Photo: International student Indira Pranabudi. Credit: Zack V. Apiratitham.
So summer is around the corner, and after weeks of frantically searching for internships, I have finally landed a software engineering internship! As an international student, it might be slightly harder to get an internship in the U.S., because besides having to apply and interview, you need to think about sponsorship. But never fear, for when there is a will, there is always a way! Yes, I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true! Here’s some information on finding a summer internship.
Step #1: What kind of internship do you want? Before you can go looking for internships, it is very important that you know what kind of internship you would like, and what you would like to learn or gain from that internship. The key to landing an internship is to show that you have the skills, and that you really want the internship. Besides, companies don’t want to hire people who don’t even know what they’re doing, because not only would it be a waste of money, but it would also be a waste of time for them. For me, since I’m studying computer science, I want to intern as a software developer for the summer, because that would get me real life experience in the field that I would like to work in after I graduate.
Step #2: Prepare an awesome resume. A resume is essentially like your ID to the job hunting world. Ever since I started attending university, I have started to keep my own resume, and I would always update it whenever I have something new to add. If you’re a freshman in college, you might not have had much experience, and thus, it is usually considered acceptable to list achievements in high school. However, as you progress up the university ranks, you should have started gaining more experience, and your resume should show this. When a job opening is released, the company might receive up to a thousand applications, and in this case, it is your resume that will set you apart from other people. Therefore, it is important to make your resume simple, clear, and concise, while at the same time attractive. For someone new to the ‘real world’ like me, it is usually advised
Step #3: Apply! Once you have your resume all set, it is time to apply! There are several ways you could do this, and in the 21st century, the most popular way is online. You can apply through platforms such as LinkedIn or Jobvite, or directly to the company’s website. Most of the time, you will also need to prepare what is known as a cover letter, where you should explain why you want that job, why you want to work for that company, and why you are the best candidate for the job. It lets you say things that you can’t state in your resume. Oftentimes, the cover letter can make it or break it. You might be able to score an interview even though your resume is below par if you have a good cover letter. However, if you have a really good resume but a fail to show enthusiasm in your cover letter, they might decide to not call you in. If your university has a job fair, then it would also be a good idea to go and talk to the companies you are interested in interning for, and leave your resume with them. Usually, if they take an interest in your resume, they will call you in for an interview. Job fairs are also a good opportunity to network with people in your field. Also, make sure to apply early, as a lot of internship openings are on a rolling basis, which means that they fill in positions as they go.
Step #4: Interviews. Once you have handed in your internship application, you wait until you receive an email or call for an interview. The interview process itself can be quite nerve-wracking. I remember going to my first interview and I ended up overdressing, I stuttered a lot, and basically I didn’t do that well. However, everyone goes through it, and if I can do it, then so can you! Depending on what kind of internship you applied for, you will be asked different things. It’s always a good thing to anticipate the questions that might be asked during the interview. For example, since I applied for a software engineering internship, I prepared questions related to object oriented programming, and practiced coding on the white board. Whatever position you are applying for, you will also most likely be asked behavioral questions, such as “What is your biggest strength?” and “What is the biggest challenge you have overcome?” I have found that mock interviews with my peers have helped a lot in overcoming the anxiousness, as some of them have been there before us and can offer valuable advise.
Step #5: Get an offer! Now that you’ve gone through all the interview processes, hopefully you’ve got an offer! If you’re lucky, you might even have more than one offer, which means that you need to choose one. There are a lot of things you should take into account when choosing an internship. For example, what are the opportunities presented in the internship, where is it located, whether or not there are any other interns, the salary, and many more. Be sure to think it through, because while you can usually learn a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience through an internship, if you don’t choose the right one, it might end up being a complete waste of your time. You certainly don’t want the latter!
Step #6: Prepare legal documents. As an international student, as I previously stated, we will need to fill out more documents than our American counterparts. Be sure to fill these out though, because if we work in the U.S. without the appropriate documents, that would be illegal and we could get deported out of the country. Ouch! I don’t think anyone wants that.
If you are an international student under an F-1 Visa, and intend to work in the U.S. during the summers, then these two phrases will become very familiar to you: Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Curricular Practical Training (CPT). In layman’s terms, the OPT is basically this document that lets you work in the U.S. for one year after you graduate. The CPT, on the other hand, is slightly more exclusive, and will only be awarded to international students who need an internship in order to graduate, because it is part of their graduation requirements. For more information, you should visit your college’s international office and consult with one of the international advisors there.
Hopefully this blog post has been informative, and good luck to all the people who are still internship hunting! May the odds be in your favor!
Pranabudi Indira is an international student alumna of Green River Community College. She is currently studying computer science at Brown University. Indira is also a Student Contributor at U.S. News & World Report.