The software industry has an intense recruiting system for internships. A supply-and-demand problem is part of the reason that it’s so crazy–there are many more employers than interns.

Unfortunately, many students (largely freshmen!) who will be well-qualified for an internship in May are intimidated by the process and decide that they’re not ready. This, of course, contributes to the original supply-and-demand issue!

Here are some thoughts on how the recruiting process could be more freshman-friendly.

1. Keep your applications open at least through winter break. A lot of freshmen begin their internship search over winter break, especially since they may not have the data structures/algorithms skills to pass a technical interview until they complete their first semester. Winter break also allows people some breathing room to figure out what they want to do.

Many programs like hackNY and KPCB Fellows could be great programs for freshmen, but they close their applications before many freshmen begin looking for internships! I understand that programs would like to start getting their intern classes together in the fall, so perhaps organizers could instead say something like, “We’ll give some preference to applications submitted before December 15, but we will be accepting applications through January 15.”

2. Let students use other students as references. If you’ve never had a tech internship before, you don’t have any prior managers or mentors for references. If you attend a large research university, you probably don’t know your professors very well. For many freshmen, it’s a real challenge to find good references!

One solution is to let students use other students as references. Obviously there are a lot of potential pitfalls here, but students can sometimes assess each other better than anyone else, especially when they have to do team projects or go to hackathons. I’d like to think that I could give a strong and honest assessment of anyone I’ve gone to a hackathon with!

3. Consider using coding challenges instead of technical interviews. The first time you do a technical interview, it is a totally bizarre and foreign experience. Technical interviews bear little resemblance to anything that happens in a computer science course, and they don’t really represent what happens in an internship, either.

Fortunately, most tech internships don’t go quite this far.

Coding challenges can be a better alternative. They’re more similar to programming homework, so you can avoid “false negatives” (i.e. people who get tripped up by the format of a technical interview, rather than the content).

Any other ideas? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you are a freshman looking to get started on an internship search, I strongly recommend Alexey Komissarouk’s Brief Guide to Tech Internships, which, incidentally, is my source for the delightful comic up there.

I’m Tess Rinearson, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science. I’ve interned at Microsoft, Valve, and a couple of startups. Come summer 2013, I’ll be at Obvious Corporation. If you liked this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter.



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