How To Get An Internship In The U.S. – 10 Step Process

by | Jan 20, 2020 | General Information, Internships | 2 comments

 

Hi there, I wrote this guide back in April, 2018 for Gradly but haven’t published it on my website, until now. I wrote this right after I got my internship at Salesforce, as way to capture the fresh memories in my head and immortalize it on paper so that it benefits the future graduates. I also made a supplemental video for this, check it out.

This document has basically all the information that I spoke about on the video along with lots of smaller pieces of advice and links to useful articles/websites/videos for anyone who is looking to secure an internship abroad. If you find it useful, do share it with someone who can benefit from it.

Introduction

 


In 2017, over a million international students came to the US with the dream of pursuing their education. Why is the US so popular to pursue higher education? 

    1. Greater exposure to diverse cultures
    2. Better quality education (in most cases)
    3. Higher level of independence
    4. And most importantly: the standard of living. The average wage of someone with a Master’s degree in the US is 78,000$ (and varies based on major). Whereas in India it is 10 lakhs (~15,000$). This is a huge gap even after accounting for the differences.

But there’s a huge wall of screening and testing before you get an intern, and eventually a job in the US. The scenario is harder than what most students believe it to be – especially for international students. But it’s not impossible. As long as you start early and are well prepared, I guarantee that you will come out qualified, and you WILL get an offer. It took me 8 months and a gruelling experience before I got my offer from Salesforce for the summer to work as a Technical Program Manager. I’m really excited to join, but before I did, I wanted to compile everything that I’d learnt in the last one year and condense it into this 10 step process that you can follow to hopefully make your process a little easier! 

The 10 Step Process

I. Pre-Arrival Preparation

If you have quite some time to spend at home the next few months before you embark on your graduate studies, I want you to keep first priority as spending time with your family and friends. Apart from that, it’s useful to work on three areas:

a) LinkedIn

Since I spent considerable amount of time working on my profile last year and have been updating ever since, I’ll use mine as an example. I created a bad representation of my profile for the purpose of this video and document. This is the bad profile, while this is my actual profile. I want you to keep both of them open, compare and contrast, and see how the improvements have been made in the good profile.

You will be sending easily over 500 requests or more in the next few months, so you have to make sure that your profile looks its best. Ensure that you do the following for your profile:

      1. Appealing title: Aspiring to be what, past scholarships if any, something that you’re enthusiastic about)
      2. A summary: Brief or comprehensive (up to you), but have something that is not on your Resume. Your long term goal, past experiences, etc.
      3. Blog Articles: If you’re a writer, start moving your articles from your blog to LinkedIn. It reaches people – and they will start recognizing you for it after a while.
      4. Three Point Summary: A three point summary of your work: objective, what you did, what was accomplished. Please do not write more.
      5. Education: Keep it complete. Put all the clubs you were part of, activities you did, courses you took, GPA (not compulsory).
      6. Skills: Do not add abstract skills. Add the skills that you are truly confident in. Endorse your friends for skills you feel they are confident in, and ask them to do the same for you.
      7. Recommendations: It’s great to get it from your employer, professor, project peer. Everything says a little more about you.
      8. Accomplishments: Dedicate time to fill out the fields in here. Especially, courses, awards, projects and certifications.

Most importantly, always keep updating your profile.

b) Resume

There is so much information out there on how to write a good Resume. You need to figure out what works best for you and follow that. I’ll give you a few pointers. What do recruiters look for?

      • Education – are you in good standing?
      • Career so far – is there a progression? Does your role link to your past experience?
      • Overall look of profile – is it well rounded? Extra-curriculars, honors, leadership?
      • Do you have the necessary keywords for the role you’re applying to?
      • Any semantic errors, wrong structure, grammatical errors? (Avoid at all costs!)

Recruiters will spend at max 10 seconds screening your Resume. Now think, how best can you maximize your chances? Here are just a few pointers from my experience:

      1. Major sections to include: Basic details (professional email, proper format of US phone number, short address, LinkedIn link), Education, Professional Experience, Internships/Projects, Skills, Leadership Experience (if any), Honors (if any).
      2. Use action words – some good examples are here and here.
      3. Tailor the title of each professional experience according to the role you are applying to. Don’t lie. But find a connection.
      4. Keep description under each experience/project to three points, no more. As much as possible, follow the Situation-Action-Result framework.

 

      1. Recruiters love to see a quantitative description of your work, hence, do include numbers such as: % increase in efficiency, decrease in $, decrease in man hours, etc.
      2. Use reverse chronological order and keep font size between 10-12.
      3. Split Skills into programming vs others. Include your hobbies/interests under this section.
      4. Grammatical errors – a clear NO-NO. This could easily cost you the job.

