February 7, 2023
min read

Steps to Get a Software Engineer Internship

Pat Zawadzki
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The article covers what to expect, what skills you can gain, and how to get an internship in software development. Whether you're a student just starting out or a seasoned professional looking to change careers, this article provides the steps to break into the industry. 

What is a software engineering internship?

An intern is someone with limited to no experience who takes up a mini-apprenticeship in an industry to get hands-on experience. Either a student, a graduate, or someone switching careers. A software engineering internship is no different. 

What can you expect from a software engineering internship? Don’t be surprised if you have to sacrifice income (internships don’t pay a six-figure salary), and half a year to a year within a company. In that time, you’ll learn as much as possible and hopefully get to contribute to a project or product. It’s standard that developer interns are partnered up with mentors, that’s likely who you’ll learn the most from. Hard skills and also the ins and outs of the profession. 

Why are software engineering internships important?

A software engineering internship will be important to you for a variety of reasons. 

  1. Real-life experiences: Internships provide priceless opportunities to learn real-life experiences that can’t be found in most educational settings, and even an opportunity to try something out before you commit.
  2. Try development before you commit to a career: Software engineering is a massive field, with many different specialties. Backend, frontend, mobile, hardware, DevOps, etc. While education can give you a high-level view of each one, nothing will help you understand the day-to-day like living it amongst other professionals.
  3. Understand the day-to-day: People tend to glamorise jobs — focusing on all the interesting aspects and excluding the admin or mundane tasks that are apart of every role. An internship will quickly break those illusions. 
  4. Beyond the technical: an internship will help you understand the lifecycle of software development and the reality of working on a living system that customers rely on. 

An internship is the best way to figure out what you want to end up doing after your education is complete. In theory, creating games might seem like an awesome gig, but working at a game company and seeing real-world examples of game development might make you change your mind (hint: it’s a grind).

How to get a software engineering internship

1. Understand the process

Internships tend to be a few months, typically a quarter long coinciding with school and college holiday breaks. Hiring will also follow these trends. You’ll see big hiring sprees for interns in the fall and spring — that’s when companies will be looking and running programs so that is exactly when you should be applying! Your bigger enterprise companies will be more strictly aligned with these seasonal cycles, while smaller startups or business can open their application process throughout the calendar year. 

If you go to a university, they usually run career fairs for students once or twice a year. On these campus days, recruiters head out in droves looking for potential candidates, so it’s a good idea to head along and have your resume ready. 

2. Figure out what you’re looking for

As I stated earlier, software engineering is a very broad field, and there are many areas to specialise in. It’s not easy to figure out a ten-year career when you are just starting but it’ll help to have some idea of what you’re interested in. If you are really lost, look for an internship that moves you around departments so that you can try a bunch of different roles before committing. 

Yes, we all want to intern at Google or Facebook, but realise if you only apply to your dream companies you’ve limited your chances of getting an internship. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! 

As I said, it’ll help a lot if you’ve narrowed down the job type (mobile development, frontend development, system infrastructure, etc,.) and have a bit of knowledge to go along with it. That’s how you are really going to sell yourself. Remember recruiters have a knack for smelling uncertainty, so if you’re wishy-washy with your applications, you’re going to lose to the guy with a real passion. 

3. Build your resume

A quick Google search will show you a bunch of resume-building tools. Personally, I would stick with something like the Harvard resume template to start, it's direct, to the point, and clean. If you are at a university, you may have a career center available to you that can help provide expertise and do resume reviews for you, these are great resources that are included as part of your tuition so take advantage of that. 

Additionally, ask your peers or possibly people you know in the workforce to review your resume, if you happen to know someone who is in charge of hiring at an organisation, that’ll be a great resource to tap into.

When building a resume, using objective-based explanations of your experience is ideal. Instead of saying “increased efficiency of build pipelines”, try explaining it quantitatively. For example, “increased build pipelines speed by 30% resulting in 15 minutes of build savings per run.” Obviously, don’t make these numbers up, but tying quantitative outcomes to your work is a great way to show your accomplishments.

If you need some tips on how to get experience and build a portfolio that you can showcase in your resume check out How to Become a Software Engineer Without a Degree. We’ve outlined some steps for inexperienced engineers to follow. 

