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How to get an internship at a tech startup

How to get an internship at a tech startup

Finding a job in tech can be a daunting experience: whether you’re new to the game or looking to make a career change, today’s highly competitive market poses similar challenges.

While internships traditionally help students gain real-world experience, they can also be a catalyst for those looking for a career change, offering the chance to learn basic skills in diverse fields like marketing, healthcare, sales and more.

We spoke to hiring expert Ted Bagley of Toronto startup Taplytics to gather his best tips for applying for an internship at a tech startup:

Establish a connection

The first piece of advice most recruiters will tell you when beginning your job search is simple: network. This goes beyond attending one job fair or making generic connections on LinkedIn with no exchange. It means putting in the time and research to find the right people and getting yourself on their radar through all means available.

This is especially true when applying for a role at a startup where teams are smaller. Even cold-calling or direct outreach to upper management can increase your chances of a meeting.

“The number of companies I’ve joined where the co-ops are professionally selected by hiring agencies is low. You need to make your own connections,” says Bagley. “Email the head of talent, send the CEO an introduction and put yourself out there.”

Tailor your approach

From building a resume to crafting a professional introduction, take the time to tailor it to the company. The one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. Putting in the time to learn about the company and highlighting how you would add value will make for less work for both parties.

“Think carefully about how you’re speaking to that person,” says Bagley. “How you approach that individual could be different depending on the company culture. That’s the difference between starting your email with ‘Dear’ instead of ‘Hi’.”

Bagley says that not only are most companies on the receiving end of a thousand internship applications, but automated systems through universities and colleges can literally turn people into numbers.

“It’s an insane amount of information, which makes it really hard to stand out,” he says. “Ultimately if you want to get someone’s attention, it’s not going to be about the cool design.” Instead, he recommends creating an honest, tight resume and reaching out to the company to get in front of the right person. 

Put your interests to work

Despite the stereotypes, you don’t need to have a background in tech to work for a startup. If you’re looking for an internship as a way to build a new career path, Bagley says it’s important to be explicit about why you’re making the switch and use your existing knowledge as a bridge into a new field.

“It’s difficult to change careers. Getting an internship can be a good way to get your foot in the door of a company,” says Bagley.

When applying for a role in a new field, make sure to highlight your existing skillset and industry experience. Bagley notes that if you already have experience working in an industry like advertising, it may be wise to start at an ad tech company so there is already some familiarity.

Show your value

Bagley says the difference between an outstanding intern versus one that falls flat is fearlessness. Making yourself available to help on projects, committing to new learning opportunities and punching above your role can all make a lasting impression.

“It’s a scary thing working at a new company, particularly when you have no experience. Enthusiasm and openness go a long way.”

To prove that you are worth a company’s investment, they need to be aware of who you are and what unique aspects you can bring to the role. But it’s no cake walk. “Getting a job is hard work,” says Bagley. “If you want one job, it may take ten interviews and a hundred applications. It’s an uncomfortable process putting yourself out there, but it’s worth it.”