Landing a Successful Tech-Firm Internship

When it comes to filling tech internships, companies typically seek college juniors and seniors majoring in computer science or a related field. Although colleges and universities actively work to place high-performing students in internships, a lot of potential interns have little idea of how to lock down such a position for themselves, especially if they’re not in college or have a less-than-stellar GPA.

If you’re a self-taught programmer without a degree, securing a career-building internship can likewise prove elusive.

Whatever the challenges, though, snagging an internship isn’t impossible.

Do Your Homework

Tech companies (as well as companies in other industries) often recruit on campus; if you’re enrolled at a school, swing by your next career fair to see who’s offering internships. You’ll have the opportunity to meet company representatives face-to-face, and potentially submit an application.

Many companies also advertise internships online, often beside their full-time job postings; if you want to work for a particular firm, make sure to check out their Hiring or Jobs Webpage.

Career Websites such as Dice are also a good place to find internships; be aware, though, that many of the openings on these sites are targeted toward undergraduate and graduate students majoring in CS or a similar topic.

Benn Konsynski, professor of information systems & operations management at Goizueta Business School at Emory University, admits that internships are usually first made available to colleges and universities for their students and alumni. “It’s a rather fragmented and ephemeral market for internships,” he said. “Windows open and close quickly.”

However, he added, an earnest pitch can still persuade a company to take a chance on you, even if you’re not enrolled at a particular institution.

Where (and How) to Look

If you’re competing for an internship against stronger students, or approaching a company on your own, you can often stand out with a little entrepreneurial verve. If you’ve built your own app, game, or program, make sure to highlight that fact in your initial pitch; it will show you have the drive to succeed.

Rather than aim for the likes of Google and Facebook—where tens of thousands of students fight every year for just a few slots—make a point of targeting smaller companies that aren’t necessarily household names, but which will nonetheless offer a chance at valuable experience.

State, regional, or city economic development offices will sometimes list internships, as will tech-trade groups. Many of those programs (but not all) give priority to veterans, women, minorities, or displaced, unemployed and underemployed people looking to jump into the tech world for the first time.

The Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), for example, is sponsoring a new paid apprenticeship and training program that will place about 600 people in tech roles across the state during the next four years. Those roles include, but aren’t limited to, database administrator, project manager, data analyst, fraud analyst, and software application developer.

According to Jennifer Carlson, executive director of the WTIA Workforce Institute, the trade group has 150 committed seats at companies such as Microsoft and its International Association of Microsoft Certified Partners, Accenture, Internet Identity, Impinj, F5, and Silicon Mechanics.

As Carlson noted: “Once the testing portal is online, sometime in mid-Q2 ‘16, it will be open on a rolling basis and we’ll publish the positions we’re seeking to fill along with timeframes. We expect the first cohort to be identified in Q3 and placed in Q4 of this year, and we will ramp up from there.” Applicants go through a screening process and take a placement test that measures logic, math and critical thinking skills.

Look Before You Leap

Konsynski suggests that you spend as much time interviewing companies as they spend interviewing you. When applying for an internship, ask: Will you get paid or not? Get the specifics on the type of training and who will be mentoring you.

“Internships are good, but they have to be focused on achievement, not just administrative support,” he said. “There’s no intrinsic value in an internship.” It’s all about what you did in the role to make the effort a success.

Find out if the internship is focused on “knowledge of a domain, market or process of interest” before you waste your time applying, Konsynski added. In other words, don’t settle for just anything to get experience on your resume.

If you’re looking at a state- or trade-group sponsored program, check out the track record of the organization or the program, and find out how long it took for the previous interns to land a full-time tech position, if you can. And, don’t assume that if you’ve completed an internship with a company that they’ll automatically hire you after it’s over.