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How To Land That Internship: Quarantine Edition

It’s safe to say that 2020 wasn’t exactly a traditional year. In the jobs sector, industries have reconfigured their workflows, supply chains, and hiring processes for jobs and internships. On the internship front, 75% of companies have made significant changes to their opportunities in the past 12 months. Companies with established internship programs like Google, Buzzfeed and Snap Inc. that hosted interns in the past campus-like dorms, companies large and small have moved their recruitment operations entirely online, relying on largely the same tools organizations around the world have turned to: LinkedIn, Zoom video calls, and more.

Sophomore Amara Chimezie and senior Alyssa Goldberg spent much of 2020 behind their laptops, not only taking classes at the Academy, but honing strategies to find opportunities despite the constraints of a global pandemic. The results? Amara is now a Student Advisor at the educational startup X in a Box and Alyssa is a Product Designer for Tesla.

Thank you both for hopping on Zoom! And congrats on your positions at X in a Box and Tesla. What was the search process like for you during this past year and what are you up to these days?

Alyssa: It's really hard to meet people during COVID, so I'm really glad that we got the chance to connect! During Summer 2020, since classes were going to be online, I got back into the job hunt. I remember finishing my work each day, then going on LinkedIn to message around 100 people who worked in positions and at places I was interested in. I always had my eye on Tesla, since it is highly innovative and rapidly growing, especially in the past year. Last semester I wrote a paper about electric vehicles and incentives that the government gives so companies can design and create a better future for electric vehicles, which furthered my interest. I love the intersection of the automotive industry and technology. When someone posted about an opportunity at Tesla in one of the communities I'm a part of, I hopped on it. Once I saw someone from Tesla view my LinkedIn, I messaged them immediately. Then, it just kind of went from there!

Amara: Thanks for setting this up! So I've been working for the past couple of months at X in the Box, the company behind Khan Academy. They actually came to campus last year. It was maybe two or three weeks after we transitioned to online learning in March. When they came to the RLM I thought, “This is my thing.”

When they finished their talk, I asked the CEO Elyse Klaidman questions after our pitch, and she was so cool. I thought “What are the chances to work for them?” I reached out. We talked a little bit and then I was on-boarded for a temporary position that became an internship and now Anthony Ramirez [fellow Academy student] and I are part-time there! It’s crazy.

That’s incredible! So what are your roles? How was the interview process like?

Alyssa: I am currently a product designer on the Tesla Logistics Team, and I have loved my experience so far. For Tesla specifically, we started with a phone screen, followed by a portfolio review where I presented one of my previous design projects I had worked on. I think that this is a standard for most companies. I would definitely encourage others to always do the maximum of whatever the company requests. If they say, “You can present from your website or you can make an actual presentation,” always do the full presentation. So I used one that I had previously put together, and it went really well. Tesla also had a pretty unique interview, which was a real-time design challenge. Since they are very focused on problem-solving, innovating and being creative, I can definitely see how it afforded them the opportunity to see how I think.

The design challenge was to redesign the DMV, which is where you go to get your driver's license and other documentation. Something super untraditional and highly process-oriented, which was definitely complicated. I had so much fun in that interview identifying pain points and coming up with a wide range of solutions.

Amara: So I’m a student advisor. One of the things I really appreciate is, because this company is in its early stages (they started maybe two years ago), we're able to have input on everything. We have meetings with them. They talk about all of their upcoming systems. They give us updates, and we give our opinions on new things. We actually get to pitch. It is awesome to actually have influence, you know?

I'm also very into Notion and information architecture (shout out to fellow IYA student, Beez), so I suggested it and Slack and got everyone in the organization on it!

What do you think led to your success in acquiring your roles? Any tips?

Amara: When you want to work in the entertainment industry, it’s about looking at the long run. Setting the stepping stones, reaching out to be on their radar, connecting with them, and talking to them. For a lot of it, you don't get that immediate gratification, but you get it later on. Just make those connections – it's a connections-based industry. It’s all about planting seeds.

Once I found my opportunity and applied, following up made a really big difference. I applied and then I emailed them, making sure they got my application and saying thank you. Being kind goes a long way. A lot of the time it's about the person, if they like your personality and you show gratitude it really sets you apart from others.

Sometimes, it's also about not being afraid of opportunity.

Any other thoughts you’d like to share with fellow students as they begin their internship or job searches this spring?

Alyssa: Absolutely, always remember that you really only need a few “yeses.”

If you just stick to it, you can find the people who are interested in helping you, even if it's not getting the job at that company. I would definitely recommend you not blindly reach out to people. Reach out intentionally. You should find people who you want to talk to, not just for the internship, but for life.

Being a part of the Academy is such a unique thing to have as well, because probably no matter what company you're applying to, someone else has work experience there, has a connection, or has interviewed there.

You always have people to reach out to. Utilize that community! I am always happy to help and mentor other students.

Amara: Obviously these are extenuating circumstances that nobody really loves. But it helps to see the bright side, and doing everything you can is super important. So, for example, there are so many free virtual events going on for many different industries. Whatever you want to do, there are virtual events. Go there. I guarantee you there will be opportunities. How often would there be, besides the circumstances that we’re in, professional top-notch people in these major industries taking an hour to talk for free? That wouldn't happen if it wasn't for these circumstances.

Once I found my opportunity and applied, following up made a really big difference. I applied and then I emailed them, making sure they got my application and saying thank you. Being kind goes a long way. A lot of the time it's about the person, if they like your personality and you show gratitude it really sets you apart from others. Sometimes, it's also about not being afraid of opportunity.

It’s about looking at the long run – setting the stepping stones, reaching out to be on their radar, connecting with them, and talking to them. For a lot of it, you don't get that immediate gratification, but you get it later on. It’s all about planting seeds.

That’s great. Any final tips for interviewing?

Amara: I always elevate my laptop so it's at a comfortable height and at eye level. I saw it on YouTube. I think another one is that people get really anxious (and even I get pretty anxious). Something that helps me is focusing on the outcome. Focus on what you're doing right now. Don't stress yourself out thinking “Oh my god, this is it.” It goes back to what I said earlier. It's just planting the seeds, right? So, maybe you'll get it this time. But it's practice. You can always practice for the next time.

Thank you both so much! Fight On!

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.