How to Land Your First Computer Science Internship
It’s time to start thinking about internships and getting more formal computer science experience on your resume. Where do you start?
To find out, we reached out to Mark Babbitt, Colorado Springs-based CEO and founder of YouTern, a career advice platform for those transitioning from college. Here’s what he shared about landing your first computer science internship.
START LOOKING (AND WORKING) EARLY
If you wait until your junior or senior year to find your first internship, you’re not doing yourself any favors. “To compete well in today’s job market,” Babbitt says, “we suggest completing one high-quality internship for every year in college.” Yes, this is a big commitment, but it’s necessary to stand out to employers once you graduate, he says.
Babbitt recommends freshmen use their first semester to acclimate to school and their new environment. Then, in the second semester, begin looking for a summer program. “Keep in mind that many high-profile summer internships are awarded in January and February. So don’t wait until April or May to throw your name into the proverbial hat,” he says.
To find an internship, he recommends first checking out the campus Career Center. Sometimes internships are listed on various online job boards or websites of specific companies, he says, but there’s plenty of other places to look too. “Many internships are also found on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms: follow the hashtags #internship and #InternPro,” Babbitt says.
LinkedIn is always a great resource, Babbitt says. And there are niche sites as well, like Looksharp.
BUILD SKILLS AND A RESUME THAT IMPRESS
After you find some internships to apply for, make sure you highlight the right classes and skills you’ve acquired to maximize your chances of landing the position.
Babbitt says employers hiring computer science interns want to see a combination of technical expertise and soft skills. For technical expertise, mention the classes you’re taking and other skills that you learned on your own or outside the classroom. Mention projects you worked on and how you developed solutions to real-world problems.
For soft skills, Babbitt says the employer will mainly be looking to see if you’ll be easy to work with and will fit into the company culture. You can help yourself here by highlighting your teamwork, communication skills and leadership.
When writing your resume, Babbitt says to remember it’s no longer standard to provide a laundry list of everything you did at previous jobs or internships. It’s more important to have “impact statements,” as he calls them.
So when you list projects from prior jobs or classwork, show the results and impact of your work. Instead of “Performed duties designed to help the sales team achieve their goals,” you could say “Led a team of 3 that designed an application using XYZ skill to help sales team exceed quota by 132 percent in Q1 of 2017.” This simple rewording highlights leadership, teamwork, problem solving and technical skills.
FOCUS ON QUALITY OF EXPERIENCE, NOT JUST THE EMPLOYER BRAND
Babbitt recommends thinking of internships as a series of stepping stones. “Start small. Embrace the baby steps. Over time, build a satisfying portfolio of work while showing a high level of commitment to your craft,” he says. It’s unlikely you’ll land an internship at Facebook or Google right out of the gate, but if you work at some smaller companies and really expand your skills, companies with bigger names and flashier brands will be more impressed down the line, he says.
Also, don’t be afraid to use internships as a decision-making tool, Babbitt says. They’re designed not to be permanent, so if you try something and hate it, it’s not too late to make a strategic pivot away from that as a career. On the flipside, an internship can introduce you to new ideas and interests that you love and want to pursue further. Babbitt recommends remaining open to possibilities and being self-aware enough to know when something is a great or terrible fit.