Note: This post was cross published on Bostinno.com.
I bet when you read the title, the first thought that came to your mind was “oh, this is just another post with a bunch of advice on getting an internship.” Guess what? It might be or may be just an awesome story to get inspired and learn some tips from.
March was here and I decided to immerse myself completely in finding the right internship at an early-stage startup so I can get hands-on experience building a company from ground up. I started by creating a list of some Boston startups that I was interested in mainly because of their idea or the team. I wanted to have focus and these startups were my focus. I either cold emailed the founders or applied through a jobs page. My advice is always cold email the founders since the job page emails are filled with plain resumes. I landed some interviews and was rejected by all of them. These interviews were not all in the same week so it took up almost a few weeks to get through them. I didn’t give up. Here’s where the real story begins:
I made it my full time job: As soon as I woke up, I would start searching for internships. I would go to sleep at 2am and most nights I would put my computer to sleep with a jobs page on the browser so that I could apply for jobs first thing in the morning. I cannot even count the hours that I’ve spent searching for an internship and I don’t want to. It’s the opportunity cost of finding something you like.
Cold email works: If there is one reason I got an internship, it was cold emails. Don’t worry if you are nobody or don’t know anybody. Just email the founder or the head of the department you are trying to get an internship with. Here is a great tip, download a tool called rapportive. It shows you the social media profiles of a person when you type in their email into the “to:” field. When you are cold emailing, you probably don’t know their emails so you are going to be guessing. Thanks to rapportive, you can now turn those guesses into validation. The most obvious guess is the founder’s first name at the company.com. If the email is right, then rapportive will pop up their social media profiles, i.e LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Now you can be assured it will end up in their inbox.
As far as the email itself goes, make it short. The first couple of lines should be you and your background. Next paragraph should be talking about their company and what you admire about them. Last paragraph should be the “ask”. Tell them that you want to intern at their company and why you should be the one.
Hustle: No, I am not putting the word here to sound fancy and hip. Let me tell you how I really hustled. I went on VC firms’ websites and trolled through their whole portfolio list and tried to find any companies I liked and then visit their jobs pages to see any internship openings. It came time that my browser would freeze since I had so many tabs open for different company pages. The most popular one is 500 startups. I am a huge fan of Dave McClure so I decided to go through the whole portfolio list and see anything of interest for me. Not to mention I even thought of cold emailing him but I heard he doesn’t reply to emails.
I am very active on twitter and kept a close eye on my twitter stream every few minutes for any tweets that had the word “intern” in them. In fact, I was the first one to apply for an opening I had found through a tweet. Make sure you follow founders and VCs as they are always tweeting for help, either for their companies or someone they know. Being the first one to apply can make an impression. I also used http://search.twitter.com to find internships with specific hashtags or keywords like “intern boston.” Most of them were not at startups, so it wasn’t a huge help for me, but it could be for others. I even got intros to a couple companies through twitter from friends who knew I was looking for internship and saw someone looking for an intern.
Human interaction is important as well. I still kept going to events to meet people to see if anyone was hiring and to let people I knew know I was looking for internships.
Job boards don’t work much for finding early stage startup internships but Simply Hired, Indeed and VentureLoop had a few interesting openings sometimes. Make sure to use the filters to only find new openings since your last visit so you can save time and aren’t looking at the same ones again. I visited those websites at least twice or three times a day as well. Some other websites I visited were Startuply and Startuppers. Intermatch seems to be another good one as well. They have a great list of west coast startups and I actually interviewed for one that I applied through them.
DON’T GIVE UP: It was end of May, I still didn’t have an internship. My parents were worried about me and told me that I should just find any internship but I kept on the hustle to find an internship at a startup. The common pattern for most of my rejections was, “We love your passion and young age but you don’t have enough experience.” My biggest skill was my passion and a young age of 18, so I tried to use it as my selling point.
It was last week of May so I increased all the hustler activities and above all cold emails. But now it was time that I try my luck west. I had always wanted to go to the valley but I wasn’t so focused on it, as I wanted to stay in Boston if I could. I emailed my friend Cecilia to ask her if she could help. She suggested a few companies and I got in touch with one but it wasn’t a fit. It was May 31 and June was about to begin but I wasn’t going to give up. I decided to cold email a few Silicon Valley founders that day. I ended up hearing back from most of them. Among these, was a company I had seen on techcrunch called Flightfox. The idea seemed very interesting and compelling to me. They had raised money from great angels and were currently in Y Combinator. I immediately researched the company, went on linkedin to find the co-founders’ names and then guess their emails to cold email them.
I actually ended up hearing back from one of the founders, Todd, the next day. He said they weren’t hiring but was happy to talk shop. I did a brief phone call with him and then he told me to send a few ideas over the weekend. Seemed like they liked most of them as they aligned to their vision and thus he invited me to do a skype call on Monday. I got an offer email at 1am that night and I was more than happy to say yes.
Here I am now in Mountain View excited for a great opportunity and to fulfill the expectations of my founders Lauren and Todd. I want to work hard, learn and make the most of the valley. If there is one thing you want to take away from this post, just remember “don’t give up.” It sounds cheesy and all but you don’t get stuff in life without working hard. Some people do but unfortunately you are not one of them. And make sure you surround yourself with people who believe in you so you can keep talking to them to explain how you search is going and even share your frustrations with them. Make sure to build somewhat of a relationship with the founders that you got rejected from so you don’t feel awkward the next time you see them or most importantly so that they respect you and might actually hire you in the future for being professional.
P.S You can buy my book to learn the A-Z of landing a startup internship: http://www.amazon.com/Learn-Hustle-Guide-Startup-Internship-ebook/dp/B00V565HJW