Landing a Paid Software Engineering Internship as a Freshman

Landing a Paid Software Engineering Internship as a FreshmanRichard GuanBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMay 31A reflection on how I landed three offers for software engineering internships as a Computer Science major at the University of Michigan with no experience prior to collegeI’m a rising sophomore CS major at the University of Michigan interning at Larky, a push notification API services company in Ann Arbor.

Entering college, I had no prior software development experience and very limited programming experience coming into high school.

So how did I find an internship?With no prior experience and very limited experience in classes, I knew I had to do a personal project to give myself a chance.

In December, I created web app called SnapCal that extracts event information from pictures of fliers and adds it to your Google Calendar.

At the same time, I worked on a web game for UM’s Solar Car Team that simulated the World Solar Challenge for strategists (those who choose the optimal speed of the car).

Without these personal projects, I wouldn’t have stood a chance.

After completing those projects, I had some skills and experience use.

However, I still had to handle the other side of the equation; getting my foot in the door.

I started applying for internships in September.

I went to Fall and Winter Engineering Career Fair, Fall LSA Career Fair, and applied online to 60+ companies.

That effort yielded me a single interview which did not lead to an offer.

I quickly learned that applying online as a freshman was woefully inefficient.

Starting in mid March, I went about my search differently.

I used cold calls as a means of getting my foot in the door.

Every weekend, I looked up 10–15 companies by Googling “startups [city]”.

Once a company caught my eye, I went over to LinkedIn and searched people with the company and U of M as filters.

I clicked on 1–2 profiles of CTOs or Full-time Software Engineers and used Skrapp.

io or Hunter.

io to get their emails.

I found that at startups, more senior members typically felt more comfortable with cold calls.

I then drafted a cold email, to be sent out between 12 and 1 pm the following Monday or Tuesday.

In my cold emails, I never asked directly for an internship or an interview; I always just asked for 15 minutes of their time to learn more about their experiences, how they got to the company, and any opportunities that may be available over the summer.

Instead of attaching my resume, I linked my personal website in my emails; it gave a more holistic sense of who I was, and it was a way of sharing my projects inside the context of introducing myself, not asking for an internship.

Starting with small steps to get my foot in the door worked well.

Out of the 24 companies I emailed over the span of 3 weeks, 11 of them responded.

8 out of those 11 responses led to calls.

Compare that to the 1/60 companies that responded to applying online.

7/8 of my calls were directed by the other person out of the gate; they asked me to introduce myself, then went a little deeper into my skills and experiences.

I made sure to use the nugget-action-result format described by Cracking the Coding Interview’s behavioral interview section.

In the one call that I led, I started by asking about the person’s story and how they go to where they were.

Out of those 8 calls, 3 led to follow up formal interviews.

I ended up getting offers from all 3.

I had significantly more success through a month of cold calling than 4 months of applying online.

I would summarize the “get your foot in the door” process with 5 steps:Find a company that you are interested in.

Do a LinkedIn search for CTOs or Software Engineers or your preferred role at the company who are preferably alum of the college you are in.

Send them a cold email for a quick 15 minute call.

Do the call.

Follow up within 24 hours with a thank you email.

This is especially effective for early stage startups, since they often don’t have a formal recruiting process.

One more note: find people where you want to be in 3–5 years.

I had already decided to give up on the internship search and take classes over the summer when I had coffee with a mentor (Business — CS double major) in early March.

He talked about his freshman year internship–he got it through pure hustle, much like the process I am describing now.

He told me it will slow at first, especially if you aren’t getting any responses, but it picks up.

He described how great it felt to get cold email responses in your inbox when you woke up in the morning; it gives you the momentum to keep going.

Looking forward to next year, I plan to focus my efforts on applying for bigger companies.

The process will be totally different, but I believe anyone can use a few of the principles I learned this year: (1) cold call or contact an engineer at every company I apply to, (2) be mindful that applying online is often inefficient, and (3) look for more unconventional ways to get a foot in the door.


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