May 8, 2019

How to Land Your Dream Internship

Here are five pieces of wisdom that I’ve gained from applying to hundreds of companies and speaking to hundreds of recruiters in the past four years. These tips aren’t just valuable for landing internship offers from the Big 4 (Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google), but also at other companies.

1. Your Online Presence Matters More Than You Think

Some people think that maintaining a personal website or LinkedIn is a waste of time. I’ve discovered two misconceptions.

  1. Recruiters don’t have the time to look at your personal website.

    I applied to Google’s software engineering internship when I was a sophomore at UMass Amherst. According to many applicants, the online application for sophomores is a “black hole”. You apply and never hear back from them again. You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I received an email from my recruiter that I had landed two phone interviews with Google software engineers. How did I not get sucked into the “black hole? I believe it was because of this blog post. By looking at the Google Analytics for my website, I discovered that a person from Mountain View, CA (where Google’s HQ is located) had visited my site between the time I submitted my application and the time my recruiter contacted me. My website was kept quite private at the time so it was unlikely that a random person from Mountain View just happened to stumble upon my website. Because of this, I believe that the reason I was one of the only sophomores at UMass Amherst to be interviewed by Google was because of my blog post.

  2. Recruiters don’t offer interviews through LinkedIn.

    Two weeks into my junior year at UMich, I recieved a LinkedIn message from a Microsoft recruiter informing me that I was a great fit for their company. She said that I could begin their recruiting process by forwarding her my resume. This was eye-opening for me as I’ve never heard of recruiters actually reaching out through LinkedIn. In fact, I didn’t email her back for at least a week because I was so sure that things like this didn’t happen and that this was some sort of scam. Now, I’m glad to say that it wasn’t and I was scheduled for an on-campus interview shortly after without having to submit any online application or talk to any recruiter at a career fair.

    LinkedIn message from Microsoft recruiter

The takeaway here is that your online presence matters. Some recruiters do look at your personal website and LinkedIn profile. So, if you want the best chance at getting interviews, post about your projects and keep your LinkedIn profile up to date.

2. It’s a Numbers Game

When you’re a freshman or sophomore, apply to as many internships as you possibly can. The more, the better.

I submitted applications to 200 companies during my sophomore year. Guess how many I heard back from? 15. How many offers did I end up getting? 1.

For many sophomores in college, getting an internship isn’t easy. Thus, it’s easy to understand why you should be applying to as many companies as you can. Instead of trying to get into your dream company, you should be trying to get into any company at all. See tip #5 for more on this. Use aggregate resources such as intern.supply to simplify the process. Set a schedule for yourself. It takes a few minutes to submit an application. Spend 30 minutes a day before bed or in the morning after you wake up to submit a few applications. At an ample rate of five minutes per application (6 applications/day), you’ll have submitted about 170 applications in a a month.

Expect rejection. Instead of being dissapointed when you don’t hear back from a company after applying online, think of it as the norm. The important thing is to get back up and keep trying. Don’t get discouraged!

During my junior year, I interviewed with and was rejected by some of my dream companies, Google, Facebook, and Apple.

Again during my senior year, I was rejected by Google, Facebook, Apple, Tesla, and Airbnb. Even as a senior from UMich, I didn’t even get an interview with RobinHood.

Keep calm and apply on!

3. Recruiting Processes Aren’t Perfect

Nothing is. Instead of complaining of how recruiters take forever to respond, be proactive and reach out to them continuously. Go meet them at campus events or career fairs. Ping them on LinkedIn. Do whatever you can to get in touch with them. It’s up to you, not them, to move you forward in the process.

Similar to tip #3, never give up once you get started in a recruiting process with a company. Even if it means emailing the recruiter again and again, week after week. Keep emailing them until they reply or move on to the next stage in your process. Sometimes it may even be beneficial to talk to the recruiter in person at a career fair if they don’t seem to be replying to your emails. Of course, give them at least a week before reminding them. And do it politely. They’re not required to to do anything for you.

When I was interviewing with Fidelity Investments, my recruiter changed and after emailing the new recruiter it seemed like I never got a reply. Thus, I went to the campus career fair to find the recruiter in person. I talked to him, handed him my resume, and then got my resume forwarded to the managers at their headquarters. Without doing this, I would’ve been jobless during my sophomore summer.

4. Study

Study for your interviews! This tip is underrated for many freshman and sophomores. Many freshmen and sophomores don’t expect to get interviews, so when they do, they can be unprepared. I learned this the hard way when I got my Google interview during my sophomore year. Those were probably two of the most stressful weeks of my life. Learn from my mistake and start preparing for your interviews earlier. Note: cramming does not work for programming interviews.

If you want to land your dream internship, start preparing for the interview the summer before the fall recruiting season. By September, you should know your data structures and algorithms like the back of your hand. The steps that you need to take to land your dream internship are quite straightforward. Though it may vary from person to person, generally speaking if you do about 100 LeetCode medium questions you can get into any of the Big 4. If you want to get into uber-cometitive companies such as Airbnb, you may need to do 150 LeetCode medium questions. I think I did about 50 medium, 50 easy, and a few hard LeetCode questions before getting a full-time offer from Microsoft. Knowing what to do is easy. Just schedule two hours on your calendar each day to do two questions on LeetCode. When I was doing interview prep during my junior year, I did two questions after dinner each day. If you can keep this up for the entire summer, your chances of getting into your dream internship will be quite good.

The easy part is knowing what the process entails. The hard part is developing the motivation to follow through with your plan. I helped motivate myself by inviting friends to do interview prep with me. When one friend was busy, I invited another friend. This way I always had somebody to keep myself accountable.

LeetCode schedule

5. Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

This tip is for those who are having a hard time (especially freshmen and sophomores) finding internships. You have to take what you can get, even if it means making sacrifices such as seeing friends and family or going on taking a break from school.

A few weeks before the end of my freshmen year, one of my professors sent out an email looking to hire a summer intern. Long story short, I got the job because I was flexible with where I was going to live, and the work schedule. I started as soon as school ended and moved into a spare room in the professors home. See Independence for why I think the professor chose me over other candidates.

Share your own tips below!

© Wesley Tian 2019

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