Careers, Internships & You.

(Pithy, ’60s educational documentary title, huh?)

It is difficult to get an offer from Apple and other companies that are at the top of their industry. Such companies naturally attract tons of candidates and their success is indicative of a hiring process that selects the most valuable — talented and with pertinent skills — candidates. Getting an on-site interview is hard enough and no guarantee of success. I know people who interviewed with different groups for more than a year before being hired.

I’m often asked what a person can do to increase their chances of being hired. More often than not, these questions come from college student friends of family/friends.

The key, in all of this, is two fold:

1. Maximize your visibility.

2. Maintain professionalism.

So, some random points on the subject. None of this is particularly unique to Apple.

Maximizing your visibility has never been easier than it is today.

Every employer with a remotely competent hiring process will research candidates through both formal — provided references — and casual channels. Casual searches are as easy as doing a google search, checking myspace, linkedin, facebook, and twitter.

Thus:

  • Get involved in the communities related to the profession you are pursuing
    • Join mailing lists; post intelligent questions, respond with intelligent answers. Don’t fake understanding stuff and don’t try to paraphrase that which is well documented.
    • Build small sample bits of code to answer questions with sharing in mind. Could someone else read your code as an effective answer to the same question?
  • File bugs. Most companies have bug reporting or feedback systems. File useful bugs & feedback. It may seem like a black hole, but if you ever have to interact with the company through other means — say, a job interview — your name will be remembered if you file lots of good bugs.
  • Get involved in some open source project. Start with well written bugs, move up to patches, and — if so motivated — commit rights are a great way to demonstrate that you can work well with a team.
  • Write in mostly complete, coherent, sentences. Seriously. People reading your words can’t hear the inner voice you used to write it. They can’t hear the sarcastic tone, nor know the context of authorship. Informal is fine, but incomprehensible is not. And, seriously, is it really too hard to type “are” or “our” instead of “r”?
  • Never hesitate to contact someone directly, if they have made their email address available. Just make sure you have good reason and don’t be offended if you hear nothing back. Keep your intro short and to the point.

All of the above will both increase your visibility to potential companies and individuals of interest. It is really all about reputation. Every interaction you have with the professional community surrounding the career of your choice contributes or degrades your reputation.

So what does this have to do with internships?

The hardest part about getting a job with a competitive company is getting your foot in the door. You need to have a history of success, a portfolio of work product, and the ability to market yourself through effective, often extremely brief, communications.

Without a depth of experience, going in through the front door, so to speak, isn’t even an option as your CV just isn’t going to stand out from the competition’s.

Internships are the most effective tool I know of for not just getting a foot in the door, but for obtaining an offer that is pretty much tailor made just for you.

Most companies have internship programs and, of those that do, internships are only available to currently enrolled college students. Most companies do not simply treat interns as a cheap labor force. Most companies recognize that interns are a brilliant, low risk, way of seeing if a potential candidate would work out as an employee. An internship can end without an offer of another internship or a job and still be considered quite successful.

The bar for being hired as an intern is much different — not necessarily lower — than an employee. Since internships are, by definition, temporary and less expensive than a full time employee, a company can and will take a greater risk. If there is a spark of potential, that is often enough.

In other words, think of an internship as being paid to have a multi-month job interview. Companies know this and will generally structure the internship program specifically to allow the candidate to demonstrate their potential, often with some kind of end-of-summer presentations to management of the candidate’s work.

Let me reiterate: If you are a college student, spend a summer or two — especially in the final years of your education — as an intern. It is, by far, the best way I know to start your career and it is something only available to you as a student.

And don’t be afraid to use your connections when trying to grab an internship (or job). A simple, brief, email indicating interest can lead to an internship or, at the least, can yield tips on when and how it is best to contact the company.

Personally, I started my career as an intern. First at NeXT, and then at a series of small companies. It was the best job training imaginable and gave me a significant advantage over the folks that pursued the “traditional” graduate-then-job path.

(And, yes, if you made it this far, I do know folks that are looking for interns. Feel free to ping me. Figuring out how — which isn’t hard — is a first test of your motivation.)



