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How to get a Software Engineering internship?

Getting an internship is one of easiest and most guaranteed ways to get the experience you need to increase your chances of getting a full-time job. In this article, we will review the ways of how to get a software engineering internship and what are the best strategies to succeed in one.

Do you really need an internship to get hired for a full-time SWE job?

While there are plenty of professionals who secure software engineering jobs every year without completing an internship, it definitely helps your employability to have some real-world coding experience under your belt before applying for full-time positions.

Big Tech firms prefer former interns, with 80.2% of recent Facebook workers having done an internship, 78.3% of workers at Google, and 70.1% at IBM. Apple’s share of employees who have done an internship in the past, comprises a little over a half (55.5%), while Lyft has hired 48.7% of its employees as those who have interned in the past (not necessarily at their company). (Chegg)

Besides increasing your hiring potential, internships help you gain valuable skills in communication with colleagues, understand the pace of tech world, and adapt to the typical working environment of a software engineer, as well as understand the infrastructure and office hierarchy related to your future profession. We firmly believe that getting an internship is an excellent way to spend at least one of your summers (or other semesters) and prepare you for joining the workforce.

Do you need to be enrolled in college in order to apply for internships?

Most job descriptions for SWE internships require you to be enrolled in a university degree program. However, there are also intern vacancies that do not indicate such requirement. If you are not currently enrolled in college and want to do an internship as part of your transitioning to software engineering career, our best advice is to examine the application requirements for the positions you are interested in, identify companies and positions that appear to waive such requirement, and, if still unsure, contact the hiring managers through email or LinkedIn in order to confirm your eligibility for the program. All in all, there are certainly plenty of positions out there that do not require you to be a college degree student.

On the other hand, if you are a coding bootcamp student and are looking for ways to get hands-on experience in the workforce, there are also internships that indicate eligibility for such individuals or don’t specify eligibility in terms of education at all. Some coding bootcamps, in fact, offer internships as part of their educational programs. We recommend this article on BestColleges for your questions on how to get an internship as a bootcamp student or graduate.

You may also wonder if you are eligible to apply for a software developer internships after you have graduated from college (when you are no longer considered a student), which is another situation worthy of mentioning. While many companies require you to go back to studies after the completion of your internship, others don’t have such limitations and will allow you to intern even if you have already graduated by the time you start your position. Try to look for any indication of such requirements in the job posting when you consider applying for a specific internship.

Where to look for software engineering internships?

Now, let’s look into where you could start your search for an internship position. There are several ways you could find an internship. We will cover them in this segment.

Computer science student searching for a software engineering internship
Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

1. Online Job Search engines and professional platforms

You must have heard of or used at least one of these job search platforms in the past, but let’s point you to our favorites, especially from the point of view of internships in tech.

  1. Handshake – best platform for students, internship search, and job alerts.
  2. LinkedIn – best for networking, company research, and job search.
  3. BuiltIn – excellent resource for internship & job search in tech.
  4. Indeed – great overall job database and job search engine.
  5. EngineerJobs – great platform for engineering job search.
  6. SimplyHired – great job, company, and salary research platform.
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Using at least one of these platforms is usually a prerequisite for success in finding your internship position. Even if you are not going to submit a single application from a job search engine, you should have an updated profile on LinkedIn and/or Handshake, as there is a high chance recruiters will want to take a look at your page if your resume ignites their interest. Also, keeping an eye out to the common job requirements, responsibilities, and timelines will help you state up-to-date in what you should showcase, update, or work on to be head-to-head with your competition.

2. Career fairs

Although experiences at career fairs vary, most students agree they are a quick and dense way to get to know different companies, meet recruiters, and put yourself out there. Even if you only get to chat briefly with several employers and possibly get a few promising follow-up opportunities, this is a great start and may lead to potential interviews, especially if you get to present yourself in the right way and make a good first impression. Here is a great article by The Muse on how to make the best out of a career fair.

