Swiping Right on Your CV (or, Getting a Software Internship)

It’s a Tuesday night. You’re on your phone. Swiping away from your problems. Swipe, swipe swipe … you’re swiping them all right. Trying your hardest to put your best self out there. Waiting to find that perfect match. They’re out there, and you know it. You’re just waiting for one of them to realise that you’re the one.

Yet somehow, despite having the perfect profile … almost nobody seems interested. The few matches that you have received are all sending the weirdest messages. “Hey you’re cute but why is your CV linked in your bio?” “You know this is a dating app, right?” “what u doin”

Why hasn’t anybody offered you a damn internship yet?

…okay, so you obviously shouldn’t be seeking out employment on Tinder. But finding an internship is kind of like finding love on Tinder. Well okay, maybe not everyone says they’re looking for love right now, but we’re all looking for 800 hours of work so that we can graduate. Look, I promise I have good reasons. Hear me out…

“Coding is hard, and so … is finding a software internship”

You have one shot at making a really good, really quick first impression. Similar to how your Tinder bio gets looked at for a few seconds before you get swiped on, your CV is glanced over quite quickly. Employers can receive hundreds of applications and couldn’t dedicate even five minutes to every single CV to truly understand you. That means that a recruiter may glance over your CV from the top down, and as soon as they get the feeling that you might not be the right match, will set you aside and keep looking. This isn’t because you’re somehow unworthy of employment – it’s simply a reality of the numbers, especially at larger companies.

There are so many employers out there, but you won’t get far with most of them. As an engineering student, you can log into the UoA Engineering Practical Work Portal here and take a look at the registered companies. In New Zealand there are currently 718 employers of software interns. You will work at one of these companies. Scary, right?

When you do the maths, you realise that there are about 300 SE students who are interested in finding employment. It follows that there should be enough internships to go around … yet, it can be a struggle to get even a rejection back from a company, much less an interview. Everyone goes through this, especially in second year, when many companies just aren’t interested due to our relative lack of skill. On Tinder, you can swipe right on literally every profile you see, but probably only get a few meaningful interactions out of it. Likewise, you should definitely be swiping right on every employer (read: apply), for the few interviews you might get.

Different employers will focus on different attributes they’re looking for. Those 718 employers form a pretty diverse range of companies, each looking for something different in their interns. Some employers are hyper-focused on recruiting people who are absolute code-wizards and know how to write well-designed software. Conversely, others are willing to train up somebody very green, as long as they possess the right qualities. The point of this is, don’t feel like, say, having a low GPA disqualifies you in any way. (Just like how you aren’t out of the race on Tinder just because you’re short. What’s good my short kings.) Every company has a different focus, and it’s about finding the one whose priorities match up with yours.

There are people who can guide you along the way. Okay, to be honest, I haven’t looked into whether or not there’s actually such a thing as a Tinder coaching service. But $50-per-week biomed tutors somehow exist so I feel like it’s a safe assumption. The point is, if you find it intimidating to just drop your CV to random companies like a 12-year-old doing the paper run, there are other options. The software industry in particular has a few programmes running that are designed to provide some structure to the whole thing. For example, Summer of Tech (SoT) puts on some great events throughout the year, before a big Meet & Greet in September where you talk to employers and hopefully earn some interviews. (Some awesome companies like Xero and Trade Me only recruit through platforms like SoT, so keep that in mind.)

Finding a match is just the first step. So you’ve gotten a match! Awesome. You’ve scheduled a first date – sorry, I mean, interview – and you’re about to have a chance to show them why you’re totally amazing and they should definitely date you I mean hire you. A first date is really nerve-wracking. So is an interview. Ironically, the same advice applies to both scenarios – be as genuine as you can. While the old “be yourself” adage sounds ridiculous, recruiters are most of all looking for people who they see themselves working with, and nobody likes working with a liar.

It’s hard. As you’ve probably picked up from the tone of this post, internship hunting is tiring and stressful. Even the most qualified people I know have had a hard time of it. Personally speaking, I sent out about ten applications (not including SoT, which would have been ten more) … and only got one interview. Thankfully, that interview went well! But sometimes, things might go wrong. That’s not a reflection of who you are, but of how finding an internship is as much based on luck as anything. It’s a bit messed up that getting employed is metaphorically aligned to buying a Lotto ticket, but that’s how it is. Thankfully, the law of averages does come into play – if you persist and keep applying, eventually you’ll get somewhere. It’s just a question of how many dice rolls it takes.

Unfortunately, you can’t pay $12.99 per month for Find Me An Internship Plus or Gold, but you can do your best to maximise your odds of getting a job. There are lots of people who will give you great advice next year, so the main thing I’ll say now is to prepare and apply early. Like, summer holidays early if you can.

When I say prepare, I don’t mean, say, learning Java over the break – remember, the biggest roadblock isn’t your technical skills, it’s getting noticed by the right company that aligns with you. This means you need a great CV, and again, you need to apply early. The earliest application closes in March! And while that one would be tough for a second year to get – because it’s Microsoft lol – I know some very onto-it people who had internships sussed by late June. Which is pretty awesome for two reasons: 1) it’s a huge stress off your shoulders, and 2) most of us don’t land anything until late September. Don’t feel like you should get an internship that early … you probably won’t. Again, luck. But if you start looking earlier, you’ll give yourself the best chance of success, which is all you can really ask for.

There are, of course, many things you could do to help plump up that CV to give a great first impression. One of them would be to actually have a life outside of uni. Wow! If you’ve talked to any second year engineer recently, you’ll know that that’s quite tough – but it is doable, and something I’ll discuss in my next post!

(Wait, didn’t I say last time that I would talk about that in this post? Yes, I did. I also didn’t plan on this post being a full month after the last one. Things don’t always go to plan, okay. Just like how signing up for Tinder doesn’t usually go to plan either. Funny how that works.)