Guide to Internship Hunting as an International CS Graduate in the US

Arpit Jain
14 min readOct 12, 2019

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

I am a second-year graduate student in the Computer Science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Like many of you, upon arriving in the US, adjusting to the new culture, focusing on my studies, and a parallel hunt for an internship turned out to be overwhelming for me. Based on my personal experiences, I have tried to pen down, how to go about internship hunting as an international student in the US.

Let us begin by answering a critical question

Why an internship might be important for you?

Because you want to utilize your post-graduation Optional Practical Training period to gain hands-on industrial experience.

In the US, an internship is one of the easiest tracks to obtain a full-time job offer with a company. Companies heavily invest in internship programs as they get to assess candidates for a period of 12-weeks before rolling out full-time offers

Now that we know why are we looking for an internship, let us go about how to bag one. This article contains three sections:

1. Mandatory Homework before Applying for an Internship

2. Applying for Internships

3. Preparing for Interviews

Part 1. Mandatory Homework before Applying for an Internship

1. Resume

In most of the applications (particularly off-campus), the resume would be your only introduction to the recruiters. Hence, it should portray the best of you and make you stand out among the several other candidates applying for the same position.

Your resume gets you the interview.

Keep these points in mind while crafting your resume.

  • Be Concise: While the length of your resume depends on your skills and experience, graduate students should try restricting to a one-page resume (single page, one-sided). Trim down the content which is not relevant to the position you are applying for. This can be very old projects, projects from an entirely different domain, etc.
  • Be Quantitative: Whenever possible, use numbers to quantify the impact of your project. Numbers seek more attention than plain-text. Therefore, “Managed $1M design project” is more eye-catching than “Managed a high-value project”. P.S.: Use the US metric system.
  • Use Keywords: Resumes are scanned for keywords. Be sure to include relevant keywords, programming languages, tools, frameworks, and current “hot” topics in the field of your studies.
  • Objective: In my opinion, an objective is required only when you are handing a hard copy of your resume to the recruiter during events like career fairs. Given recruiters might be recruiting for multiple positions in such events, an objective helps them identify what are you looking for. The objective should answer, “What are you looking for?”, “Any specific functional areas of interest?”, and “What can you do for the employer?”. I did not use the objective section during online-applications.
  • Graduation Date: Do NOT write your education period in the “Aug ’18 — Present” format. Use only the (expected/actual) graduation date. This helps recruiters to figure out what position you might be interested in (full-time/internship).
  • Know your Resume inside out: Recruiters are free to ask anything mentioned on your resume. If you are not an expert on a skill, better highlight the same. For example, you may write, “Servers & Databases: Tomcat, MySQL, Cassandra, Familiar with Elasticsearch”
  • Seek Feedback: Resume building is a continuous and iterative process, requiring planning, feedback, edits, and adjustments. Share your resume with your college career advisor, seniors, friends, or anyone who can provide constructive feedback.

Here is a sample resume outline. Please do NOT treat this as a standard format or template.

2. Elevator Pitch

The name Elevator Pitch comes from the concept of selling yourself or your business to a stranger from the time it would take to enter an elevator until you reach your desired floor.

You can consider this to be an equivalent of the “tell me about yourself” interview question. Elevator pitch would be your opening statement while meeting recruiters during on-campus career fairs, and the rest of your conversation is likely to depend on it. Your elevator pitch should last about 30-seconds and be structured in the following order.

  • Who am I? Begin by telling the recruiter your name, year in school, and major.

“Hi, I’m Arpit Jain. I am a Computer Science graduate student in my second year.”

  • What can I offer? Next, discuss your accomplishments/skills most relevant to the company or job. Include evidence through projects, classes, internships, research, prior work-experiences, and activities.

“Before this, I was working as a Senior Software Engineer at Myntra which is the Walmart for Clothing in India. My key focus was to build highly scalable and available services, handling workload of up to 150,000 requests/minute. I also like to find bugs and vulnerabilities in various libraries and frameworks and publish them on my tech blog.”

