There is a Center for Career Opportunities at my alma-mater, Purdue University. They were very helpful when I was looking for internships as an undergrad. Later on, when I had a couple of great internships on my résumé, they asked me along with other ‘experienced’ students to answer some questions. The replies to these questions were posted on the Purdue CCO website. Here are my replies that I hope will be useful to the IH followers.
CCO: What aspects of your academic background were helpful during your internship?
Alibek: Although what we do in class is very different from what they do in industry, the general sense of dedication to the project, getting along with different kinds of people, and following the firm deadlines are probably the most important things that I have learned in college that were very useful during my internships.
C: What were your strategies for applying to internships, and how did you acquire the position with Amazon?
A: Now I try to keep the list of companies I am applying to very narrow. When I was looking for my first internship, I applied everywhere I possibly could, but after I got through that stage, I focused only on the companies I really wanted to work for. In case with Amazon, I applied through CCO portal and through their website directly, and later on the recruiters approached me to schedule a phone interview. I passed two phone screenings and got an offer to intern with them in Seattle, WA.
C: What did you do to obtain full-time work with Amazon after your internship with them?
A: At the beginning of the internship I made sure that I understand exactly what the expectations are, and what are the goals I am going to be measured against. Then I focused on these goals. It might sound like a simple advice, but many people do not realize that it is a fair game to go to your manager at the beginning of your internship and ask: “What do I need to accomplish in order to get a full-time offer?”
C: How did your experiences with Amazon prepare you for full-time employment with Amazon?
A: A 12-week internship at Amazon indeed does take you to a new technical level. It comes from your manager’s feedback, learning from your mentor and your team. This experience should suffice to prepare for full-time employment from technical perspective.
C: How have you discussed your visa status with Amazon?
A: I did not have to. But keep in mind that the bigger the company is, the more chances there are that it has experience in dealing with visa issues for its international employees. In case with Amazon, they hire international specialists all the time, so discussing visa issues with them is not a problem.
C: How did your other Purdue experiences, including working as an ambassador/ student leader, help you with your career development?
A: Shame on me, I do not have any experience working as an ambassador, student leader, or even a tutor. However, I have been working as an undergraduate research assistant for a couple of years now, and that helped me a lot. It taught me how to set the goals, prioritize, communicate back to manager, and deliver results on time. My advice would be to seek for every opportunity to ‘get your hands dirty’ while still in college.
C: Based on your experiences what are some skills that you think you should have developed during your academic career?
A: Time management and prioritizing are two important skills that, no matter how good you are at them, always have a room for improvement. While you are still in college, try to experiment with different styles of time management and prioritizing, and figure out what works best for you. When it gets to full-time job, there is not much space for experimenting.
C: What advice do you have for other international students pursuing internships and full-time employment?
A: My advice is to choose an area of expertise as soon as you can, take corresponding electives, and look for an employer according to your narrow field. When you get to senior level classes and get to see some companies from inside, you will realize that everybody likes narrow specialists. So figure out where you want to work and what you need to learn as early as you can.