The Tech Industry is an exciting place to work, and there is no shortage of excitement amongst college and MBA students. This excitement is a double-edged sword, as it also means there is lots of competition for these sought after internships.
During the summer of 2014, I spent my summer working in a Product Marketing MBA Internship at a Tech company, and since then, I have recounted my story to hundreds of other students and young professionals who have sought out my guidance as they have gone through their own journey.The following is a summary of the steps I took to first identify what internship I wanted, how I went to go about getting it, and how I ended up where I did.
Develop a Hypothesis
The first step in this process is understanding what you want to do, or at least an educated guess of your ideal internship. This is important because when you know what you want, figuring out what steps you need to take to get there is much easier.
While it might be difficult to know for 100% what you want (a good reason to do an internship!) starting with an informed hypothesis enables you to go out and test it. Generally, your hypothesis is grounded in your interests, skillsets, and what the market has a demand for.
My hypothesis was that I wanted an internship in marketing for an established tech company in the Bay Area. This hypothesis was based off past positive experiences working with a handful of these tech companies, my conversations with friends who worked at this companies and who viewed the company and industry positively, and my past experience working on projects related to marketing.
It’s also helpful to determine your priorities and what’s most important to you. So, not only determining what’s important, but relative to other things, how important specific characteristics of a job are. For some of you, the brand name of the company will be really important. For others, it will be the geography, the size of the company, or the role/function. Ideally, you’ll want to come up a set of characteristics that are important to you and some kind of hierarchy so that later down the road when you are applying to internships and potentially deciding on whether to take a job you’ll have some sort of rubric to determine how good of fit the role is given what you’re looking for. I’ve written about a priority framework previously and am happy to share mine.
Explore and Learn
Once you’ve developed a hypothesis of what you want to do now is the time to go and test it by going out and gathering data and information to prove or disprove that hypothesis. There are lots of blogs and content out there about what it’s like to go work at a tech company.
Additionally, there are thousands of job postings for almost any role imaginable to learn about the skills and experiences companies look for in applicants. And finally, there are plenty of people out there who already do these jobs who can provide you with a first-hand look at what these jobs are like.
For about a 4–6 week period, I spent my days reading articles on what it’s like to work in tech, scouring through job postings to understand the critical competencies needed for each role. Checking LinkedIn to understand the job and career progression of someone who worked in product marketing at a tech company, and finally, scheduling and conducting conversations with people to learn first hand. I had discovered that my hypothesis was in fact correct, and I was confident in my decision to look for Product Marketing internships.
Cultivate The Network
There’s a lot of reasons why networking and having a good network of contacts is important. In the case of my internship search, talking to existing Product Marketers helped me understand what Product Marketers do, the challenges and opportunities of the job, the potential career progression and development and the successful characteristics and traits of product marketers. They also gave me insight into what it was like to work at their specific company.
This was all helpful to me because it gave me the information I needed to determine if A) I wanted to be a product marketer and B) if I had what it took to be a product marketer and C) if I was interested in working at the company they were at.
The pink elephant in the room is that networking is also important because it helps get your foot in the door at companies you are interested in. If you know someone who can give you a referral for a posting, that is probably something of value to your candidacy, and while referrals are no guarantees they certainly don’t hurt. Additionally, people on the inside of companies you are looking at can also be helpful in that they can sometimes tip you off to jobs or internships that haven’t been posted yet.
Finally, I think the best results from your network happen when your networking is ongoing and proactive. If you are just starting your network when you are about to apply to for an internship. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start (any time is a good time to start) but I’ve found some of my best results from relationships that I’ve had time to develop at least a little. (FYI — Here are some of my networking tips)
Target your focus
After you’ve done your research, done your networking and know what you want to do, it’s helpful to design a targeted list of companies where you’d want to end up. This will help you when you’re trying to apply to internships to know where to look for and where to start. While I think it’s important to target, it’s also important to keep an open mind and to also play the numbers game. The focus should always be on the internships and jobs you are most interested in, but having a backup plan is not a bad thing.
Leave No Stone Unturned
There are formal ways of finding and applying to internship and job opportunities, either if you are a student (on-campus interview and off-campus interviewing) or if you a professional (LinkedIn, job boards, etc) as well as less formal ones (via friends of friends, through your own networking efforts, etc) but I found a good approach is to evaluate all the options that are available to you.
For me, I as an MBA student I relied on off-campus recruiting efforts and regularly checked the websites of the companies I was interested in as well as the various job boards. (Tip: Setup alerts on searches for specific roles to get notifications) I also was in contact with a number of friends and colleagues at companies I was interested in, keeping them abreast of my progress and also inquiring from time to time if they had heard of any potential opportunities.
Finally, when it came time to apply for a posting, I would check my targeted companies list to see if I knew of anyone in my network who worked there. In most cases, I knew of at least 1–2 people at all of those companies, and before I applied I would reach out to my contacts to inform them I was applying and to ask for any advice they would have for me.
In most cases, people were very happy to respond to A) give me advice and B) in some cases, even offered to put in referrals. In a number of cases, my contacts even connected me either to the recruiter or the team directly who was hiring. These were valuable as they helped me get through the initial screening of the application process. While it was still on me to do the legwork from there, my network was a huge booster in helping me get my resume read and in front of the right people at companies I was applying to.
Prep, Prep, Prep
Submitting an application and getting an interview is great, but you still need to perform in an interview! To make sure I could nail my interviews I did prep work before and after interviews. My prep work consisted of:
- Reviewing my notes from phone calls of people that worked at that company
- Researching recent events of the company in the news
- Reading Glassdoor for comments on the interview process, culture, and general sentiment of the company
- Reviewing the website to understand their strategy, vision and mission, and learning the “company lingo” so I could make sure I was going to talk in a tone that resonated with their culture
- Coming up with a list of questions i thought the interviewer would ask me, and then developing answers to those questions and refining my answers through practice
- Developing a list of questions that I wanted to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview
I did this for almost all of the companies I interviewed at, which took a lot of time and effort. However, I also felt like I performed well in the interviews and was very well prepared, so I think it was worth the effort.
Remember your priorities
At some point, you will get an offer (congratulations!) and in some cases, you might have multiple offers! The best opportunity is going to be the one that most closely aligns with your priorities that you set for yourself. Go back to that list of priorities you developed and evaluate the offers against the priorities that you set for yourself. At a basic level, I think it helps to write out on paper perhaps the pros and cons, or benefits and opportunities, and then to evaluate those against what priorities you have for yourself.
As you can see above, here are the results of my journey. When it was all said and done, there were 5 companies I was really really excited about, I got interviews at 4 of them, got final rounds at 2 of them, and ended up with an offer at 1 of them. It was a long journey (started in September, ended in May) but I ultimately was able to find an internship that matched my priorities and interests.
Finding and obtaining an internship or job is a challenging but exciting process. It’s also a great way to learn about yourself, reflect on what you want to do with your life, and understand what your value proposition is to a company. There are a lot of great ways to get an internship and I’m happy to share what worked for me in hopes that it helps you find the right internship for you.
- Networking Tips
- How to avoid networking mistakes
- Additional thoughts
- Getting others to help you network
- Making The Most of Networking