As technology companies continue to creep into every aspect of our lives, they’re also becoming some of the hottest places to work. Whether it’s the prestige, the perks, or the prospect of building cutting-edge products, lots of people want to work for companies like Google and Facebook.
As a college student, one way to gain an “in” at these companies is to land an internship, an unsurprisingly competitive endeavor. Former interns at Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Tesla shared their experience with Fast Company‘s Michael Grothaus, divulging what they believe helped them snag internships at tech giants. Here’s what we’ve learned.
1. Start The Process Early
Thinking about internships in freshman year might seem early, but sometimes, getting yourself in the pipeline as early as possible pays off when internship application season finally comes around.
That’s how Kerry Wang, graduate student at Stanford and former product sales lead intern at Google landed her position. She saw a flier for Google’s BOLD Discovery program–a scheme designed for undergraduate freshmen. She was accepted and spent three days in Google’s New York office, immersed in its culture and business operations. Two years later, the recruiter for the BOLD program reached out to her and suggested that she apply for an internship at the search engine behemoth. Her application was fast-tracked and she was offered the position.
2. Get Some Practical Experience
There’s a perception that Silicon Valley largely recruits talent from Ivy League colleges. But almost all of the former interns who spoke to Fast Company said that previous practical experience helped them tremendously in landing the internship.
Maxime Britto, a former Apple intern who subsequently founded Purple Giraffe–a French mobile school for online developers–was fixing bugs at another company before he landed his Apple internship. That company, Pleyo, contributed to an open source project whose members were Apple employees. Britto found out through his manager at Pleyo that the Apple workers were very happy with what he’d produced. When he was called in for an interview, it was a relatively short process as they were already familiar with his skills and work.
Will Lawrence, former Microsoft intern, told Fast Company that his project management chops helped him land the internship. “Having managed projects in two tech startups prior to this internship, I had demonstrated the ability to set agile development goals, prioritizing features, and working with a Scrum board–tasks that we ended up doing every day of the internship.”
3. Know How To Build Something
Having experience building a product isn’t a prerequisite, but it can certainly help.
Eddie Wattanachai Lin, a former Tesla intern, believes that one of the things that made him stand out was participating in the FSAE series–a rigorous engineering design competition for graduates and undergraduates. In his freshman year, he also worked on a biofuel startup. He told Fast Company, “Somewhere between setting up and running my own lab, product development with extremely hazardous materials, and learning to drive a forklift, my interviewers were convinced I would go the extra mile.”
4. Understand The Products Inside And Out
Most big tech companies are extremely product-centric, so understanding the ins and outs of how their products work is always a plus when applying for an internship. It’s especially important to be familiar with products that might not be so well-known. Wang told Fast Company that one piece of advice she’d give to aspiring Google interns is to familiarize themselves with Google’s range of products. “Everyone knows something about Search, Android, and Maps. Set yourself apart by learning about other Google products such as AdSense, Hangouts, and Duo.”
Utkarsh Sharma, former Facebook intern and soon-to-be Facebook employee, said there are a lot of factors that go into someone being hired at Facebook–including a passion for the mission. For many tech companies, fulfilling their mission involves making improvements to their products, or building new ones. Understanding how that aligns with their long-term vision as a company will go a long way.
5. Have A Unique Value Proposition
Ultimately, scoring a competitive internship involves standing out from other applicants. Candidates need to show that they have something unique to offer, and what that is depends on each individual and the role they’re after.
For Lawrence and Sharma, their communication skills stood out–though for different reasons. Lawrence told Fast Company that a major component of his internship turned out to be delivering presentations, so his public speaking skills worked in his favor. Sharma believes that his ability to explain his thought process while coding gave interviewers an insight into his problem-solving ability, making it easier for them to judge his skills as an engineer.
For Britto, his unique proposition was his experience collaborating with Apple employees on an open-source project. Though he admits that it was a difficult road to take, he believed that it contributed to his success at Apple. Because “very few people go through with contributing to the projects,” those who do “get noticed by Apple’s team from the inside.”
Britto concluded, “If you do, that’s your ticket.”