How to survive internship applications and interviews: Best practices from Campus Experts

Image of Lieke Boon

In the spring, we talked to four GitHub Campus Experts, John, Marleni, Sourabh and Yosuf, about their experiences as interns. Along with how to have a great internship, they offered their advice on how to help you find, apply, and interview for internships. Here’s what you need to know to have a great summer internship:

Think long-term

Above all, the Campus Experts emphasized the importance of preparation. An internship isn’t just for the summer or a semester, it’s a year-long project that benefits from planning ahead. And for some students, like Sourabh, an internship may be a graduation requirement, which means skimping on finding and preparing for an internship may not be an option.

Yosuf and John told us that, before anything else, it’s important to find out what interests you. They both suggested hackathons as a way to find skills to develop on your own time. John explained, “I switched to computer science after my first hackathon. It gives you a glimpse of what tech companies are doing.” Yosuf added, “A large part of preparing is figuring out what you’re interested in, whatever it may be. Hackathons are great for that.” And when the time comes for your application or an interview, having experiences that point to your interests can help you talk about your skills more comfortably. Yosuf suggested to, “Take an interest and try to practice that. By the time it gets to an interview, it’s much more natural.”

Apply early and often

Everyone stressed the benefit of applying early and widely when it comes to internships. For a summer internship, you might start the application process in the preceding autumn (in other words, right now). 

Sourabh talked about taking advantage of his university’s careers portal to find and apply for roles, while Marleni encouraged using your alumni network. “I go to a very small school. A lot of the time we don’t have the recruiting power of larger universities. Using alumni services really helped me.“ She also stressed the importance of attending events like Grace Hopper, where many women in technology find opportunities and get offers. “It’s a huge difference getting to meet recruiters in person.”

John and Marleni both had a lot to say about the importance of knowing the requirements for internships you’re going after, like getting transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other documents to complete the application process. But they also said you should reach for opportunities even if you don’t meet every single requirement of a position. John explained, “That’s rejecting yourself. Let the person on the other side reject you. And what happens if they don’t? Then you’ll have an amazing opportunity.“ Marleni added, “Don’t count yourself out for anything, especially if you are younger or don’t have the experience. Because there’s a chance you’ll get it. And even if you don’t, they might consider you for another role.”

Every application is unique

Employers use different strategies to find their ideal candidates for every role. When you apply for internships, you’ll find that no two applications or interviews are the same, which is why it’s a winning strategy to pay attention to the process and be prepared.

Whiteboard coding is often a source of anxiety for job applicants, but the Campus Experts stressed that coding by the seat of your pants isn’t the only way your application can be judged. Yosuf said that he didn’t have an in-person interview to get his internship at CERN. “They put a very large emphasis on the actual application.” Instead of relying on connecting with an interviewer directly, he had to shine through in his CV and responses to their questions”

John, Marleni, and Sourabh noted that interviewers are interested in more than just technical abilities. They all encountered behavioral interview questions that explored their interests and experiences more than their raw programming talent. As Marleni put it, it’s a process to find “the best fit” for a position, not the best coder.

The dreaded whiteboard

Testing coding skills isn’t the only way potential interns are evaluated, but it’s often a part of the process. It makes sense that the coding interview is a source of anxiety, but the Campus Experts had reassuring advice. Interviewing well is a skill like any other—you can get better over time with enough practice.

Sourabh said that your first interviews will be the most challenging. “The scariest time is when you’ve never had any interviews before. But after the first few, I started to see the patterns.” Yosuf pointed out that not every interview will go well, but you can learn from each one. “The interview experience itself is quite valuable because it prepares you for the next interview.”

Interview resources

Rather than going into an interview unprepared, take the time to practice. We polled all Campus Experts and they shared their favorite resources for coding interview prep:

The GitHub community has your back too. Check out the range of GitHub topics on interviewing, such as interview or coding-interview for examples. Or try a search for “interview” and your favorite programming language for more examples to practice with.

Good luck with your internship!

Companies are already advertising internship positions for next summer. But it’s never too early or late to build up your skills, fill out applications, and practice for interviews. Want to join our summer internship program? Sign up to be the first to know when applications open.

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