Over the last few years, I have screened over 1000 applications, held over 100 interviews, and hired 14 interns who spent the summer working at CodeHS.
Our interns have been amazing contributors to the team. Some of them are even working at CodeHS full time now. Several things they did during the application process stood out, so I decided to write this guide on how you can get hired for a great summer internship.
Keep in mind, this is written for college students who already know a thing or two about programming. If you’re a total beginner, check out www.codehs.com to get started learning the basics.
A big pile of resumés
Here’s a big don’t: submit a generic application with a generic cover letter and a resume. There are plenty of other candidates who are putting time into the application and showing they really want the job, so you need to as well. It’s really obvious when you fill out the same generic application to lots of places.
Want to make it past the initial screen? You need to check off the basics.
Write a compelling cover letter.
Tell your story. There’s a reason why you want to intern at the company you’re applying to and the recruiter needs to hear it. Research the company you’re applying to and show in your writing that you actually care.
Use the product
One of the first things I check after reading an application is to see if the applicant signed up for our site. Signing up for a website is usually free and takes no more than a minute. If you haven’t done that, it looks like you couldn’t possibly be interested.
Convince the company you want the job
Explain why you want this job, not a job. Give specific examples and do your research. Try to pick things you care about that are unique to the company rather than things that would fit for most companies.
The tech chops
Just making them like you isn’t enough. You do actually need to show that you know how to code. The key word here is “show.”
Don’t just tell. Show.
Do you have a side project? Some school projects? Show them. Put them up online and show them off. Put the code on GitHub so people can see a sample of what you have done.
Complete, personal side projects are the best thing you can show. They prove that you can finish a project, not just start one. It doesn’t need to be huge. Just the fact that it’s finished shows you have the determination necessary to make something happen on your own.
If a company can visualize you working with them, you are much more likely to get hired. Make it easy on them by showing them that you can accomplish tasks similar to those you may work on during your internship.
Try to look up what tech the company uses, so you can learn that ahead of time. At CodeHS, we use Django, so if an applicant has a Django project they can show off, that’s a major plus.
Technical interviews usually require you to write some code in real time with an interviewer watching. If you have never done this before, it can feel very different from normal coding. It can help to practice with a friend watching you as you explain what you’re coding, so you can used to it.
The programming language matters.
We let interviewees choose whatever programming language they like for the interview, but some languages make it easier than others to solve a given problem. Sometimes just picking the right language can make the problem simpler for you to solve — not to mention that making decisions like that will happen all the time on the job.
Make sure to choose a language that you are comfortable with, but also make sure you give yourself the best opportunity to succeed by picking the right language for the job.
One question we like to ask of applicants is to describe a project they have coded and explain how they did it. This is your chance to shine. Be sure to explain concrete details of what you did and decisions you made to give the interviewer confidence in your abilities. Again, if the project you explain is available to see online, that is even better.
Be a person, not a resumé
Make sure you do a good job of showing who you are, what you have done, and how you will bring that to the company you intern for.
You can also learn more about what our past interns have worked on at https://medium.com/read-write-code/tagged/working-at-codehs.