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How I got 15 months work experience at a big tech company before I graduated

Holly at her desk

ARTICLE SUMMARY

If you want to know the easiest way to get into tech, I'm convinced it is through getting an internship. Internships are the perfect soft landing into the industry where you can test the waters, see what interests you, grow practical skills, and hopefully earn that all-important grad role!

I’ve shared tips already about things you should know before you get your first internship, but now I want to help put together the pieces of how you can truly maximize your internship experience. This is particularly tailored for those doing a year-long internship, but many of the messages apply to whatever learning your learning path. 

This strategy, combined with the lessons I shared in my previous blog, meant I had 5 internship offers and finished university with 15 months of back-to-back work experience made up of 2 roles in different countries and walked away with grad offers from both teams.  

As you read in my last blog, timing is key. I knew that I wanted to work at a big tech company and I’ve found the easiest way in is through an internship program. They know you are new to the industry and expect to teach you which takes away from some of the pressure in higher-level interviews.    

Holly taking notes

1 YEAR BEFORE MY FIRST 12-MONTH INTERNSHIP 

To get one of these roles, I needed to apply as soon as the applications open. Most companies will hire on a “rolling basis”, meaning they evaluate the candidates as they come in and once they are gone, they are gone. A company might post that a deadline is a certain date, but expect them to be interviewing as soon as they have enough candidates.  

To give an indication of how time sensitive it can be, some of our internship roles at Microsoft were scheduled to be open for applications for a few months. We had so many applicants that we had to close it in the first week!  

Now don’t be intimidated by this – think about how you can differentiate yourself from others. Many people will have similar things on their CV, so if you can differentiate yourself then you’ll cut through the other applicants. I differentiated myself through helping in the computer science labs, being a computer science course representative, supporting my university as an International Student Ambassador, and a few other roles. Note that I did not have a big portfolio of work beyond my university coursework – I only really had my personal website.  

 In the summer before my 2nd year, I prepped my CV and example competency question responses. 

Once university was back in session, I got feedback from university career services as soon as possible. This way I was ready as soon as applications opened.  

When applications opened, I tailored responses based on their specific questions and applied within the first couple of days applications were open. 

Thankfully, I got through the various interview stages and managed to get my first year-long internship at Microsoft! 

Three women gathered round a laptop

DURING MY FIRST 12-MONTH INTERNSHIP 

I’ll be honest, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome during my first internship. Microsoft was my goal and now I was faced with living up to the expectations I set in my head.  

Thankfully I was partnered with an incredible mentor who introduced me to my second mentor so I could learn from another perspective alongside his. My second mentor was an incredible woman who had worked on some really cool projects and, in particular, on the Xbox team who I had been dreaming of joining since I was a kid. 

Both my mentors coached me through these feelings, but most importantly I learned through repeated wins that I would be able to learn, grow, and deliver anything that I put my mind to. It is that realization that unlocked my confidence. 

To earn a grad role offer and build experience, I sought tasks that were high impact and high visibility. I offered my opinions were applicable and sought out ways to embed myself into the company’s wider ecosystem through the Women @ Microsoft Employee Resource Group and outreach programs. 

Holly speaks to colleagues

APPLYING FOR MY INTERNATIONAL SUMMER INTERNSHIP 

By the time I hit the 6 month mark, I felt ready to look for my next challenge. Summer internship application season was here.  

This time I set my sights on doing an internship in the USA.  

I have citizenship so a visa wasn’t a concern, but for those who want to move to the USA or elsewhere,  look into doing an internship. Getting student visas that you can do an internship on is far easier than as a visa for a normal employee. The big benefit with the student internship approach is that if you get a grad offer, which many interns do, then the company will sponsor your visa.  

I only applied to the big companies, which is not something I would normally suggest, but I was comfortable with the idea that if I didn’t get an offer then I would either continue working with my current team or just enjoy my summer like I had my others. Typically, I would suggest using the Safety, Likely, and Reach approach when it comes to internships.  

I applied to a few companies, had some interviews, but struggled a bit to find one that was a good match.  

This is when I turned to my network for help – specifically my second mentor who had previously worked at Xbox. She reviewed my CV and emailed her previous partner-level manager at Xbox. Before I could even get back to my desk, I had a reply from the manager to schedule an interview. I interviewed directly with the manager later that day who asked various competency and technical questions.  

She offered me the slot on her team there and then – This is the power of your network! 

I landed my dream role on the Xbox team in Seattle. I spent the summer building features, fixing bugs, and meeting other interns. 

Nearing the end, I found out both my teams offered me post-graduation roles so I had the choice between teams and countries. Ultimately I decided to stay in London because I wanted the life experience of living in England for longer, but have maintained relationships with colleagues in Seattle for when I return.  

Holly at her desk

TL;DR 

So what are the takeaways from my story: 

  1. Seek ways to differentiate yourself in the lead up to applying for internships to cut through the noise of other applicants. 
  2. Prep your CV and competency question responses in advance. Get feedback from multiple people and use frameworks like the ABC method on your CV and STAR method for competency questions. 
  3. Timing is everything – look at least 9 months to a year in advance. A year in advance will give you the best opportunity to prep, apply, and interview at your Safety, Likely, and Reach companies. 
  4. Imposter syndrome is normal – use it as a way to learn about where your gaps are and how you can improve. It goes. 
  5. Seek opportunities that are high impact and visibility to increase your chances of internship extensions and/or a grad role offer. 
  6. Use your internship as a way to, when applicable, move abroad and explore the world. 
  7. Build a network and find mentorship early. Invest in it so you can ask for help when you need whilst ensuring it isn’t just a one-sided relationship.  
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