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Internship Panel: Autumn 2023

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Monday 23 October, 2023

Ignacio Guarna, Lyna Kim, Sophia Love, Rollins Stallworth III

MS&E alumni Rollins Stallworth (BS 2015, MA Comms 2016) and current MS program students Ignacio Guarna, Lyna Kim and Sophia Love hosted a panel discussion and Q&A session on finding and landing internships, with a bonus few thoughts on leveraging them. One of the main take-aways was that there were several areas where they agreed, and others where their perspectives were completely different, showing that while there are differences in our own individual styles, there are some basic standards and expectations across industries and even companies within the same field. Understanding the playing field, yet staying true to your own values then, is the strongest advice of all.

Notes are broken into the three broad themes, but are given in no particular order of importance.

Finding internships:

  • There are several approaches you can take, with contacting people being a consistent recommendation:
    • Look yourself – generic jobs websites, Handshake.
    • Keep an eye on the webpages for companies that you’re interested in – not just for listings, but also events, tours and mini-internship opportunities (keep in mind that many of those events/tours would more likely be advertised on Handshake)
    • Department email lists for internship announcements and relevant events.
    • Relevant SU student clubs and organizations – they have resources and relationships.
    • People – basically – anyone and everyone!
      • Those already in your network – friends, RA’s, contacts in Greek life, faculty, family, people you know from previous work experience etc
      • Outreach – University recruiters (find them on LinkedIn), Stanford alumni (SAM, LinkedIn), people on specific teams that you’re interested in.
    • Opportunities can come from anywhere. Be intentional.
  • When talking with people:
    • Get insights into companies and teams – the culture, the work.
    • Get insights about how the process works – timelines, the policy around return offers etc.
    • Ask for resume reviews if you’ve not yet applied.
    • Ask for referrals.
  • Direct/think about your personal story – it makes your strategy more effective and your interviews stronger – develop self awareness, think about your dreams and the WHY. What are you solving for? What do you want out of the experience?
    • Consider your values – working with people you want to spent time with. Work you want to do. Ability to have an impact.
    • Optionality is overrated – work on something that is interesting. No one else can tell you what you care about. It can be prestigious, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t want to be there. Head and heart can work together. Steps have come organically from being self and being authentic.

Getting internships:

  • Deadlines and timelines
    • PM, Consulting, Finance – hiring is happening right now, and will have already passed for some. 
    • Many companies have multiple deadlines with rolling decisions – apply as early as you can.
    • Smaller companies will have winter and even spring deadlines.
    • Standard timeline is a few months start to finish.
  • Resume tailoring – how much to do (this is where there was the biggest divergence of opinions!)
    • Don’t tailor by company, but do tailor by industry.
    • Do tailor by company, because you’re being intentional. For one company, you might want to highlight your CS skills, at another, it might be strategic thinking skills etc.
    • Mangers are looking at a bunch of resumes and you’ve got 20 seconds to show them you have what they’re looking for.
    • Have a master resume of everything that is resume worthy, then cut and paste for each industry or role, or bold specific things for different companies depending on what they’re looking for.
    • Blurb/cover letter/email is where you can tailor
      • If they read it, you want it to be tightly tailored – mention names of people you’ve talked to, call out specific skills that are a match.
      • But some places don’t read it. The bigger companies more than likely won’t, the smaller companies or for the less technical roles, they probably will.
  • Interviews:
    • Absolutely ask questions during the interview. You’re interviewing them as much they’re interviewing you. Be a cat (a little skeptical), not a dog (yes yes yes). Know your worth.
    • Show your excitement about the role and how you can grow.
    • Interview process can be impersonal.
    • Do practice interviews with friends, look up what type of questions you might be asked per the industry and think about your answers in advance. Glassdoor is a good resource for this.
    • Collect feedback as you go through the process – understand how you fit.
  • There are lots of people applying, and timelines are tight. There will be times you simply fall through the cracks. A rejection or a failure to reach the interview stage is not a personal rejection nor a measure of your worth.

Leveraging internships:

  • Document the skills and processes. Push for tangible outcomes so you’ll have stories and examples for future applications and interviews.
  • Return offers – some will be looking for people who can come back, others won’t. (Ideally, you’ll have had a sense of this during your research and/or the interview, but if not, find out during the summer).

Biggest mistakes our panelists made:

  • Only applying for and interviewing at a few places. Make a huge list of possible companies to target and do your research to narrow it down.
  • Applying blind. Be intentional about where to apply.
  • Not reaching out to people. Try to have a human contact who knows that you’re applying.
  • “Not thinking enough about my individual skills and how to market myself”. You have experiences you can use to your advantage, even if they don’t directly tie with what you’re applying for. Show your transferable skills.

A few notes on PM specifically as an industry:

  • Think about where the company is at in terms of 1) their growth and 2) where they’re at in the PM process. Have they determined product management fit or not for example?
  • PM in big v’s small companies: depth v’s breadth. It’s a personal choice. Startups allow for broader for product impact. Big companies have less risk. Startups want people who can do the actual work, they need that. Big companies are treating internships as more extensive interviews. The projects are not going to be on the critical path - a big tech company can’t mess up a product launch because of an intern! PM in tech is about inter-team alignment, at a small company you’re talking with users. Moving from a big company to a small one there will be unlearning to do!