 

It’s a continuous process – hence request everyone you meet to review it. But do not take into account all the advice without putting in some thought on your own. Here are some resources to help you in that process:

 

c) Technical Skills:

Unless your field is completely oriented towards pure science (even then you might need to know data analysis) or role you’re looking for is not data or code driven, it is important to know a few technical skills. Why?

There are many reasons, but chief among them are:

      1. Increasingly competitive job market
      2. Helps you learn in a structured manner
      3. Teaches you how to think logically and solve problems

Here are some useful tools and languages to learn:

      • Data Analysis Languages: R, Python, SAS, SQL, Java. Further reading here.
      • Data Visualization Tool: Tableau
      • R vs Python: Further reading here but key takeaways are:
        • Both languages were developed in the early 1990’s and are still hugely popular
        • Python is better for data manipulation
        • R is better for data exploration – especially for statistics heavy projects
      • Where to learn? Datacamp is a good general resource. For specific tools:

Note: As a side note, consider having a personal website where you put together all of your life’s work: projects, experiences, awards, hobbies, and so on. Some resources to use are GoDaddy, SquareSpace, and Wix.com

 

III. Networking

This is the bread and butter of any relationship that you want to build with a professional. You’re probably thinking: Networking entails the exhausting job of going to an event, meeting a bunch of people whose name you don’t remember, who won’t remember you, talking for a few minutes and leaving with no purpose. All of that is true, but if you know what to do and what not to, you can gain a lot more.

If your degree has even a slight management component, chances are your University will organize a lot of networking events for you. Based on my experience, here a few do’s and don’t’s.

The Do’s

    • Ensure that you have all the basics accomplished. A good suit/dress, name tag (especially if you have a name like mine), handy business card and a cheerful and positive attitude.
    • Prepare for the Event. You will most likely get a list of attendees to the event few days prior to it. Use your research skills now. Pick the top 3-5 people you definitely want to meet. Find out their profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Quora. Spend half an hour, find a common ground and reach out to them prior to the event.
    • Don’t waste time meeting everyone. Try to meet those 3-5 and strike a conversation. What do you talk about? Show them that you know quite a lot about their role already.
      • How do you find the company X to be?
      • How do you spend your weekends? (good way to gauge work life balance)
      • What are your other plans in New York/whichever city? (light conversation) Suggest a good place for them to visit.
      • Briefly tell your interest in company, and WHY. Give your card, get their card, let them know you’ll follow up.
    • Listen when someone speaks. Do not use your phone. It’s too easy to lose focus, look at someone else across room or lose interest. You don’t need to exhaust yourself meeting everyone, just meet your 5 people and leave.
    • Make people feel comfortable. Ending conversations are awkward, good way to end: “Hey Jack, it was such a pleasure talking to you and getting to know about x company. I’d love to continue this conversation over a call or coffee chat later. I’ll get in touch with you, thank you again”.

The real work starts after networking: following up.

The Don’ts

  • Do NOT get distracted while talking because of someone else you saw.
  • Do NOT forget to add them on LinkedIn/get their card. Do both.
  • Do NOT interrupt when someone is talking. Ever.
  • Do NOT ask for referrals in the first meeting.
  • Do NOT hand out your Resume.
  • Most importantly, do NOT forget to thank the organizers on your way out.

Related Link: How to Project Confidence

 

IV. Follow-Up

This is the second most important step in this entire process (I’ll tell the first one soon): This is a skill as well. At one event, you will meet say, 5 people. You will have 10 such events in the semester. So that’s 50 people to keep track of. Apart from this, you will have people you are reaching out on LinkedIn, personal contacts, and so on. How do you keep track?

Google Excel Sheets

 

The above is a screenshot of how my sheets looks like. My second favorite tool is Keep, and I use this app by Google every week to keep a reminder to update the sheet. I recommend using it for all calls as well. You can also use more complicated softwares as well such as Zoho, Prosperworks, etc. Just be sure to keep track.

If there are too many to follow up with: Divide the sheet into strong contacts and weak contacts. Initially, everybody would be in latter. Hopefully they shift to former slowly over time.

How to Cultivate A Relationship with Someone

First, do not look only for referrals when you talk to someone. Many of the people that you have the fortune to talk with have decades of experience which is more valuable to know apart from getting the referral. Here the mediums you would be using and a few tips on the same: Over Call: Prepare for the call. Have at least 5 insightful questions to ask. Try avoiding asking for a referral in the beginning. At best, end with, “I’ve had such a great time talking with you. I’m planning to apply for so and so position. Under the reference section, can I put down your name? If you are not comfortable with it, I completely understand”. Give them the chance to say no. Over email: Here is how a sample e-mail must be after you have a call:

Over LinkedIn: Here are two sample messages you can send on LinkedIn (one before they accept the request and one after they accept):

Over A Meetup: This is undoubtedly the most effective way to connect with someone. Dress up well. Show up on time. Go to a coffee shop/informal setting. Talk about yourself as a person here – and ask lot of questions.