4. Reach out to recruiters and people working where you want to work

LinkedIn has become a wonderful tool for people to connect with each other online and discuss career opportunities. LinkedIn is a “virtual resume” of some sort where people can find and connect with you quite easily. You can also use this tool to find people working in your dream job or organisation and reach out to them! It can be hit or miss but if you do get chatting those contacts will become helpful down the line. 

This can admittedly be a challenging process, some people will never respond however there will always be people who are willing to help and answer questions, possibly even mentor you with some questions as you enter your career. When reaching out, make sure you’ve thought through what you’re asking and provide any information about yourself to help provide context, think about what you’re sending more like a formal email or letter instead of a chat.

5. Start applying 

Once you’ve done your research, prepped your resume, and gotten feedback about it you’re ready to start applying. Large companies will tend to have a “general intern” application that people can apply to and they will try to match experience with teams looking for interns. In these instances, it's great to try and reach out to a recruiter at the company as well just to let them know you’ve applied and you’re interested, the unfortunate reality is that sometimes resumes get lost in the void but being diligent is a great way to ensure this doesn’t happen. Smaller companies will usually have a role open specifically for the role they are trying to fill. 

6. Prep for interviews

No interview is alike but from my experience, you will almost always run into some sort of behavioural questions asking you about how you’ve handled certain situations in the past. In general, learning the STAR format for responding to questions is a great way to approach most interviews. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result/Response. It's a method for generating a response to a question you’ve been asked in an effective way. It is also a great way to help manage interview stress and keep yourself focused. 

RELATED: The Ultimate Software Engineer Career Path Guide for 2023

What’s the application process like?

Phone interview: The typical interview process will consist of a phone screen with a recruiter asking you more about yourself, your resume, and the sorts of expectations you have for an internship. This will typically be quick, maybe 30 minutes or so before scheduling more interviews. 

Technical test: Next, you’ll likely be given a small technical test to confirm some of your skills, this might be virtual on your own time or with someone from the company. 

Further interviews: Once you’ve made it past your phone screen a recruiter will set up further interviews for you and this is a great time to ask questions about what to expect in the process, it may also be a great time to ask to push interviews back if you need some time to prepare for them. It’s always a great idea to stay brushed up on your development skills and practice some lower-difficulty leet code problems if you can, you may not use them in your interview but they will still help keep you sharp and focused regardless.

Team interview: You may also meet with some people on the team you would joining, be asked questions by some of the people involved (remember the STAR format), and be interviewed further to see how you’d fit into the team. 

Be professional and try to be yourself. It’s easy to say this without the stress of the situation in front of you but I assure you the more you practice the easier it will get. If you’ve got the opportunity to do mock interviews with friends or maybe through a career advice center near you, take it, it's a priceless opportunity to experience an interview without the stress of getting the job.

Where to find software engineering internships

Software engineering internships can typically be found in a few ways: through company websites, job boards like Indeed, LinkedIn jobs, word of mouth, and through university career centers/career fairs.

  1. Company websites will have a career or jobs section where you can find and apply for internships. These will be a good start but inevitably will funnel you into a software system where you may not stand out, this is a great opportunity to try and reach out to recruiters at the organisation on the side as well.
  2. Indeed and LinkedIn also provides job sections where you can search for different types of opportunities nationwide. I personally recommend this approach the most as well because you can also subscribe to notifications about job postings matching your criteria and can take some of the stress out of needing to constantly check job boards and potentially miss opportunities.
  3. Career advice centers. Finally, university students (sometimes bootcamp students as well) will likely have a career advice center or network available. Most current university students and alumni will have access to the career center of their school and through that have access to opportunities unique to that school. Companies often reach out to schools they’ve had success with in the past to try and find more students to fill their job openings and career centers are the ways for students to learn about these opportunities.

RELATED: Find a Developer Job: 12 Best Job Sites For Developers

Good luck with your internship

In this guide, I’ve outlined the steps you can take to find a software engineering internship. I hope you’ve got some ideas on where you can start looking. Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything.  

Read more about a career in software engineering in our career guide, we give you a play-by-play on what to expect and how you can best set yourself up for a successful career. Thanks for reading, and good luck with your search ✌️

Steps to Get a Software Engineer Internship

February 7, 2023
min read

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