11 Responses to “Careers, Internships & You.”

  1. Mike says:

    Excellent advice for college students. What about graduates looking for either a career change or looking for new skills they didn’t get in college or their current job? Would night classes at any college work fine, or would a Master’s be a better way to go?

    To use myself as an example, I graduated with a journalism degree, but ended up working as a technical writer at a couple places after college (I’m not working as a technical writer at the moment). Unfortunately, those jobs didn’t require knowing a programming language or using tools besides Microsoft Word for documentation. I didn’t take any CS courses in college since my major didn’t require or recommend them. Any technical writing job I see these days (Google and Apple in particular) requires or recommends familiarity with some programming language and using programs beyond Word (and for a good reason, in my opinion).

  2. Rob says:

    Great advice! One of the bigger regrets of my career was that I never really pursued an internship when I had the chance. One thing that I hear frequently enough to alarm me is the belief that an internship will interfere with school. Having turned down a WWDC student scholarship once so that I could take the final exam of a summer elective bio-optics class, I can honestly say that while the class was cool, life after school has definitely been cooler.

  3. ssp says:

    Not every job or internship is in the IT ‘industry’.

    Speaking to friends who study/studied social sciences suggests that your statement that internships are a way to get paid and get to know people rather than just being exploited as cheap labour deserves a big qualifier.

  4. Peter Bierman says:

    All so true. My internship at Apple was probably the best opportunity of my life so far. And your advice about not being afraid to use connections or contact someone directly is spot on. Having someone vouch for your enthusiasm, intelligence, or skills will push you far ahead in the line.

  5. Ned Deily says:

    And don’t let the current economic situation scare you off. Because the costs of internships are so slow and the paybacks are so high, many of the best companies make it a practice to hire interns even in tough times.

  6. John C. Randolph says:

    One thing about filing bugs: many a new hire has joined Apple and had bugs they submitted assigned to them to fix. 😉

    -jcr

  7. bbum says:

    Heh. So true.

    I did contracting work for NeXT as a front line developer support engineer after having spent a few years playing “stump NeXT” with some friends; we would find the most obscure, hard to fix, but often quite visible to the users, bugs in NeXTSTEP and file bugs.

    “Our bug system can search on originator. Here, let me find all the bugs you filed before you joined.”

    “The system also has the ability to mass assign bugs. For example, I can assign all of these bugs to you by clicking here. >click<" "Wow! Lucky you! Your first day and your bug queue is already quite full!"

  8. John C. Randolph says:

    Let me add a bit of advice about going to work at Apple. I don’t have the stats, but my impression from seeing many friends join the company while I was there, is that most Apple employees didn’t get the first position they applied for. If you don’t get the gig, don’t take it personally, just apply again and eventually you’ll end up in a spot that’s probably a better fit.

    -jcr

  9. Just Someone says:

    “One thing about filing bugs: many a new hire has joined Apple and had bugs they submitted assigned to them to fix.”

    That’s probably the best reason why someone should join Apple or any other company.

  10. Richard says:

    Slightly off-topic, perhaps, but could you write a post some day about the software development process at Apple?

    Do they do code reviews, how much automated testing is done, how are version control and configuration management handled, etc.

  11. Cal Thixton says:

    I still remember that interview with as we sat in the student lobby of some CMU building looking for Campus Consultants (CC’s, i.e. interns).

    He knew who NeXT was and what we were doing and he was definitely interested in joining us; I didn’t have to explain things, he had done his homework. We needed campus liaisons/advocates who were quick on their feet, independent and energetic, so we looked to students to leverage our very thin field sales force. And quite right, as bbum mentioned, we did consider this a cheap way of vetting new talent. NeXT’s interview process, now Apple’s, found over a hundred CC’s 20 years ago, none were washouts. Each proved to be a superstar with many going on to hold key positions within Apple today and in the industry with others moving on to start up their own firms. Leverage what you know with who you know to land job you can’t wait to get to every morning (as SJ would put it).

    -Cal

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