📑Landon's Declassified Internship Survival Guide

A look at how I was able to land a Fortune500 internship as a freshman, and my tips and tricks for those looking to do the same.

I have always been told that internships as a freshman are super rare. I came into college thinking that the only way to get an internship was to be a junior or senior, because what skills do I have to show as a freshman or sophomore? I'm just getting started, and my coursework is mainly general education requirements, and not super relevant to the skills I need in industry (ie: data structures, software engineering, etc). However, I am glad to say: This is not true whatsoever. Do not let the "I don't have experience" mindset limit your opportunities, because getting an internship early in your college career is definitely possible, you just have to approach it a bit differently.

Build your resume

When I say "build", I do not mean "design" a resume. Before we can even open Microsoft Word, we have to have substance to write about. This is a crucial step, and even more crucial for people early in their careers because you don't have the coursework exposure compared to some of the upperclassmen who are applying to the same internships as you.

Focus on things that are in your control. The classes you take early on are not necessarily in your control. You're usually limited to general education requirements like English and History-- which do not matter if that isn't the profession you want to go into! Instead, focus on things you have full control over. Join any and all clubs related to your major. For me, as a computer science major with a concentration in cybersecurity, I focused on cybersecurity clubs. Our main cybersecurity, CTF, and offensive security club were my primary targets. Get involved with these clubs because not only will it look good on a resume, but it'll help you build experience and skills that most of your classes won't ever hit on (I've never had a class teach me how to use pwntools to exploit a binary).

Participate outside of school. This is probably one of the biggest recommendations I can give to make a candidate truly stand out. Everyone applying to internships are going to school and taking similar courses as you. You have to stand out, and showing drive and ambition outside of the required curriculum is an excellent way to do that. Find ways to get involved outside of school. This is super dependent on your major and how involved it gets, but especially for things like computer science, cybersecurity, and other technical fields, there are so many ways to go about this:

  1. Hackathons

  2. Capture The Flags

  3. Personal Projects (No, Tic-Tac-Toe is not a personal project).

  4. Competitive Platforms: Leetcode, HackTheBox, TryHackMe

  5. Blogging

  6. Influencing (Think coding tutorials on YouTube, or anything in a similar vain).

Going above and beyond your curriculum and truly showing ambition towards your desired profession sets you apart, adds to a resume, and gives you a few good talking points during interviews.

Format your resume

Okay, now we have something to work with. The next step of getting an internship is to have a resume that attracts. There's a lot of reading about resumes, and you can go into a very deep rabbit-hole about ATS, formats, guides, etc. I'm not a recruiter, I don't read resumes, so I am probably not the best person to be giving resume advice, but nonetheless, I will share some tips I applied that I found from a variety of sources.

  1. Simple >

Keep it simple. Unless you're going into a design field, there's no need for crazy colors, two-column formats, or images. One of the most recommended formats is Jake's Resume. The typical layout for internship resumes is Education > Experience > Projects/Activities/Honors > Skills. Of course, once again, this depends on your major and intended profession. If you're trying to get an internship for political science, you might not have projects to show, and so you should focus on activities.

  1. How do I format my resume for x?

Not all resumes are created equal. The ideal resume for computer science is vastly different than the ideal resume for chemical engineering which is vastly different than the ideal resume for a scholarship. My favorite thing to do is this awesome Google search:

SImply replace "computer science" with your major, and search! Go to the images tab, and you will see a bunch of resume formats to help garner some inspiration. Not only that, but you will usually see the resumes getting roasted, and so you can apply that feedback to yours to make sure you aren't making some of the common resume sins.

  1. Grammar

Do not let simple grammar mistakes take away from your resume. It's as simple as pasting it into Grammarly and fixing any grammar mistakes.

  1. Beat ATS

A lot of companies employ applicant tracking systems (ATS). The TL;DR of ATS is that a job posting contains keywords or skills they are looking for. Resumes that match with these skills have a higher priority than resumes that don't. Not all recruiters use ATS-- some recruiters claim they read all applications-- but might as well be on the safe side. One of my favorite tools is TealHQ which can take a job posting and identify keywords for you. Then, you just have to update your resume to try and include those keywords.

Don't lie about skills or experience. It's all fun and games until they ask you a question during the interview and you cannot answer it.

The entire point of "Beat ATS" is that you should try to either:

a) curate your resume to each job posting (time consuming)

b) make your resume broad and have a "Skills" section so you can try to hit as many ATS keywords as possible.

