Hacks to the “Off-Campus” Internship
“What routine academics gets wrong, internships get right!”
In an ultra competitive setting where you need experience to get experience, internships are becoming increasingly popular as a quintessential block on resumes as well as a stepping stone to full time offers (read: PPOs). Also, working on real world problems and making tangible contributions is the easiest way to take care of the professional existential crisis. Being surrounded with people who solve those problems which you think you’d like to solve out of college can sometimes lead you to realize where you want to be and how to get there. The other times well, you learn where you definitely don’t want to be and that’s good progress as well!
While scoring an internship in firms that come all the way to campus is a fairly straight forward process, getting off-campus offers is slightly more tricky. It requires a tad more strategizing, grit and jugaad since getting the other party to assess you is a task in itself.
Amidst the internship hustle last year, I had noticed that there are a bunch of hacks that could be used to convince anyone to let you work with them. As I think more and more about it, these things seem quite logical and obvious; but they are heavily underutilized so I guess it anyhow makes a sense to initiate a discussion.
Here we go~
- Seek help, send out cold messages/ mails, lots of them. If you are seeking internships in an area you don’t have a lot of experience in, just connect with people working with the teams you’d like to work in. Ask them what you could do in the next 3–4 months to be able to add value to their team. I know it sounds like a long shot, but you’d be surprised by how many people will get back to you (for me, one of the data scientists even gave a 40 hour plan to learn everything I needed to be good to go!). Professionals think binary (Y/N) if you express interest in working with them. However, everyone loves to give gyaan (especially to somebody who is in a position they were once in) and hence there’s a higher chance they’d mentor you about how to proceed. Not only this opens a very constructive conversation with someone who can single-handedly get you the role, but also gives you a road map of how to proceed to acquire the skill akin with industry standards; along with an opportunity to prove yourself.
- Follow up, preferably with updates. This is the single most important thing while sending out cold mails. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a reply right on your first mail, expect sending 3–4 follow up mails/ messages before the other person pays any attention to you. The catch here is that there are brownie points for following up with an update. For instance a message that says, “Hey! Any chance you were able to go through the mail? And by the way, I just built this cool thing available on this link and it won a hackathon!” is far more likely to get attention than your staple, “Awaiting response”. Remember?! Kind folks have already been telling what to do to better your chance of getting through. Make some progress and let the other gentleman know you’re learning constantly. P.S.- You might like to maintain an excel sheet of all the follow ups and when is the next follow up due.
3. Leverage your existing network, be shameless. Reach out to everybody (seniors/ professors/ long lost cousins/ neighborhood uncles and aunties) who you think is in a position to either directly help you or would know somebody who can. The process can be tiring but is completely worth it. Fair or not, a query routed with a strong reference has a ~5X chance of being paid attention to. No, don’t think of maintaining that high moral ground and staying away from nepotism. Not because you should be willing to let go of that high moral ground to accelerate your career, but because wouldn’t have to anyways! Nepotism would mean that you would be given an opportunity where you’d gain more from the system (the team you end up interning for in this case) than what the system would gain from you which is never the case in capitalism. Coming back to the point, all you need is an opportunity to present your case and ask for some guidance maybe. So don’t shy away and leverage whatever network you got.
4. Leverage your non-existing network and again, be shameless. Everyone (yes, even if they have spent all their college life stuffed in their rooms playing DoTA or something) has a latent network. This is basically the set of people who have an attachment towards anything both of you have in common. In most cases, they are your club/ school/ college seniors. Hunt them down with a simple Google search. Look for these people in the firms/ verticals you’d want to intern in and you’d be surprised by how helpful they turn out to be. Make the best of this opportunity! On a side-note, acknowledge this help of theirs by carrying the tradition and being extra helpful to your fellow juniors when they reach out to you in the future. :)
5. Be ready with the “WHY” and “WHAT” of the opportunity you’re looking for. You should be clear about what you want to work on and the reason behind that. As obvious as it sounds, most folks I know apply really vaguely. This shows a lack of passion and intent. I know it sounds cliched but people do look for interns who have a hunger to learn because well, what else would drive you to work outside your comfort zone to deliver a similar value as a full time employee at a fraction of a pay.
6. Document your past endeavors. I know this can take time but at the same time can’t stress enough on the importance of doing this exercise. There’s no better way to look back at your contributions at the past projects, strengths, weaknesses and most importantly what are the top 2–3 things that will enable you to sell yourself and stand apart. Since landing off campus internships is as much selling what you can do as much as it is being actually able to do that task, this process is irreplaceable.
7. Make your selling points easily accessible. If you code, put it on GitHub. If you design, upload your portfolio. If you have made an interesting observation/ done some interesting project/ learnt something unusual for your age, write a blog on it. These things add an unmatched authenticity of your self-proclaimed awesomeness, show that you are passionate and make your profile way more attractive.
8. Unless it is a giant corporate, don’t reach out to the HR directly. In my experience, people on the team where you want to intern are more responsive to your passion and don’t mind the lack of some irrelevant pointers on your resume the HR might be specifically looking at to filter candidates out due to lack of domain knowledge. These pointers can be things like GPA or some silly framework you could anyways pick up over a weekend. Even if in the worst case you get rejected, non HR folks invariably give you some feedback about what role you could better fit in, what is lacking on your resume and where else in the industry you could hunt for an internship. If they don’t, just ask. In all probability, they won’t mind. Also, you have don’t have to struggle to be staffed with the desired team since somebody on that team would want you to work with them if you reach out to them directly and they assess you before requesting the HR to get done with all the formalities.
9. Study profiles over LinkedIn. Looking at the profiles of people who have done internships you desire to land gives you a fair idea of the kind of experiences/ tags you need to have under the belt to get there. In most cases, past interns are very approachable and shed light on the work culture/ projects/ challenges they were exposed to.
10. Learning is a skill, yes really! Don’t feel daunted if you are not a pro at what you wish to work at during the summer. I am quite surprised by how many people get through by convincing the firms how fast they can learn on the fly. If you plan to do so, be ready with a couple of instances of when and how you’ve learnt on the go to get things done. Also, express the willingness to doing a weekend assignment/ project. This goes a long way into showing intent and confidence in your ability to complete tasks irrespective of an imperfect background.
Feel free to get in touch if you feel I could be of any help in the journey. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://twitter.com/preet_s_k, my DMs are open. If you’re a fellow Pilani mate, just drop by KR 3109! ;)
Good luck, fellas!