The search for a summer internship is a lot like a startup raising its first round of VC money: you get a lot of no’s, and you’re just looking for that one yes. It’s a long grueling process, involves loads of Excel spreadsheets, introductions, and countless meetings. However, while in the VC worlds there simply unfundable ideas, there are no unfundable people. Everyone is fit for an internship, it’s just a matter of your persistence.
I want to start by flipping how looking for an internship is normally done on its head. There is one rule, you should never apply for an internship. By that, I mean you shouldn’t log onto a company’s website, upload your cover letter and résumé, and hope. Any company with an application process like this is getting hundreds of these from MIT students with incredible manicured résumés. We don’t want to compete with that so we have to change the game.
There are four steps in getting an internship in this new paradigm: the introduction, the informational interview, the ask, and the interview-lite. This process isn’t résumé based and its often not based on your technical skills. We are all more than our résumés, but we can only explain this face-to-face.
This starts as all overly planned projects do: an Excel spreadsheet. Here I list all my family, extended family, and friends. Anyone who might know someone in the tech world and would introduce me to them. I convert this into a list of those companies/people that they can connect me to by scouring their LinkedIn connections, and filter the result based on my interest and how likely I am to get an internship there (generally smaller equals more likely). In the end, I have 5-10 companies and people that I target.
From there, I get email introductions to my targets from my connections, making sure that every week I’m sending out new emails. This is the easy part, the people you are asking for introductions from are invested in seeing you succeed, and will be happy to give you a glowing recommendation to a friend or co-worker.
Next, we convert these into informational interviews. This is the magic bullet for this step. When you ask for an informational interview, an internship is always hovering over the conversation, but all you to deflect all the pressure that might come along with it. You’re asking the questions, making them talk rather than you.
There’s a lot to say about informational interview technique (I’m sure I’ll write a post about this eventually), but to summarize it in a sentence: relax, be yourself, and bring a lot of questions. Remember, your talking to them because your better than your résumé, so make sure they come away with a strong understanding of you and your experience.
With the informational interview out of the way, we move onto the ask. This is formulaic, I quickly follow up after the meeting thanking them and telling them how much I learned from them. Then I move onto asking whether it might be possible for me to intern at their company (yes I use this wishy-washy language). I jump into two or three sentences about why I’d be a good fit and my past experience, and I end the email thanking them for their consideration. Hit send and walk away. You’re anxious, I know how it feels.
Most of these emails will come back with a soft no. Something like “we haven’t made decisions on interns yet,” or “can we check back in a month.” We don’t have this time, and they generally come back no anyways. Whatever, we add them to our LinkedIn network (to ask again next year of course), and move on. We’re looking for that one yes so we can’t stop and get discouraged. With some luck, we’ll get one or two “can you come back in to meet with the team”, or something like that.
At this point, the decision maker, who we’ve hopefully already met with, has already made the decision to hire us. Meeting with the team is to make sure we know some of what we’ve been claiming. Sometimes you talk to an HR manager, sometimes a few software developers. Make a good impression on these people and you should receive an offer in a few days. Oh, and make sure you send a thank you email to every single person you talk to. It’s really easy and it makes a huge difference. Doesn’t it feel good when you get thanked? So thank them.
I know I’ve made getting an internship sound easy, or at least quick. Let’s face it, it’s not. In the past I’ve gotten my offer a week or so before I’ve started. It’s stressful, but it’s worth it. These internships are not just résumé builders, but you meet the people that get you your next job, that get your next job, and so on. Internships help us kick start our careers, we need them and they’re worth all the effort we put into finding them.