Welcome to part two of How to Land a Silicon Valley Internship, where I help my readers stress out about stuff they didn’t even realize they had to stress out about. I got my ass kicked into gear big time when I found myself in the Bay this summer and surrounded by interns that all seemed to have their shit 100% together (a skill, if you remember correctly, I haven’t figured out quite yet). After creepily asking people to tell me their stories and advice on landing their dream internships, I decided to compile my findings here for you all – and for my own future reference, in case the stress of this summer causes me to black out and forget everything I’ve learned.
Last time, we chatted a little bit about starting the job search. Today, we’re going to be chatting about resumes, projects, and portfolios – I like to think of this step in the job process as the “identity crisis.” Your resumes and projects are the best way for your recruiters to get to know you before an interview; therefore, creating these materials really requires you to know yourself as a professional person. What kind of worker do I want to be? What image to I want to project to my future employers? WTF is the difference between a CV and a resume anyway?
These are the kinds of hard hitting questions that’ll be spinning around your head while you try to piece together your professional identity. But taking a little bit of time to consolidate a unified idea of your professional image and how you want to present it to the world is going to pay of in the long run, and may even get you to think of something more original than “I am a dedicated worker who loves to learn” to stick in your personal statement.
Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up from the Bay Area interns on the subject:
I’ve been lucky to speak with a lot of different university talent recruiters this summer, and I’ve been shocked (and a little dismayed) to learn more about the process of how they review resumes. Those resumes that you’ve spent days scrutinizing, revising, and freaking out over? They may only last 15 to 30 seconds in a recruiters hands.
If this has taught me anything, it’s made me realize that resumes need to stand out, and they need to be able to stand out on a cursory glance. Outlined are some pieces of advice I’ve been given about crafting a sure-to-stand out resume:
As much as we’d all love to be a Rory Gilmore (the books! the bangs! the boyfriends!), sometimes the world needs you to be a Paris Geller.
High maintenance, fiercely determined, and constantly spitting out game-changing nuggets o’wisdom (see above), Paris always had a goal and knew how to follow through.
She also had a mad resume game: in season 7, Paris proudly announced that she had crafted 48 different resumes, each one specific to what she was applying for.
And while 48 may have been a little over the top, homegirl had the right idea. Don’t rely on that cover letter to show a company that you want to work for them – allow your resume to speak for itself. Personally, I keep a very “generalized” resume on my portfolio and personalize anything that I sent off directly to a potential employer. These personalizations don’t have to be much – something as simple as tweaking a section or two on your resume may be the golden ticket you need to stand out to my employer. My favorite way to personalize my resume is my reorganizing my “skills” section – by featuring or swapping skills that I know a certain employer will value, I show them that I’m capable of prioritizing the things that their company finds important.
There are a couple of things I would really love to see before I die: Taylor Swift in concert, world peace, and an end to the Microsoft Word resume in Times New Roman 12 pt font. Resumes are meant to be professional, but somehow the word “professional” has become synonymous with painfully boring. And while the most important purpose of a resume is to display information about an applicant, it also needs to be able to stand out from a crowd.
I know this might sound a little skeptical coming from a girl with a bright pink blog and a personal website where the phrase “making a mean cup of coffee” is actually listed underneath my professional skills, but hear me out. While it is true that creative jobs are more likely to create artsy-fartsy resumes for themselves, it’s it doesn’t mean that non creative job fields need to resort to Times New Roman to seem professional (under no circumstance should you ned to resort to Times New Roman, ever).
Now, don’t get too excited. Step away from the Microsoft Word and WordArt. There’s an incredibly easy way to get a great looking resume that still gives off an air of professionalism: purchasing a resume template.
If your resume proves that you can talk the talk, your projects show that you can walk the walk, too. Listing a bunch of skills and past job experience is only good if you can back it up with some concrete proof that shows those skills in action.Silicon Valley is one of the most project-focused environments I’ve ever been in – your entire internship is centered around one or two projects that you’re expected to finish and present in a neat little package by the end of the summer. Intern project expos, final presentations, whatever you want to call it – Silicon Valley loves their projects, and perhaps their favorite question to ask their interns is “so, what did you make this summer?”
Therefore, there’s probably nothing more important to scoring a job in the Valley than having a couple of killer projects under your belt.