Also, "simple >" goes nicely with beating ATS. I used to use a two-column resume and got 1 reply back. I quickly learned that the two-column format messes up the way ATS parses resumes (they try to go left to right, and with two-columns, it will put two entire different sections together). Switching to Jake's Format showed an immediate difference in the number of replies I got to my applications.

Quantity over Quality

This is a controversial opinion. I don't think it should be, especially for freshman trying to get internships. Apply to as many internships that you possibly can. This serves two purposes, really;

  1. You are casting a wider net, which means you should have a higher chance to get an internship offer

  2. In the case you don't get an offer, you should receive at least interviews. Interview experience is greatly underrated, and we will talk about that later.

With applying to so many internships, it becomes tedious. How do I keep track of the internships I applied to and the status of my application? Not only that, but a lot of applications require you to manually input your data even after uploading your resume. Introducing... Simplify (not sponsored!) Simplify is an amazing Firefox and Chrome extension that will automatically fill out applications on common job boards such as Workday, and keep track of the applications for you. The days of Excel spreadsheets and typing is over. Simplify was a huge game changer for my internship search.

Referrals

Pro-tip: Networking is valuable. Try and network on LinkedIn. For example, if I want an internship at Google, I can search LinkedIn for "security intern google" and try to identify security interns at Apple. I can then connect with them, introduce myself, ask questions, and maybe even sneak a referral in. Some people don't like unsolicited requests, so this is not a foolproof strategy, but it can work (and has worked for me!). A great question is asking about their interview experience, and any advice they have on preparing.

Interviewing

Great! We're getting close to the final offer. Interviewing is one of those skills that I think people sleep on. Your resume gets your foot in the door, but the interview gets you the offer. And contrary to some beliefs, interviews are not "tell me about your resume." When you get hit with the "Tell me about yourself" question, do not say the typical "Hi, my name is x, I go to y, and I'm majoring in z". The interviewer has your resume pulled up, they probably read it before the interview. They know where you go to school, they know your general experiences. It's your job to sell yourself during the interview. Your job is to expand on your resume and highlight what isn't highlighted on the resume. Explain more thoroughly your extracurricular involvement or projects that you've done. Explain where your interest for the profession came from. An interview is your opportunity to explain why you're the candidate to choose. If you reiterate the points on your resume without expanding on them, you've doomed yourself.

Ask questions! At the end, there will be a "Do you have any questions for us?" Don't just sit there silent and leave without asking questions. One of my favorite questions to ask is:

  1. "Are there any reservations you have about my candidacy for the position? Is there anything that you feel I need to expand on or learn more about?"

This is such a great question because it helps you identify weak points in your interview AND you get the chance to address them before leaving. Some other common questions include asking about the work environment/culture, the team you might be working with if offered, etc. There are countless lists online about questions to ask during an interview.

Ultimately, no matter how good you do, you will receive the eventual rejection email. This is the good thing about quantity > quality, because now you know what mistakes you made during the interview, and how to fix it. Interviewing is a game of continuous work-in-progress, and it will take a few interviews to get the game down. After 3 or 4, you should feel pretty confident going into interviews, answering the common behaviorial questions, and asking questions. Practice makes perfect!

Follow Up

Follow up with your interviewers. It's a small and humble gesture, but I think it has an impact (source? I made it up). But really, I don't know if there's any statistics about follow-up conversion rates, but I still do it because if it can help, why not do it? A simple email is all it takes, and it will take you 3 minutes. If you don't have the email of your interviewer, send an email to the recruiter who scheduled it and ask. Send the follow up 1-2 days later, but no more than 3. And don't send it the same day. This waiting period helps you pop back up into the mind of the interviewer.

Offer

Hopefully these tips helped, and you've gotten an offer! Congratulations! Don't get a trigger finger and send "Thanks for the offer! I accept:)" immediately. See if you have any competing offers before making a decision. The last thing you want to do is accept an offer, and then the next day get a better offer. You can take back accepting an offer, technically, but it's a bad look, and will probably get you blacklisted.

If you have competing offers, ask the recruiter when they need a decision by. Also, feel free to try and negotiate the pay if you're feeling it. You have other offers to fall back on, so, no harm in trying to negotiate. A lot of internships are non-negotiable, but some will, especially if you have a competing offer with a higher pay.

Other Resources

Hopefully these tips helped 😄. I have a few other resources I will link here.

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