3. Networking

According to Jobvite 2017 report, referrals are 5x more effective than all other sources of hiring, and referred employees are hired 55% faster than those hired through a career site. According to Zippla 2022 employee referral statistics, referrals are 4x more likely to be offered a job than website applicants and account account for 30-40% of all hires.

Reach out to your fellow students, upperclassmen, alumni, TAs, and professors. If you are a university student, you may not even realize how large and rich your professional network might be. Take advantage of professional platforms (such as LinkedIn and Handshake) to grow your connections and have a few chats with students who have already been employed as interns in the past.

4. Cold outreach

Reaching out to recruiters and potential employers through email and personal messages may not always feel quite comfortable. However, contacting companies directly may allow you to tap into options that may not even seem available at first glance. Smaller companies may sometimes consider hiring you as an intern if you show enthusiasm and provide good reasons for your employment even if they have not published any open vacancies. We know at least a few people who have gotten an internship through cold outreach to the companies they really liked.

What do I need to get an internship?

Resume for a student searching for a software engineering internship
Photo by Lukas from Pexels.com

Lucky for you, the application process for how to get a software engineering internship is fairly straightforward and consistent across the industry. It may take time to get everything prepared, but at the very least, you don’t need to juggle many different parts and make a separate checklist for each position individually (for the most part). Let’s take a look at what you may need to have at hand.

1. A list of positions to apply to

In the section above, we discussed some sources for finding open positions. What would help is to make a list of such vacancies either before you start applying or as you do. If you are using a search engine, create a system for searching for your positions of interest: by location, company type, size of the establishment, or any other criteria. It would help you in making sure you don’t revisit the same search results. If you apply by networking or cold outreach, make a spreadsheet of your contacts, whether or not you receive replies from them, and whether they are interested in continuing a conversation.

2. Resume

One of the most important parts of your application is your resume. This is your window of opportunity to get the attention of a recruiter or perhaps a colleague and attract their interest in helping you get an internship.

Your resume should include:

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One-pager with proper (usually boring but polished) formatting is the standard, and each resume for a given application should usually be tailored for that specific position. Until we write our own ultimate guide to writing a resume, please refer to FreeCodeCamp’s guide to writing a killer Software Engineering resume.

3. Cover Letter (optional)

This is usually optional or nonexistent when it comes to internship applications for software engineering roles. However, we couldn’t pass without mentioning it. If you are a particularly good writer or have something important you want to add to your story that you can’t include in your resume, we strongly suggest you consider writing a cover letter in addition to your application. If you apply by reaching out to people, you will need to construct some form of one anyway to make your email seem like an actual letter.

4. Interview skills

This is the second most important pillar of your success in how to get a software engineering internship. Once you have passed the initial resume check and perhaps a cover letter scan by your potential employer, you may be bumped to schedule an interview.

There are usually several stages of the interview process, and depending on the company, you may be subject to passing all or several of them, usually in the order below:

  • Phone screening – in this (sometimes unscheduled) interview, a recruiter may be interested in establishing an initial dialogue, getting to know a candidate and their motives and interests related to applying to the specified position, as well as getting a feel of the technical competence of the applicant. You may also be asked so-called behavioral questions in order for the interviewer to understand your personality, ability to work with others, and leadership skills.
  • Video interview – if you pass an initial screening, or perhaps directly after submitting your written application, you may be invited for a video interview. This type of interview has become especially popular during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the rising era of remote working. You may be asked general questions about your background and skills, but you should also be ready for some form of technical assessment during your interview.
  • In-person interview – if you have done well in your initial phone or video interview, you may be scheduled for a final round of in-person interviews, which usually includes meetings with several members of the company, who may either have a conversation with you as a group or in a sequence of consecutive individual meetings. You should be ready for all types of questions related to your interests, professional background, skills, and knowledge of particular coding stacks and processes.
  • Technical interview – is an interview conducted either in person or remotely that aims to assess the candidate’s coding competence and ability to solve typical programming tasks. They are often focused on Data Structures & Algorithms and may be presented by different levels of difficulty depending on the type of position. Technical interviews usually require a good amount of preparation and practice through different resources, including educational courses and sample problem databases, such as LeetCode and HackerRank.

