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Landing an Internship 101: What you should know, what you should do, and how you can do it

Applying to internships can be one of of the most stressful processes in college.

Starting out, you might not know how to start or feel under-qualified to apply for positions. But as a student with three previous internship experiences, I’d like to share some tips that I hope can help anyone on their way to an internship!


Step 1: The Resume


  • Find a template that works for you. Resumes are pretty vital for anyone applying to internships, and it’s much easier to start than you would think. With many great templates that are a Google search away, you’ll be able to just fill in the blanks to produce a great resume.
  • Make it PDF parseable. There’s a chance that resumes unable to be parsed by automated application tools won’t be properly considered. An easy way to check is to put your resume into any pdf-to-text tool online.
  • Side projects are your friend. One of the most important sections on your resume will be your personal projects, since they demonstrate that your abilities lie beyond simple coursework. Don’t have any? Hackathons will be your best friend. Mentors will be more than willing to help you out, and you’ll get the opportunity to learn new technologies, meet new people, and put a new project on your resume!



Step 2: The Application

  • Apply online. While there are exceptions such as conferences and career fairs (which I would highly highly recommend attending!) most of the time you’ll find internships through online applications. You can definitely apply the typical way by thinking of companies you’ve heard of and Googling to see if their applications are open–or you can use Christine Hu’s magical GitHub that contains nearly all notable internship listings with their links.
  • Find a way to keep track of your applications. However you go about finding applications, you’ll end up with an enormous number of them (typically 50+) that can be incredibly challenging to keep track of. Personally I use an app called Huntr to keep track of which stage of the applying-interviewing process that I’m in for each application, but you can also use a simple spreadsheet to the same effect.


Step 3: The Wait

  • Don’t stress out. This is probably the most stressful part of the entire internship search, simply because at each previous stage you could at least feel productive. But you can go weeks before hearing back from some companies, which made me, at least, experience a lot of self-doubt. Instead, try to put your energy towards preparing yourself for the next stages of interviews.
  • Practice interview questions. Rather than taking a break from the application process entirely, this is the perfect chance to brush up on your interviewing skills. Work through problems on LeetCode and HackerRank, read through Cracking the Coding Interview, and practice behavioral questions with friends and family–and you’ll start hearing responses before you know it!


Step 4: The Phone Screen

  • Be friendly. While companies’ approaches can range from doing typical phone screens, using a 3rd party interviewing company such as Karat, or even self-recording interviews, the main goal of these interviews is testing your “soft skills”, through behavioral questions. Throughout this process, try to be personable, stay calm, and be yourself–while daunting, this will definitely become easier with time.


  • Conduct mock interviews. Try to replicate an interview experience as closely as possible, and be receptive to feedback that your “interviewer” gives you. Google common behavioral questions (ex. “What is your greatest weakness?”) and find your own answer that’s not a cliche.



Step 5: The Technical Interview

  • Think out loud. The point of the questions interviewers give you is not just to see if you can solve the problem–they also want to see how you approach problems and how you think them through. Because of this, try to talk your way through the steps of your thinking. Since this wasn’t something natural for me, I put a lot of practice into this step.


  • Ask for help. This was something that I really had to figure out on my own, because it seems totally counterintuitive to ask your interviewer questions about a problem that they give you. But in my experience, interviewers are completely willing to help you out. It’s far better to ask a clarifying question and do it correctly than struggle through the wrong interpretation.
  • Do your best. One of my interviews this year was a hot mess. I was really sick, my audio was having issues because I ran out of minutes on my phone plan, and my interviewers’ TV cut out working halfway through. Despite the incredible number of technical issues, they actually extended me an offer, which ended up being the one I accepted–because throughout all the problems we had, the interviewers and I did our best to stay focused and positive. If situations are outside your control, just do your best in whatever you can do!



Step 6: The Rejection


  • Don’t stress out. Absolutely everyone gets multiple rejections before they actually get an offer, and this goes doubly if you’re a freshman.
  • Realize that it’s not a reflection on you. If all that you get out of your application experience is an interview or two, that’s still valuable experience that, along with what you learned through preparing for interviews, you can apply to your internship hunts of the future.
  • Find another way. Summer internships aren’t the only way to success. Consider applying for research programs or other alternatives–and the worst that can happen is that without an offer, you’ll get that much farther ahead in college by getting the opportunity to attend summer classes.



Step 7: The Offer


  • Celebrate! You somehow survived interview season and got a great offer. However, the work’s not quite done.
  • Prioritize. Chances are that if you got one offer, that you’ll get at least one more. It can be extremely difficult to choose between them, so make sure to consider things beyond just the pay. Many companies offer free housing, transportation, relocation, or even food subsidies, so consider those costs that the company may be helping defray, and if location is important to you, also keep that in mind.
  • Negotiate. It’s always a good idea to communicate with your recruiters. If you’re having trouble deciding, let them know. Oftentimes, they’ll offer you something extra as incentive to decide on their company. If they don’t, it makes your decision that much easier in the other company’s favor. Sign the offer you decide on, and look forward to the amazing opportunity that you have to come!


Caroline Sih, 2019 RTC Fellow

Rewriting the Code – Empowering College Women in Tech

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