Depending on your studies, you are often asked to apply for internships. As a student with no previous experience, it can be hard to find your first internship for three main reasons :
- You don’t have a lot of competencies to justify for certain internships.
- You don’t know how to look and where to look for the right internship.
- You don’t have a network.
Even though it is not the easiest part to land the right internship, it is a very important step in your learning journey. What you will learn in the field can be so much more valuable than all the theories you learn in class or online. Nothing is better than real practice. Don’t be afraid and don’t panic. I will share my experience with how I landed my two internships and some key points to help you be more efficient in the process of application.
How I landed my first internship
During my 4th year of studies, I had to get a three months internship to validate my year. When my classmates were already applying for internships at the beginning of the scholar year, I was still wondering what kind of job I would lend at the end of my studies.
I started to figure out what I didn’t like (definitely Java), but I was still wondering what I would enjoy doing.
During the second semester of the year, we had a new class: data mining. I LOOOOVED it!! I loved everything about it, every minute of the class, the labs, the exercises, the tests… It was a whole new thing for me to learn and it was fascinating. The teacher, Massih-Reza Amini, was also excellent, he was very into the topic, he was mastering this subject with incredible ease.
After a while, I started to wonder. The due date for internships was getting closer. And I finally discovered something that I wanted to dig deeper into: data science. So I thought, why not ask my teacher for an internship with him, or if he could redirect me to someone else who could help me find one. I emailed him, I was a little shy to ask him in person, to be honest. Asking him by email was already a big bold step for me. I was surprised to hear from him very soon, he set up a meeting with me to understand my needs and motivations. He ended up offering me an internship with him in his team of researchers AMA at the computer science lab of Grenoble LIG.
How I landed my second internship
The next year I needed another internship, my 5th-year final internship. This time I was aiming for an internship in a company, not a lab. It was hard to apply because I was studying abroad at that time, USA, and I was applying for internships back in France. The best option I had was to rely on my network. I sent my resume to my classmates, and they gave it to their employees (some had already started their internships). I got an answer pretty fast from a company that was already welcoming four students from my class as interns.
Here are the key points I learned from my experience looking for internships:
- Update your LinkedIn profile
- Detail your experiences and projects on your resume
- Use and build your network
- Make spontaneous applications
- Apply to multiple official offers
- Start applying early enough
- Diversify recruitment platforms
- Ask for feedback
1 – Update your LinkedIn profile
Having an updated profile is very important when you work in the tech industry. I noticed very early that LinkedIn was more important for me than my friends studying law or languages. As a student, I was already updating my profile regularly, and in retrospect, I should have been more active on the platform sooner.
Be sure to add the projects you worked on as a student, add some details to help the recruiters understand what concepts or technologies you used. In the section talking about your studies, add a list of the main classes you have. Make sure to keep your profile updated and complete. Linked in is a first step to start building your network, so don’t neglect it.
2 – Detail your experiences and projects on your resume
When you work in tech, your resume has to be competencies-based, more than just pretty. I speak from experience.
As a student, I didn’t know how to write a proper resume. I thought a resume has to be catchy and original just by its design. Therefore, I looked for templates online. I found one fancy resume with a dark theme and I decided to use it. I was very proud of the result because, in my opinion, it looked very cool. All my experiences, diplomas, hobbies were listed etc… I was so proud of the result.
Of course, I was far from being right.
When I applied for my final internship, I got an answer from a company already hosting 4 classmates as interns. I had an interview with the head of HR. She told me my resume was definitely awful! It was too dark, so when she printed it, she couldn’t see the writing well. It was also too superficial. There were no details on the classes I took or the projects I did in class. The experiences were not relevant. I remember I tried to fill my resume with all the small jobs I had, but they were not IT related, so not relevant to add on the resume to apply for this specific position.
Instead of having an interview where I talk about my experience and motivation, I ended up having a class about how to write a proper resume. The head of HR gave me some bullet points with what to add to my resume. She also told me to ask one of my classmates to send me his resume template because it was very good. He used a LaTeX template and the result was perfect: clean, clear, complete. I still use that template nowadays. The HR clearly told me that if this particular classmate hadn’t told her that I was a good student and a real hard worker, they might have not taken me because of my weak resume.
Conclusion: work well on your resume!
3 – Use and build your Network
I know that as a student with not much experience, you don’t have a huge network. But don’t minimize the help that you could get from teachers, classmates, friends, and family.
I already talked about building your network on LinkedIn, adding people like your classmates, your teachers, and later on the colleagues from work. Step by step, your network will grow bigger and bigger. You can use this network by asking people to share your profile with companies they know, for example.
Also, reach out to a person directly. For my first internship, I asked one of my teachers for an internship or a connection with someone who can help me find one. I ended up with a great internship with that teacher. For my second internship I sent my resume to my classmates and they gave it to their recruiters. And it helped me get an internship in the same company hosting them. I never would have imagined it would be that easy. So just ask. The worst thing you can have is a “No”, you can definitely survive a “No”.
4 – Make spontaneous application
When you start looking for internships, you might only apply to official internship offers that you can find online. However, imagine that you don’t qualify for the offers, or you don’t see yourself in these positions as an intern. What if you have some companies in mind where you want to work, but they are not offering any internship?
The solution is easy. Try to make what’s called a spontaneous application. Look for the contact of a recruiter, a manager, or a developer in the company. Email them explaining why you want to work as an intern in their company, join a resume and ask for a meeting to explain more about your motivations. If they can’t answer your demand, ask them if they can forward your email to someone who could. As I explained at the beginning of this article, I got my first internship by asking my teacher if he would take me as an intern working with him on a data science topic. And it worked. He created an internship for me.
5 – Apply to multiple offers
Ok, here you have to do the opposite thing of what I do. Don’t follow my example, I use to procrastinate a lot and I took some dangerous decisions like applying for a single internship a few weeks before reaching the deadline. Even though I got very lucky and got the internship, it was very stressful for me not to have any backup plan and security if my last-minute application failed.
Once you know what type of internship you want, start applying to offers, and diversify the companies, so you will have more chances to get accepted. In the end, if you get accepted to more than one offer, you may have the luxury to choose which one you prefer. Believe me, that is better than stressed out waiting for the only option you have.
6 – Start applying early enough
My advice here is to try to define what kind of internship you want as soon as you can. If you are still not sure about what you want to specialize in, don’t panic. Remember that the purpose of an internship is not only to gain some competencies in the field, but it is also a way for you to discover more about the roles you can have later on. It’s better to realize during an internship that you don’t like the things you are doing, than realizing that on your first job.
7 – Diversify recruitment platforms
We tend to only look for opportunities on LinkedIn because it’s one of the most used recruitment platforms. I, myself, mentioned LinkedIn many times in this article as a resource to network and apply for internships. However, you can apply to internships through many more different platforms to diversify your chances. I have a non-exhaustive list of recruitment platforms you can go through. Furthermore, some company might have their own application platforms, so check out their websites.
8 – Ask for feedback
Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback from people you know, or even just through a post on LinkedIn. Post your resume and ask for feedback, tips, advice. People are really helpful and can give you personal tips that you might never find in a tutorial. Also, if you apply for different internships, and you are not accepted, ask the recruiters why they didn’t choose you. They might give you pointers on what to work on to make a better application in the future. So don’t be scared to ask for feedback. You might not be good at first, but remember we all went through this phase before becoming professionals. And even with years of experience, it is still good to ask for feedback. As human beings we constantly learn and evolve, there is no shame in that.