For a comprehensive review and preparation for the interview process as a future software engineer, we recommend this excellent Tech Interview Handbook written by the authors of Blind 75.

How to get a software engineering internship on time?

A calendar for applying to software engineering internship positions
Photo by Bich Tran from Pexels.com

If you are looking for summer internships, larger companies such as FAANG/MANGA begin to hire early during the academic year. Applications open in August of the previous summer, and interviews are conducted throughout the fall and early winter. Some large companies such as Amazon, however, still have open software engineering vacancies during the spring. Other medium-to-smaller sized companies, as well as many large non-technical organizations hire throughout the year.

In other words, you are almost never late, if you are applying to internships before summer of the year you are planning to intern. However, the earlier you start, the better your chances are of having all the required checklist items prepared, bringing your stress and haste levels to minimum, and securing the internship that you actually prefer. Our suggested timeline is as follows:

  • June/July (of the prior year) – begin preparing your resume and honing your interview skills; start thinking what companies you want to apply to.
  • August-September – start examining job postings and contacting potential referees in your network.
  • September-November – apply for internships and take record of responses.
  • November-January – attend interviews; keep applying if your positive response rate is low.
  • February-April – if you still don’t have an offer or several positive leads, send the second round of applications to smaller companies and postings that are still available; reach out to more people in your network.
  • April-May – interview at more locations, choose and accept an offer.
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If you still haven’t gotten an internship by the end of May, try not to worry. There are a lot of ways to spend your summer in a productive and useful way (such as personal projects, unpaid help to local businesses, and summer classes) and prepare for the next application season.

How difficult is it to get a software engineering internship?

Your chances of getting an internship vary depending on several factors:

  • Year of study – if you are a new student looking for internships, you may find it more challenging to find a position, simply because you lack the relevant knowledge and programming experience.
  • Your resume – if you have competitive resume with excellent GPA, numerous projects, and presentable coding experience, you stand much higher chances of getting invited for an interview.
  • Interview skills – having good interpersonal skills, impressionable personality, and strong technical abilities will help you get an offer.
  • Amount of work you put into applications and interview preparation – to some degree, it’s a numbers game – the more applications you send out, the more chances of receiving a positive response you get; perfecting your interview skills requires time and effort as well.

What can I do to make my application stronger?

The applicant pool for internship positions is usually quite competitive. How can you ensure that your application stands out?

  • Create a portfolio – having a portfolio in addition to your resume gives you the opportunity to not only place all of your exhibition-worthy coding projects in one place, but also add some visual cues in the form of extended descriptions, screenshots, introductory videos, and code examples.
  • Polish your resume – as we mentioned above, resume is the number one ticket to your potential interviews; make sure you diligently format yours and follow all of the good writing and editing practices.
  • Affirm competitiveness – have your resume and other application materials reviewed by a career services counsellor at your university.
  • Connections/referrals – utilize your student or professional network to get direct referrals to your targeted positions; referrals provide you with a higher chance of employment.
  • Interpersonal skills – interviewers like personable people, employers like good communicators; schedule mockup interviews with you peers or mentors to practice one-on-one communication.
  • Lean coding skills – practice sample programming assignments and make sure you can solve a coding task in a quick, lean, and confident way; impress your interviewer during the coding assessment.

Final remarks

If you start early, put a considerable amount of effort into preparing your application materials as well as mastering coding skills for your technical interviews, you will have excellent chances of securing an internship that you will find helpful and enjoyable. At the same time, make sure you don’t overstress yourself and take too much time away from your core studies in order to perfect your internship search. Do your best as outlined in this guide of how to get a software engineering internship, and by the end of the application season, your efforts will most certainly pay off.

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