As a co-founder of a recruitment startup I’ve advised countless people on their job applications. Securing an internship at a solid or top startup requires more of an entrepreneurial mindset than your usual job applications. This article aims to provide college students with practical advice on how to land an internship at a startup.
Internships at top startups offer invaluable experience. Startups are very resource-constrained (save for those awash in venture bubble money Q4 2020 – Q2 2022 raised at orbital valuations 😉 with never-ending tasks to complete. You’ll gain exposure to serious operations and challenges, as well as insights into what I like to call the “shit show” – a startup is in many ways that sort of an organization – with no processes, little structure, and many challenges and needs. If you excel early on, you’ll likely be given more responsibilities too.
Steps to take to land a startup internship
First, check if any internships are advertised on job boards or LinkedIn. You can check out Gyfted’s job feed too. Keep in mind that startups do not commonly advertise internships – they usually prioritize full-time hiring. Hence, be proactive and intentional.
Second, you have to be proactive – like an entrepreneur in many ways. Startup internship processes are very flexible, and there’s few such internships going around. Most startups can’t predict their hiring needs even 3 months in advance, so start your outreach 2-3 months before your desired start date.
Then, create a target list of startups you’re interested in – make it max. 40 companies (you can’t handle more well). A proactive approach increases your chances of catching the right person at the right time. Focus on what interests you in terms of product / market / mission, and go for it. Of course use resources like Crunchbase, TechCrunch, Sifted to find suitable startups based on employee count.
Fourth, connect with the right people at each startup and message them briefly. For smaller startups (fewer than 40 employees), reach out to one of the founders. Once you’ve found the right person, use email or LinkedIn to connect – but always personalize your invite, make it relevant and about them not you, rather about how you are motivated and could add value!
Finally, send your messages and follow up if you don’t receive a reply. Timing matters, so avoid sending emails during busy periods (weekends are actually great, also Tue-Thu). If you still don’t get a response, be persistent and keep trying. Note: write a message that’s authentic – because it’s easy to read through bs. Write concise, personalized messages to each contact, covering:
- Who you are (briefly in 1 sentence)
- Why you’re interested in the company (mission or product or customer problem above all)
- How you can add value (demonstrate how you fit into the role, company, culture/stage)
Getting an internship at a startup requires determination and luck. Increase your chances by sending more high-quality messages, seeking introductions to key people, and connecting with employees. With persistence and the right approach, you’ll be well positioned to land such an internship.
If you’re interested in startup jobs don’t only check out our platform, but you can also take this startup mindset assessment to measure your approach and readiness to work in startups.