What would you prefer:
- Apply to any and all openings, and be forced to ‘accept’ the first offer that you get, or
- Identify the right place for you, and proactively create your opportunities therein?
How can you go about getting the ‘right’ internship? It depends on what ‘right’ is — so the first thing to do is be clear about what you are (or are not!) looking for (see this previous article). Once you have this down, its time to search for opportunities that match your targets.
…Which is pretty much not going to work!
In my experience, you will not have much success if you look for opportunities. You don’t get opportunities by searching, you have to create them.
This process can be divided into the following factors:
- What capabilities does your target internship require?
- Who are the people and companies that you would like to work with?
- When should you start
- How do you create your opportunities?
Let’s dive into these.
Your internship is a combination of contributions and learning. A company is more interested in the former than the latter, and the more you can position yourself as someone who is going to contribute, the better chance you have of landing your opportunity. How can you position yourself thusly? Easy — figure out the skills that are needed and develop these. This does not mean getting certificates or doing well in exams; it is being able to demonstrably solve problems in your domain. Make a list of expected skills, learn, practice, and enhance these skills and showcase them.
Do you have a GitHub repository with all the projects that you have worked on?
Next, identify your targets – and I don’t mean the companies that you want to work at, but rather, the experience you want to gain. This goes back to having a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your internship. Once you have this, you can filter openings based on your goals. Speak with friends who have done internships and learn from their experiences. An internship at a large firm is going to vary drastically from division to division, and big names are not necessarily the best options.
If you are looking for a summer internship and start thinking about the process in, say, January….. you’re too late! Building the skills needed takes practice, which needs time. Creating a portfolio to showcase capabilities is a long-term and continuous activity. Determining what you really want is not a five-minute thought experiment.
Finally, how do you create your opportunities? This is the part that most separates the successful, effective students from everyone else. You have to build a network. Reach out to people and start having conversations with them. This is not asking for internships, but reaching out for advice, mentorship, and learning. Keep in mind that most people are busy, but are willing to help – as long as it’s not a waste of time. So when you connect with anyone, be clear and upfront about what you are looking for, and if possible, offer something in return. You will be surprised at the response that you get. And you will be amazed at the doors that your network can open for you.
Apply the perspective above to building your network — what do you need (be interesting), who should you approach (begin with invited speakers and visitors to your college) and when should you start (early).
In general, I have found that success comes to those who consciously pursue their goals. Some students “get” the right opportunity, and are labeled “lucky,” but luck has very little to do with it. Look behind the curtain and you’ll see initiative and effort.
I’ll end with two contradictory pieces of advice:
- once you are clear on what your goals are, don’t settle, have the courage to say ‘nyet.’
- if you are in an internship that is not to your liking, convert it into something that you gain from. There’s a skill that will make you a 10x contributor.