Internship Season: Freshmen Edition

WHAT ARE YOU doing this summer? It is a loaded question on campus that has the power to elicit responses ranging from pure panic to “humble brags.” Finding an internship can be a frustrating and tiresome process, especially for freshmen and sophomores. As a frosh, I wanted to explore tips to find and capture the right internship by asking upperclassmen how they found internships when they themselves were freshmen or sophomores.

When is the right time to start researching for internships?

Well, it depends and can range from as early as summer through March. According to Petra Grutzik, a senior computer science major at Stanford, it’s never too early to start your search. When Petra was a freshman, she participated in Stanford’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program—an incredibly productive way to gain experience as a first year, without having to navigate the world of interview prep books and LinkedIn. The following summer, Petra interned for the Microsoft Explore program—a rotational software engineering internship specifically designed for freshmen and sophomores. These “pipeline” programs are popping up all over the place in almost every field and are worth looking into. And as for when to start applying, Petra tells PULSE that as a computer science major, she likes to start searching mid-summer and a year in advance because “a lot of software companies will start interviewing as early as August for the following year.” She continues, “it is also nice to start interviewing early so that you are done with interviews before fall quarter gets too intense. This is super early though. Most recruiting for software [companies] happens in the Fall.”

Walking through the career fair at Tresidder Memorial Union, I learned that many other established, big companies start their intern hiring process a year in advance—including Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and the like. Therefore, keeping track of deadlines for a range of companies is crucial—you don’t want to miss out on what’s right for you. But not to worry, after the October/November fall deadlines, the next batch of applications occur mid-January through March. In fact, many industries won’t even start the hiring process until Spring.

Where do I even start with applications? What companies should I apply to?

One great way to start your internship research is to look at products you love as a consumer or topics you personally find interesting. If you have a particular company in mind, they usually have a career page on their website with job openings. It doesn’t hurt to check those company listings and see if you would be a good candidate for an intern position. A useful resource is Handshake, which all Stanford students already have—just use your Stanford email address to get started and from there you can start browsing job listings. LinkedIn is another tool for connecting with recruiters, alumni, and people in the industry you want to work in.

It’s totally normal and expected to feel overwhelmed or stuck in the internship application process. While you may find yourself facing rejection from multiple companies, the great thing about Stanford is you’re not on your own. Stanford’s BEAM: Bridging Education, Ambition and Meaningful Work, is an essential resource on campus that can help through all stages. They host résumé and cover letter workshops, assessments such as Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator to provide feedback on possible careers based on your personality, and individual appointments with career coaches for students. Within the sea of emails in your inbox, try to keep a closer eye on emails from BEAM, academic advisors, and organizations who make announcements regarding companies looking for interns—especially freshman and sophomore opportunities.

But when you really want a position and there isn’t an online application for it, sometimes the best way to get your foot in the door is to reach out yourself. Find an appropriate contact, such as a recruiter or someone who works on a particular team you’re interested in, and shoot them an email highlighting why you’re interested in what their company is doing and how you think you can contribute. Pro tip: find a Stanford alum whose career path you admire. The Stanford alumni network is known to be extremely supportive of Stanford students and I can’t tell you how many fellow Cardinal have gotten their first job through an alumni connection. You can even just ask their advice or if they have time to grab coffee and talk about how they got to where they are—you never know what opportunities may come about from a simple chat over a shared interest.

And once you catch a company’s interest, you’re on to the next step: interviews. Even though prepping for an interview is nerve-wracking, junior Susannah Meyer recalls how before her technical interviews, “I tried not to get caught up in excessively studying [for the interview]… so I reviewed some basic material and just worked on being able to present my thoughts out loud to the interviewers.” Susannah interned for Bloomberg as a freshman and Facebook as a sophomore. For both companies she explains how she had “two technical phone screens—some of which include typing code into a Google document or other software with the interviewer on the phone—and then on-site interviews.” Petra provides a key reminder that with technical interviews, practice makes perfect.

And for those of us whose anxiety levels reach an all-time high at just the thought of an interview at our dream company, BEAM provides a particularly useful service—mock interviews—where they give advice on effectively marketing yourself in an interview. You can practice with career coaches or even attend interview lab sessions. BEAM also has a bank of articles and know-how about internships from applying all the way to turning your summer gig into a full-time job.

It’s fair to assume that the difficulty for freshmen and sophomores to secure internships stems from not having as much work experience as upperclassmen. Luckily, many companies are realizing the value in catching talent early and have internships programs specifically for first and second years—and even more are more than willing to hire younger candidates if they’re the right fit. A recommendation for building your résumé with experience is to find projects outside of class (ie: student organizations, outside projects) that show your vested interest in a particular field.

In the meantime for underclassmen, try some of these tips if you haven’t already. And remember to push through frustration when the internship process doesn’t seem to be going your way. We’ve all been there. And lastly, never ever underestimate yourself—you got here for a reason and you have something to offer. Happy interning!

By: Isabel Dibble