 

V. Strategy is Key

It’s very easy to lose focus in the process and lose track of what’s working and what’s not. Hence, following a strategy from the beginning goes a long way. There are three key tactics to keep in mind.

You need to know all the channels you can apply to jobs to. These are:

  • University career page and on-campus company events
  • Company Websites (As much as possible, apply with a referral.)
  • LinkedIn Job alerts
  • Indeed.com Job alerts
  • Google Job Alerts
  • Use AngelList to find startups
  • A recourse most people forget: Seniors!

Some unconventional ways are emailing the HR of companies directly, or cold emailing existing employes (though this is not very effective usually). Make an Excel sheet, or using another tool to track all outgoing contacts, funnels and opportunities. This is what my sheet looks like.

I don’t want you to blindly keep applying to companies without knowing what works. Every few weeks: take a hard look at where you’re going right, and wrong. Which channel is working for you? Do you see it? Great! Put more time and effort into that from now.

 

VI. Broaden Your Focus

A very common and major mistake students commit, including myself, is restricting focus to the top companies. Or the top 30 companies in a specific niche. Do NOT do that.

  • Definitely apply to all these companies: Among these, do your research and figure out the few companies that you feel incredibly passionate about. Find strong contacts, and submit a brilliant application. But, do not keep hope.
  • Begin applying to startups or even better, get in touch with people from a few startups. I was fortunate as the Founder of the startup that I’m currently working with, Gradly, got in touch with me a year ago. Since then, I’ve seen him grow the startup at such an extraordinary pace. I would have happily joined Gradly if I hadn’t obtained an internship offer.
  • Find a mentor: ask him/her to connect you with a few people from the field. To everyone you speak to, ask about new companies to apply to. They might know the intricacies of a company which you don’t, such as: work culture, progress scope, projects being worked on and so on.
  • Finally, use all the job alerts I spoke about before to apply to new companies.

Remember: based on the company you’re applying to: it’s important to tailor your resume accordingly.

 

VII. Interview Preparation

I will break this part down into three sections:

Using University Resources

Columbia has CCE and I am confident that all Universities have a cell where they help with resume checking, mock interview preparation, strategies for job search, non-profit organization tie ups and SO much more. Use them wisely. Here are some tips on that subject.

Personal Preparation: 

This differs heavily from one field to another – I’ve been through preparation for both consulting and product/program management roles. I want you all to sit and figure out where your interests lie first – I shifted from one to another after speaking to over 30 consultants. If you can figure yours out earlier, it’s very useful.

  • Consulting: The following should give a great head start:
    • Read Case In Point by Marc Cosentino (Harvard University career officer). It is considered The Bible for aspiring consultants. Available here.
    • Follow and Subscribe to Victor Cheng: Apart from posting brilliant articles and videos on his website, he shares stories of others who used his resources and secured a job. If you can afford, purchase “Look Over My Shoulder” package which has 20 hours of audio mock case practice. Available here.
    • Nothing Beats Practice With A Friend: Get someone as enthusiastic as you. Sit with them and practice. So many resources are available to practice from: McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Harvard, Yale, etc all of them have practice cases. I also recommend Firmsconsulting, available here.
    • Find consulting clubs in college: If there is a consulting club in your college, they must hold case practice sessions.
  • Product Management: There are not as many resources as consulting available for preparing for product management roles and interviews. However, here is a good list:
    • Cracking the PM Interview + Cracking the Coding Interview: Two excellent books by Gaayle Laakhman and Jackie Bavaro, available here.
    • How to Ace the PM Interview: A brilliant 3 hour long tutorial by Lewis Lin, Product Manager at Google, available here.
    • Find a practice partner: PM has a lot of guesstimate questions, design questions and technical ones (based on the company). Here is a link to sign up for a partner.
    • Preparation With a Friend: Whatever type of job you go to, you need to practice behavioral questions. There are lots of samples online, so have a buddy with you to sit and practice just for half an hour every week.

 

VIII. Be Multidimensional

Have a personality. Have something to talk about apart from your skill set in the job role and academics. A good way to look at this is the airport test: This is how interviewers think, “If I’m stuck with this candidate for over 5 hours in an airport, will he/she keep me good company? Or will it be mindnumbingly boring?”

Every great candidate has five qualities:

  1. They go out of their comfort zone often – explore new places, talk to new people, take part in events.
  2. Have subject knowledge beyond their subject – they READ a lot. Watch videos. (mention about blogs you follow, YouTubers you follow)
  3. They have the ability to filter and focus – a skill that helps you inside and outside class. Meditation is good way to practice this. Or any form of sport. Anything where you can anchor focus.
  4. They are curious – curious to learn more, bold in asking questions in class, and pursue at least one hobby.
  5. They have an amicable and altruistic personality.

