Monday, April 10, 2017

First-Years Dish: Internship Hunting

Seeing as how completing a summer internship is a required component of the MSI degree, I have understandably received questions about what the process is like from incoming students. Six 1st year MSI students share their experiences below:


Interest Area: Human Computer Interaction

Search Start: “I officially applied on January 1st. But before then, in October, I attended the Grace Hopper conference, which is a Women in Computing conference that happens every year. At that time, I gave out my resume and a couple opportunities reached out in late December.”

Search Method: Networking; even if just asking for an informational interview.

Interview Prep: Reached out to 2nd years for advice on preparing her portfolio and sample questions. “Stalked the interviewer on LinkedIn” and Twitter to discover their interests to be able to feed this into the conversation.

Interview Process:
--Applied at the Grace Hopper conference and online on January 1st.
--Heard back a month later in February.
--Had a 45-min phone interview with HR about design. Questions were: Why do you want to do design? Walk me through your portfolio. Why do you want to work at this company?
--Flew to California for an on-site interview. Gave portfolio presentation to the team and then had four individual 45-min interviews.
--Got an offer the next day.

Helpful Courses: SI582 Interaction Design is good because it is an individual project and really shows your skillset.

  • --At events and conferences, be sure to leave your name on sign-up sheets because companies will tag resumes on the backend with how they met you.
  • --Think of your internship as a stepping stone, especially if you don’t have related work experience. You don’t need to intern with a big company.

Interest Area: Human Computer Interaction

Search Start: “I started preparing my portfolio during winter break. I decided which companies I wanted to apply to. People were talking about it so I sort of knew the deadlines for major companies. [I was interested in Google, which had the earliest deadline.]”

Search Method: Applying on LinkedIn. Targeting specific companies with the type of work culture she wanted.

Interview Prep: She received an offer to interview during a really hectic time in the semester. She felt pressured to give an immediate availability, but after speaking with a 2nd year that had interned at Google the year before, she decided it would be best to postpone the interview to better prepare.

Interview Process:
--Applied on January 5th at midnight.
--Received a form to complete within a week.
--Got a response after another 2-3 weeks stating she’d been matched with a team to interview with.
--Had a 45-min phone interview during which she showcased her SI582 project.
--Received an offer within a week.

Helpful Courses: SI582 Interaction Design was great because you develop a high fidelity prototype and flesh out the design process.

  • --Consider the company culture. Do you want to work for a company that is strict about how many hours you need to put in and when?
  • --Interact with other students in SI. They are very approachable and helpful.


Interest Area: Tailored- social justice & tech, inclusion of marginalized peoples in the tech design process & in hiring

Search Start: Began planning in November. Since she would be in Portland in December to visit her sister- who works at Portland State University’s Queer Resource Center (QRC)- she leveraged this connection to set up a meeting before with the boss.

Search Method: Networking.

Interview Prep: Did a skills inventory of herself to determine her best pitch.

Interview Process:
--Spoke with the QRC in December about what informational work is and if they had any opportunities.
--They pitched two project ideas: (1) Designing online educational modules about trans-ness and queerness for audience members to complete before QRC panels; (2) Making the Portland State’s tech department more queer friendly.
--However they were unable to pay for this work.
--She spoke with the Career Development Office (CDO) in January about this and learned they could provide grant funding.

Helpful Courses: SI501 Contextual Inquiry which teaches research skills for user-centered design. SI539 Design of Complex Websites.

  • --Informational needs exist in every single industry so it’s possible to pitch yourself to a place doesn’t have active postings.
  • --The internship search process needn’t stress you out.

Interest Area: Human Computer Interaction

Search Start: Began looking for interesting job descriptions in December, but didn’t apply until January because his portfolio wasn’t completed.

Search Method: Had certain companies he was interested in such as Google and Facebook so he checked on their websites. He also used job boards such as Indeed and Handshake (UMich resource).

Interview Prep: Went over articles on Medium for sample UX questions. Spoke with a few 2nd year students to see if any had interned at IBM.

Interview Process:
--Spoke with IBM Design at the SI Career Fair in January.
--Two weeks later he was rejected.
--A month later, he heard from a researcher at IBM research who needed a UX Designer for her group. Apparently his resume had been passed over to that division.
--Interviewed a week later. The interview focused on his New York Innovation Trek project, which focused on food insecurity and was very similar to the IBM researcher’s project.
--Got an offer a few days later.

Helpful Courses: SI588 Fundamentals of Human Development was helpful in applying the elements of empathy to his NY Trek project.

  • --Have an idea of which companies you will be applying to before winter break because positions fill up really fast.


Interest Area: Preservation of Information

Search Start: Started in December.

Search Method: I searched for my internship online, looking at places where I'd like to intern and checking to see if they had any opportunities. I kept a spreadsheet of internships I wanted to apply to, what their deadlines were, and if they were paid or not. I concentrated only on paid internships.”

Interview Prep: I kept my resume and the internship description up on my laptop, tried to calm my nerves with breathing. I also had a list of questions to ask.

Interview Process:
--She was contacted for a phone interview a month after applying.
--Questions asked were routine:  Why this internship? Discuss your skills and coursework. “I was actually surprised by how few questions they asked.”
--Received an offer less than a week later.

Helpful Courses: Princeton was intrigued by her SI506 programming course. Other helpful classes include: 539 Web Design, 629 Access Systems, and 675 Digitization of Cultural Heritage Materials.

  • --Start early! Some internships at competitive places, like the Met (if you're into museum work), have early deadlines.
  • --But keep looking! Many places don’t post opportunities until March.
  • --Be diligent about writing cover letters and filling out applications.
  • --Find a UMSI professor to write amazing recommendation letters for you.
  • --Try your best to obtain a paid internship. Unpaid ones devalue our work.

Interest Area: Information Analysis & Retrieval

Search Start: Began looking in mid-January, when she realized that others had already started applying.

Search Method: To manage her feelings of panic at starting late, she first focused on going to the Engineering career fairs and the UMSI career fair and targeting employers there. Then she used LinkedIn, and responded to emails with opportunities.

Interview Prep: “Since I wasn’t sure if I would get technical questions, I went through notes from my programming and data science courses this year and jotted brief talking points. I also printed slides from two projects I’d done last semester. And I asked some 2nd years the typical pay so I’d know if I was being lowballed.”

Interview Process:
--Applied after seeing a posting in the MIDAS newsletter.
--Was contacted in less than a week for a phone interview.
--The phone interview was about 1-hour long with two interviewers. Questions revolved around technical skills, prior project experience, and internship expectations.
--A week later, she travelled for an in-person interview in Grand Rapids. This lasted about 2 hours. She interviewed with four people and took a tour of the facility.
--A few days later she received an offer.

Helpful Courses: SI618 Data Manipulation & Analysis! They loved that I had experience working with Spark and Hadoop.

  • --Imagine you are simply talking to a friend about what you’ve learned at SI to help keep calm in the interview.
  • --Don’t expect anything from the career fairs, but don’t NOT go. You never know. :)

Additional Tips for Incoming Students:
  • Start applying early. In October if you can! January/February is a little bit late.
  • Apply the first day the job is posted!
  • Be patient. It’s normal to feel anxious about finding an internship, but don’t let it stress you out.
  • For HCI students, aim to take SI582 in your first semester.
  • Don't be afraid to take an unconventional path.
  • Sometimes all you need to do is ask. If an organization you like doesn't seem to have internships, email them to ask if they'd like an intern. If you are at a conference or other networking event, mention that you need an internship.

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