Narrow Your Focus
Take note of the word “couple” in that last sentence – when a recruiter has just enough time for a cursory glance at your projects, you want to make it as easy as possible for him to sift through your projects and get a good sense of your work. Less is more when it comes to displaying your work, and it’s better to highlight your best 5 to 10 pieces rather than shoving everything you’ve ever done down their throats. This is also a good way to show off those skills you worked so hard on curating in your resume – by having only a couple of projects that each depicts a skill that you listed on your resume, you’re able to reinforce your knowledge of those skills. One student I talked to this summer had the *brilliant* idea of having each skill listed in his online resume embedded with a clickable link to a project he had worked on demonstrating that skill – talk about genius.
It’s also good to pick out a project or two that can be a go-to talking point in interviews, too: One intern (a hardware engineer) that I talked with said that he always brought one project with him to interviews, allowing him to really talk in depth about that particular project and answer questions about it in person.
Split Em Up
After you’ve narrowed down your projects, it’s usually a good idea to categorize them as well. Remember, everything about the resume/project/portfolio process should be catered to making sure that your recruiters learn as much about you in as little time as possible. The way you organize your projects can also say a lot about you – if you follow the advice above and organize your projects by skill set, it proves how much you value the amount different skills you have and your ability to master them all. Organizing your projects by which employer you completed them for is a good way to subtly highlight all of the real world work experience you’ve had in your field. I personally like to organize my projects by school/work/personal, because I want my employers to know that I am constantly trying to expand my repertoire in every aspect of my life. Whatever way you choose to organize your projects, make sure it’s in a way that can subtly highlight more about you.
Portfolios are a big deal in the creative and tech world, but for those of you who aren’t as familiar with what a portfolio is, I’ll break it down for you: a portfolio like a resume-project page-mini biography all in one. Typically found in an online format now a days, a portfolio is a page that allows you to spotlight a little bit about yourself, what you think are your strong suits, a couple of the projects you worked on, and literally anything else you could possibly want to throw in there.
I am a firm believer that anyone who wants to be a professional anything should have a portfolio, mostly because there is no easier way to tell a recruiter or employer or colleague more about YOU than by telling them to simply pop a URL into their browser. However, not all portfolios are created equal, and it’s always good to find out which type of portfolio would be the best for you:
Show Off Your Strengths
If you’re in a creative or development field (or, like me, if you’re in both), a portfolio is a no brainer. It’s something that’s so expected of you, they make it a “required field” when you’re filling out an online application for a job. Once you get over the dread of having to create yet another thing to show off to employers, it may dawn on you what a huge opportunity this is: especially if you’re a newbie in your field, your portfolio itself has the opportunity to be the strongest piece in your portfolio.
That being said, you have to play to your strengths. If you call yourself a developer and you don’t actually contribute to the code of your website, it’ll be hard for your employers to take you seriously. If you say you’re a designer and you use pre-designed elements on your website, it might seem confusing. If you’re a photographer and you use a purchased stock photo on your homepage – don’t even get me started. Use the basic structure of your portfolio itself to drive home what you’re trying to prove to the people who visit it.
Stand Out From The Crowd
So what if you’re not a designer or a developer or a photographer or other creative type? Where does that leave you in the great portfolio debate? Believe it or not, it actually leaves you in the most ideal situation possible – if its atypical for professionals in your field to have their own portfolio, it’ll make you stand out in a good way. These are the kinds of things that will seem above and beyond to employers, and will also prove that you’re tech savvy enough to understand the importance of capitalizing on your presence online.
The best part about all of it, though, is that you’re not restricted whatsoever by the guidelines I laid out in the last section – who cares if you use stock images or a predesigned template to make your website? If it’s not your job to know how to do that stuff, then you have free reign to piggy back off of the work that great designers and developers are already doing. By using a portfolio template like Squarespace or Weebly, you can easily show off your work and your personality without the hassle of having to figure out all the web stuff.
This post was a doozy to write, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy to read, either. There’s a lot of information packed into a tiny space – so much information, in fact, that I haven’t even absorbed it all yet. I try to constantly improve on all aspects of myself as a professional person, and while nothing makes me happier than to write posts like this to share all that I’ve learned from others, I’m really still in the learning and improving stages myself.