choices, although that might not really be the case (you can be rejected from all of them), will in itself give you confidence and ease in talking to each individual companies.
All in all, a good internship recruiting process is an enjoyable learning experience. You got to meet awesome people, and they are required to listen to you and answer your questions when you are in the room – how cool is that? As long as you pace your interviewing schedule well, apply to companies that you personally like, and position yourself well during the interviews, you can make the most out of it without feeling too stressed out. The best thing about internship search is that it’s basically a job search without all the post-graduation pressure. It can be painless and, dare I say, enjoyable.
Photo credit:EON Reality Blog