 

A few ways that I followed to try and imbibe these qualities (and few more which I wish I did):

  1. Followed Blogs: Eg: Victor Cheng, Lewis Lin, etc. Read the Wall Street Journal, Medium, Pocket and in general, many articles. You can take any social media outlet and make it useful. Even Facebook – as long as you know what pages to follow.
  2. Watched videos: There are so many amazing YouTube channels to follow. My recommendations – Ted-Ed, TEDx, Wendover Productions, ASAP Science, VSauce, John Fish, Documentaries and Trevor Martin (if you love dogs).
  3. Pursued one hobby: Let me be honest. You don’t have much time when your life is going on during grad school. You have to make sacrifices, so be ready to make a few to pursue one of your hobbies. For me, it was reading novels and writing on my blog. Reading did not happen, but I’m glad I was able to stick to writing on my website.
  4. Something that I did not do enough: exploring the city. Attending concerts. Going to Museums. Cycling. Trekking. Playing games. Playing a sport.

Remember, at the end of the day, companies look for human beings, not machines designed to execute tasks.

 

IX. Have A Plan-B

This is something that you subconsciously know already, but it’s to hear it from someone else. So, here it is:

 

  • Have a plan B from the beginning.
  • Internships are NOT the only destination.
  • There are lots of other interesting options to look at:
    • Be in touch with a startup from the beginning if possible.
    • Approach a Professor in your department about a project (side point: do make use of the office hours to talk to the Professor).
    • Have going back to India/home country and working as an option if you have a good job role to go to.
    • Work on individual projects on websites like KaggleDriven Data,Crowdanalytics. What matters is honing your skill. Consider working in a non-profit organization or applying for fellowships.

Find a senior who did any of the above and ask more about each to them. Alternatively, go to the career centre/advisor.

 

X. Never Lose Hope

Remember when I said I’ll tell you the first and most important step in the process? This is it. Most of you will go through an uphill ride trying to find an internship. Many of you will buckle under pressure and lose focus, if you stop being positive and confident. This is not me preaching or being cynical, rather wishing I knew this when I came to the US 9 months ago. Nobody told how hard it would be. However, despite everything, I can guarantee that you will find something that you’re happy with if you keep telling yourself this: “One of the traits of positive people is that they do not worry about things they cannot control.” Also keep telling yourself the following:

  • Others are going through the exact same situation
  • You always have a Plan B to fall back on
  • Do not ruin your grad school experience over internships and jobs.

 

What really helped me? Lowering expectations, enjoying the classes, and most importantly having positive and passionate people around me to lift up my spirits.

 

XI. Gratitude and Closure

The day I got my internship offer (April 2nd, 2018), I sat down to look at my contact list to thank more than 80 people. Although only one of their referral helped in getting me the offer, almost all of them selflessly helped in some way or another. When you get your offer, I hope you do the following:

  1. 1. Show Gratitude: To everyone single person who helped in the process.
  2. 2. Get Closure:Take some time off to enjoy. Do the things you didn’t get time to do until then. And remember to help your friends who are still finding an internship.
  3. 3. Moving Forward: Take time to help your juniors. And respond to messages on LinkedIn and any request to help in general.

 

And with that, your journey ends!

 

XII. Acknowledgments

Creating a YouTube video was extremely tiring to say the least. And it would have been impossible without help from the following amazing people:

  • One of my best friends who put up with shooting and editing the entire video – Liwaans Amuthan. No words to thank him.
  • Rishabh and Parth, my teammates at Gradly. Without their help in fine tuning the idea and using Gradly’s resources to publicize the video, there is a good chance it would have never reached you.
  • Jitheshraj Foundation for Promising Freshmen, NIT Trichy. They gave me a gift card with which I bought the tripod to shoot this video in.
  • Every single person who filled out the pre-video survey that I had put out – your inputs really mattered.
  • And of course, every single one of you reading this right now!

 

XIII. Next Steps

Once again, I’d love if it the video and this document reaches the right people, rather than a lot of people. That would serve the main purpose behind the effort. If you have any questions, the best place to ask them would be by emailing [email protected] or reaching out to me on LinkedIn. I read all emails. Something that I hope you realized is that getting an internship is an incredibly time consuming process that requires continuous effort. As a new student in the US, this process can very daunting. Fear not! To continue to receive help, you can do the following three things:

Download a PDF version of this guide. Read, re-read and then read it again, and ask me anything you need in the channels mentioned above Let me end with one of my favorite quotes: Speak in such a way and people love to listen to you, and listen in such a way that people love to speak to you.