Everyone talks about going to career fairs and getting internships, but what does it really take for a first-year to get an offer? Answer: as much as you put into it. Getting an internship as a first-year is no small feat, but it is definitely possible. You are (or hopefully will soon be!) a USC Viterbi student and recruiters know your potential, so it is up to you to put in the rest of the work. Now let’s get into it.
How to get started
Make a LinkedIn profile. If you haven’t already, just do it. This is the social media of career fairs and it is how recruiters will know who you are beyond your 10-minute conversation with them.
Get your resume ready. You can start by writing a list of experiences and projects you’ve done (the Common App activity list can be a great starting point!). Don’t be afraid to use high school experience to elevate your resume. As long as you can show transferable skills and experience, it’s good information for recruiters! USC has a bunch of good resources, and VMOCK is also helpful once you have a resume draft written.
Go to resume workshops. There is never a perfect resume, so it doesn’t hurt to get a different perspective even if you’ve “finished” yours. These workshops are very accessible and lots of different organizations host them. If you don’t know where to start, here’s a link. Scroll to the bottom to find a list of Viterbi organizations with their contact information. 9 times out of 10 they have a Slack/Discord you can join to hear about workshop opportunities!
Go to mock interview workshops. I can’t stress this enough, getting interview practice helps. It helps with the quality of your responses as much as easing your nerves when it’s time for the real thing. Like the resume workshops, mock interview workshops are very accessible and are free to attend. Many times there are recruiters from real companies!
What to attend
- General USC Career Fair (the Spring 2021 Career Fair starts soon!)
- Viterbi expo & other Viterbi career events
- Organization-specific networking events
- Anything else you can find, it doesn’t hurt!
Pro-tip: Most companies are looking for dedicated employees over everything. If you can demonstrate soft skills like critical thinking, perseverance, and problem solving through prior experiences, this is a major green flag for them. Companies want someone they can train and keep on their team for more than just a year (which often means enticing return offers $$!), so this is where first-years actually have the upper hand when you can prove your skills to the recruiters.
Many companies like Facebook and Google, however, are usually looking for experienced interns who can get the job done with minimal training. These types of companies often have “University” programs that target underclass students and teach industry skills, so those are great options as well.
Tips for Success
Research the companies you are speaking to! This is an important one. Companies get hundreds of interested students at career fairs, so make yourself stand out by showing off the research you’ve done. It really makes a difference!
Look up your recruiter on LinkedIn. If you know the name of the recruiter you’re going to speak to, look them up! This will give you context of who they are as a person so you can market yourself accordingly.
Have templates ready. This is especially important for virtual career fairs. You can also use them for LinkedIn messages, but make sure you read the message carefully so you don’t accidentally send it to the wrong company! Here’s a sample template that I used in the virtual Career Fair:
Hello [recruiter name]! I am very interested in your [specific job title] position. I have significant experience in [relevant field] and believe strongly in [company]’s mission of [company mission]. Can you tell me about what you are looking for in a [job type] intern candidate?
Go for everything. Even if they say they only take sophomores or juniors, the worst that can happen is that you get some extra practice (which only makes things easier in the future, so not a bad deal!).
Fill out the online application. Most companies have an online application, so fill it out before you speak to the recruiter. This will make it easier for them to find you again since you’re already in their system. Sometimes they will even directly ask you if you’ve applied yet.
Be ready to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question. You will find a bunch of different resources telling you different ways to answer this question, but the most important thing is to sound authentic. Recruiters can tell if you just say what you think they want to hear.
Don’t feel restricted by your major. Most companies list several majors that they accept under the job description, and many times engineering skills are transferable across the field. The more positions you apply to, the more chances you have of getting an internship!
A final word of advice
It’s a lot, but don’t be overwhelmed. The two most important things to remember throughout are to be prepared and to advocate for yourself. Do as much as you can, and even if an internship doesn’t come out of it, you will still be going into the next career season with more confidence and experience than a lot of people.