Everything from food to finance to transportation will be–and already are–impacted by technology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that all computer-related occupations will increase by 12% in the next decade, with the market demand for some disciplines like data science growing faster than others.
And there’s no shortage of people vying for those jobs. Many of the biggest tech companies receive hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of résumés a year. So it’s a challenge to stand out from the pack, especially when you’re just starting out. How do you make a compelling case for an offer with little to no on-the-job experience?
Before sending out a stack of résumés, take some time to weigh what you’re hoping to gain from your first professional work experience. For some people, it’s craft experience. For others, it’s all about the network they want to build, or testing the waters of a given industry or geography. No matter your motivation, think through what is driving you, and rank your opportunities in order of importance.
Having a clear sense of why you’d like to join a company is important when meeting with recruiters, as it demonstrates your focus areas as well as the unique contributions you can make to the company.
Transitioning from classroom to corporate is a big change, and interns can often feel overwhelmed during this process. Combine that with the fact that the culture of the tech industry (especially in Silicon Valley) is notorious for its nontraditional, laid-back-looking environment, and it’s easy to see how some folks get lost and slip through the cracks. However, don’t get too distracted by the hoodies and ping-pong tables.
Just like a VC who’s concerned with maximizing their “deal flow,” you should focus on maximizing your “learning flow” by getting access to interesting projects and experiences. For example, ensure that you are gaining hands-on experience by applying your academic learning in a real-world setting. If you want to be a software engineer, for instance, make sure you’re actually coding.
Additionally, don’t limit yourself to whatever learning your company is offering to interns alone. Chances are, there are a plethora of potential learning opportunities for employees at the company. At Intuit, we offer unstructured time, where employees can use a percentage of work hours to build a passion project or learn a new skill, which can be a great way to expand your skill set.
Ask for help
As an intern at a company, your primary job is to learn. Don’t be shy and ask for help. This is a big one that a lot of interns and co-ops miss out on. Be a sponge, and practice listening just as much as speaking.
When you start your internship, feel empowered to seek out people who are doing something you admire or have particular expertise. Invite them to coffee or lunch to see what advice they can give you as you start off your career. Often, people want to give back and help, and it tends to be just as rewarding of an experience for them as it is for you.
Take the risk
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and the same is true in the professional world. If there is something that you need in order to complete your projects more efficiently, ask for it. Or, if you have a better way to execute your work, propose it. Being an intern means you get a few get-out-of-jail-free cards on some things—like floating new and different ways of getting work done. If you think there’s a better way, make the case.
Build your brand
As you start off in your career, it’s important to determine what makes you unique and differentiates you from your peers. This will help you to define your personal brand.
In your internship, make sure to ask for feedback from everyone you work with–this helps to identify your strengths and opportunities for improvement. You can also ask your manager if you can blog about the projects you are working on, helping to showcase the team’s work and highlight your contributions.
Cultivate your relationships
You’ve probably heard this before: Relationships matter a lot, so invest time and attention to being intentional about who you’re getting to know. Chief among those you should cultivate are the recruiter who will be making you a return offer, your boss, and your boss’s boss (be thoughtful about this one), as well as the other interns in your space. Building these relationships can be casual. Set up informational interviews over coffee to learn more about what a person does, send thank-you notes, and be a contributing member of the team.
Be the CEO of your career
Here’s a tough truth: no one cares about your career as much as you do. You’ve got to own and champion your journey end to end if you want to hit your goals. The good thing is, today’s career path for professionals no longer needs to be a straight line. Picking up new trades along the way, like unique skills and indirect specialties, can even put you at an advantage. So long as you have ownership of your career journey, no matter what it looks like, you’ll find a role right for you.
Micah Canal is a senior program manager at Intuit where he leads Early Career Programs for North America. Micah and his team work to maximize the potential of Intuit’s early-career talent, which includes interns, co-ops, and new college grads during their first year of work. Before beginning his journey at Intuit, Micah served as dean of admission at Antioch College where, at 27, he became the youngest dean at a private college in U.S. history.