Fig O'Reilly 
Founder & CEO | Systems Engineer | Diversity in STEM Advocate

You might have heard that in order to get started in tech, you need experience. Enter internships. But many internships also require—you guessed it—experience. I’ve learned that no matter how formal or informal your education, tech companies that are hiring simply want to know if you can produce the type of work they are looking for. That means being familiar with the right tools, having relevant skills, and experience using both.

On resumes, a common mistake is writing about your work experience and leaving out the skills and tools you actively used in a role. When writing about your experience on your resume, it’s more valuable to be able to speak to projects you worked on, what work you produced, what tools you used, and the outcomes and end result. Ultimately, the goal is to prove your technical capability and you can do so by explaining your projects.

I got my first tech internship my junior year while studying systems engineering at George Washington University. I worked for a data and software solutions company that specializes in government services. It took months of applying, reworking my resume, meeting with my academic advisor, comparing notes with friends and peers, a few sleepless nights from imposter syndrome, and several interviews to finally land an internship as an IT analyst.

Take a class

Depending on where you are in your journey, you may want to consider enrolling in a bootcamp, taking a class to brush up on skills you haven’t used in a while, or learning something new in an online course. Make sure that your class aligns with the internship you are looking to land in that it teaches you applicable skills that you can use on the job. There are so many options out there, including many that are free. When you complete a course, make sure to let your potential employer know how you can actively apply what you learned to the role or project you want.

tailor your resume

Cracking the code to a stellar resume isn’t rocket science. Though you will need to become familiar with what technical skills are relevant to the internship you are applying for and how to best present your experience. Protip: remove anything on your resume that doesn’t directly relate to the role you want. When I was applying to internships my junior year, I created 2 resumes: one for data science roles and another for product management. I made sure to include and highlight my business minor experience on the product management resume and Python, R, and MySQL experience on the data science resume.

Pitch a project

For those of you that may want to take on leadership roles early on in your career, I’d highly recommend pitching your own summer internship project to a small or mid-sized business. If you have a specific project idea, it could be beneficial to approach a company that has the capability to help you build out an idea or pair you with a mentor that could help guide the project. This option may require a bit more heavy lifting, but you’ll walk away with invaluable experience for when you enter the workforce full-time.

enter a hackathon

Are you just getting started? Perhaps you are looking for a less time consuming option? A hackathon is a great way to 1) get experience working with a team and it 2) gives you the opportunity to design and develop a project—both are important experiences that recruiters look for. Do some research to find a local hackathon. Various options exist for newcomers, experts, and everyone in between. These innovation and creation sprints are a great way to meet a lot of people with a wide variety of skills and experiences in STEM. And no, you don’t always need to know how to code.

My first hackathon was a blockchain hackathon and I learned a lot of new technical skills. I was able to network with others and build a project that I later added to my portfolio. In interviews, I shared what I made and the tools I used to build it.

tap into your network

Your network is invaluable, truly. Over the years, I’ve had wonderful mentors, teachers, peers, and friends speak my name into rooms that I did not yet occupy. By doing so, they helped me access opportunities for professional growth. If you aren’t watering your network, you are missing out.

I’ve learned about a lot of potential job opportunities through my network. After graduating, I took a role with the company that I previously interned with. Not long after, one of my peers from my engineering classes told me about a NASA program she was currently participating in that she thought could be a good fit for me too. A year later, I was accepted to the program and leveled up my work in data science in the space industry.

Don’t know how to tap into your network? Sign up today to connect with our community of women just like you. We are helping women of color in stem level up in their careers by providing connection, support, resources, and access to opportunities.

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