I just received my formal job offer after a couple of rounds of interviews, and wanted to share my experience(s) for anyone else that will be in the same boat that I was.

I’m a second-semester freshman at Tennessee Technological University, majoring in computer science with a concentration in cyber security and data assurance. At the beginning of the semester, my thought process was to try and get an internship for the summer to boost my resume, and ultimately, make me even more competitive in the coming years so I can secure a job upon graduation.

Fleshing out the important stuff

Firstly, I worked on the important stuff. I created a LinkedIn profile and ran it through Jobscan.io to optimize my profile. I don’t think this is the most important thing, but I figured SEO optimization would be nice and might be appear higher in LinkedIn searches as well. The most important thing for the “getting started” stage is your resume. I couldn’t tell you how many revisions my resume went through before I ended up with one I actually liked. I highly recommend you nitpick your resume until you actually like it. If you finish and are thinking “Is this good?” the answer is it probably isn’t. You need to be satisfied with it. Once you are, have it critiqued. Send it to friends, families, or anyone else who would give you feedback. I had the opportunity to have my resume critiqued by an NSA employee and the CIO of a tech company based in Charleston, SC. Not everyone will have these opportunities, but you will have the opportunity to run it through ATS scans and submit to your friends or even your career office at your school.

Quantity > Quality

Second, is apply to as many jobs as you can possibly find. I personally used LinkedIn, Indeed, and Handshake. Most of my success came through LinkedIn, but I did opt for Indeed later on as it did seem to have more relevant results compared to LinkedIn. Handshake was mediocre, but it’s still a source nonetheless. I know the job application process can get tedious, filling in the same information over and over again, and correcting incorrect resume parses. I found this extension super late into my job search, but I wish I found it earlier: SimplifyJobs. It has built-in application tracking, application form auto-fill, and even it’s own job board. This is in no way a sponsored ad or anything, I just really think their product is a great tool at organizing your applications and cutting down repetitive steps to maximize your output.

Nail the interviews

Third is the interview stage. In total, I probably applied to 60 (or more) job postings. I heard back from 7 of them for more information, and of those 7, 5 requested interviews. 5/60 is an 8% success rate— not good. That’s why it’s critical to apply to as many as you can, even small companies you’ve never heard of. A lot of them are remote now, will probably continue to operate on a remote basis, or offer relocation assistance. Anyways, you have an interview! Most companies will probably opt for a one-way interview first; such as HireVue. Fun fact about HireVue, you can find all the questions that will be asked by checking the network log in Developer Tools and find the GET request to their API: it will be a JSON response of all the questions;). One-way interviews will typically focus on what you know about the company and see how your values align with their values. Bs your answer if needed, answer how you think they want to hear. Next stage is one-on-one interviews (in-person, Zoom, MS Teams). I’m not going to go into a full guide on proper interview etiquette, but dress in formal attire, be prepared to answer common interview questions, and be ready to highlight your experiences. Always find a way to highlight experiences during an interview. One of the questions I was asked was: “Have you ever had to explain a complex topic to someone who doesn’t have as a deep of an understanding as you?” and I was able to highlight the fact that I have a Writeups Blog on my website where I do writeups for CTF events which shows my thought process and the ability to summarize complex tasks for a general audience to consume. Also, ask questions! Interviewers want to know that you aren’t afraid to ask questions. Ask for clarification on the job duties, on the work schedule, whether it’s remote or in-person and whether relocation assistance is provided.

Follow-Up

You’ve finished your interview and hopefully nailed it. What’s next? Send a follow-up email to the interviewers. To each interviewer, not just one. Thank them for their time, show your appreciation by mentioning how it was nice to meet them and learn more about the company / job, and then highlight how you think you your experiences would be a good fit for the position. Send this email within 2 days of completing your interview (I personally opted for sending the next day). If you don’t have their emails, contact the hiring manager who scheduled the interview and ask for their emails. You might hear back from the interviews, you might not. For me, it was about 50/50. Some responded and thanked me and some didn’t respond. That’s okay.

After about a week or two, if you haven’t heard an update from the hiring manager, send an email and ask for a timeline on the process: when should I expect to hear back about next steps? This shows you are interested in the position, willing to take initiative, and are able to organize and manage your time.

Those are the basic steps of the job application process, along with my tips and tricks to make yourself stand out. This is all from my personal experience, and everyones’ experiences will vary. I just cannot stress enough, apply to as many jobs as you can physically find. Most companies don’t want freshman or sophomores, so you have to choose quantity over quality.

Other tips and tricks

Some other tips that I noted:

  • My tips will be useless to you if you don’t have any experience at all. For cyber security, I have done an array of capture the flags, HackTheBoxes, writeups, etc. If you’re software engineering, show some GitHub projects, practice Leetcode for the coding questions— experience is still a big factor. Because you don’t have the classroom experience, you have to have make up for it with extracurricular activity.
  • Keep track of your applications. It can get confusing when you start applying to so many, so definitely keep track. You can use the SimplyJobs extension, some other application tracker, or even create a new email to help separate the clutter. I kept Notes on my phone with what jobs I had interviewed for, been followed up with, etc.
  • Don’t get discouraged. You will see plenty of rejection emails. I was down to 3 jobs that I was waiting to hear back from post-interview. 2/3 told me on the same day that another candidate was chosen over me.. and that same day, not an hour later, I was called about accepting a job offer.
  • Be ready to improve. If you go through an interview and are denied, don’t be afraid to reach out and see how you can improve. Contact the interviewer shortly after the rejection email and just ask for feedback. Ask about how you could improve during the interview process, how you could improve your resume, how you can make yourself a more competitive candidate for the future. This is a huge green flag for interviewers— showing you are open to improvement and receptive to feedback, and can leave an impression if you happen to interview for the same company next summer.
  • Network network network. I wouldn’t advise connecting with the interviewers and hiring managers until the hiring process is over. If you get denied, connect with them via LinkedIn. If you get accepted, definitely connect with them. Networking is very important for the job searching process.

— I hope this helps anyone in the same boat that I was in. I think applying to internships as early as possible helps 1) find out if you’re truly interested in the field and 2) boosts your experience immensely. I recommend it to pretty much every freshman: it doesn’t hurt to try.

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