Week 9: How to get an Internship

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Internship / Saturday

Today, I want to try something a bit different from the usual roundup of things I learned during my internship. I want to share some more tactical and actionable advice. I want to write down some advice for students younger than me who haven’t gone through the internship-seeking phase. This is specifically geared for university students in their sophomore year because it tends to be a year in the middle where you’re left to dry in the open – there are no guidelines or set tracks that you can follow. But the principles are generally applicable.

Define your objectives and think through tradeoffs

What are you looking to get out of the summer? This can things like making an impact, a valuable brand name on your resume (I think people who look down on this kind of reason are silly and see the world as they want it to be, not how it actually is), figuring out how to deal with office politics, learn how a business operates, etc. Once you have 2-3 big ticket items that you want to gain, your choices are restricted which helps narrow your search.

It’s also a good time to think about tradeoffs. For example, you’re less likely to make a huge impact as a sophomore summer intern at a huge multi-billion dollar company. It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. So if making an impact is important to you this summer, you might want to look for positions at smaller companies. On the other hand, if getting paid a healthy salary/wage is something you don’t have the luxury to compromise on, then a bigger company is probably a safer bet.

Develop real skills – even if you don’t use them

Being able to write a long script in R or Python is impressive – even if you don’t write a single line of code the entire summer. This is the power of signaling.

Before I talk about this more, I want to put a disclaimer here that if you just wrote only a few scripts in R or any other coding language and can’t answer questions at a reasonable level – something like “How do I transpose a dataframe?” or “How do I run a linear regression on two variables and plot the results using ggplot2?” – you don’t know R. If you advertise this and you get caught with lying on your resume, there can be far reaching consequences. I’m only saying that because I’ve seen a few people do this. Don’t play dice with your career. 

Having experience in something like R is a signal to a potential employer that you can learn complex things. It doesn’t have to be R – it can be some Adobe software or Salesforce. Something tangible that is not obvious the first time you use it.

It just makes you stand out. That’s all there is to it.

Be in the know

For your end of sophomore year summer internship, you need to hustle – at least a bit. You need to keep your ears to the ground and surround yourself with people who know what’s going on around campus. This ensures that you are aware of opportunities coming up like a position opening up for a lab, a professor looking for an assistant, a startup that just got a round of funding, a company that started a diversity program focused on sophomores, etc.

If you are a natural introvert, you can replicate this to some extent by getting on as many student organization and department mailing lists as possible and checking your university career center website for internship postings.

Take advantage of company programs and conferences

Finally, there are a few companies that offer sophomore internship programs. If your end goal right out of college is a corporate job of some sort, this is pretty ideal. I’ve had a few of my friends take advantage of sophomore diversity programs – these are obviously great for increasing your probability of success simply in terms of number of people you’re competing with. Even if you just go through the motions and are unsuccessful, you might end up meeting a couple of people during the process who can help you in the coming years. It’ll also introduce you to your peers who are interested in the same industry.

On a similar note, look for specific conferences that could apply to you. I know about the Grace Hopper conference which is focused on women in computing. If you can figure out a way to attend a conference like this (they tend to be pretty competitive), you’re going into the room knowing that they’re looking for a person with your background. Again, this increases your probability of success. I think both Priya and Rafah talked to the companies they ended up working for at Grace Hopper.

Hopefully this helps. As always, feel free to reach out to me in the comments or by email at sidhartha dot jha7 at gmail dot com.

Thanks for reading through to the end of the second last week of A Summer of Learning! As we race towards the finish line, I’m very excited about next week. I tackle one of my favorite books and personality and I will also reflect a bit on the process of writing the blog this summer. Until then, enjoy the weekend!

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