  • Why am I here? Mention what position are you looking for and why are you interested in this company.

“I’m very interested in gaining experience in software development with a firm such as XYZ, which has products handling over 1M requests/min. I’d like to learn more about internship opportunities within your organization.”

3. LinkedIn

Today, having a digital professional profile on LinkedIn is mandatory. It is used not only by the candidates but also by the recruiters. Update your LinkedIn profile with the following pointers in mind.

  • Complete your profile thoroughly. As you do not have a one-page restriction here, feel free to include all your projects.
  • Include a professional profile photo. Ensure that your face covers 60% of the frame.
  • Add a headline that grabs the reader’s attention and compels them to read more. Including “What are you looking for?” in the headline is debatable.

“CS Graduate at UW Madison | Moves Fast & Breaks Things | Seeking Software Engineering Internship for Summer 2020”

  • Add a compelling and interesting summary. This can be similar to your elevator pitch. Include “What are you looking for?” in the summary.
  • Use keywords in both headline and summary, as they are used by LinkedIn’s search algorithms.

Don’t think that you can just create a profile and job offers will pour in. We will discuss more of this in the off-campus applications section.

4. Personal Website (Optional)

While optional, having a personal website showcases your tech enthusiasm and is always a plus point. You can reuse the content from your LinkedIn profile for your website too. An advantage of a personal website is the extra freedom to elaborate on your projects.

I had built my personal website using the Academic Theme for Hugo and hosted it on GitHub Pages. You can use the same or explore more to find what suits you the best.

5. Misc. — Voicemail

I had not used voicemails back in my home country, but they are widely used in the US. Set up your Voice Mail with a professional greeting that includes your full name. If you get a call from a recruiter while in a class, or someplace where you can not receive it, let your phone go to voicemail.

Part 2. Applying for Internships

Having done our homework for internship applications, let us now see how to apply for them.

Method 1: On-campus Career Fairs

The US career fairs were a brand new experience for me, vastly different from career fairs back in my home country. During career fairs in the US, all participating companies get to set up their booths. Candidates visit companies of their interest, share their resume with them, and discuss the position they are looking for. It is not uncommon to stand in a 30 to 45 minutes long queue for firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.

To make the most out of a career fair, you should know how to work a career fair efficiently.

  • Do your homework: The list of companies attending the career fair would be available a week or two in advance. At this time, you should shortlist the companies you are interested in and carry out some research on what they do. Next, make a preference order of your shortlisted companies.
  • Highlight the map: When you arrive at the career fair event, pick up a map of the recruiters, highlight your shortlisted companies on it, put your preference order, and take a quick spin through the venue.
  • Navigating the career fair: A common approach is to start at the bottom of your preference list. I have also seen people starting with non-shortlisted companies. This helps in warming up and boosting confidence. After discussing with 2–3 such companies, jump to the top of your preference list and follow the order.

Method 2: Off-campus applications

Not all the companies of your interest are going to visit career fair events at your college. You have to apply to a lot of them off-campus as well. A general trend that I observed is, “the number of students getting an internship by off-campus application is way higher than the number of students getting it through career fairs.”

It is very difficult to find well-structured documentation of the off-campus application process. Based on my personal experience, I have tried to formalize it to the best of my knowledge.

1. How to find off-campus job postings?

  • Online Platforms: There are various online platforms where recruiters post new job listings. These include, but are not limited to LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Google Job Search, neuvoo, Handshake.
  • Email Alerts: All the platforms mentioned above have the feature of setting up custom email alerts relevant to your job search. Setting them up will keep you up to date with the latest job postings. After having set up these alerts, you need to check them regularly, otherwise, they would do nothing more than cluttering your email.
  • Immediate Seniors: Are you reinventing the wheel? You certainly are not the first one going through this hassle. Your seniors have been through it and bagged successful internships. Get in touch with them, find out the companies they interned with, and apply there. Applying to companies where someone from college has interned in the past increases your chances of getting shortlisted. P.S.: You may even seek a referral from your seniors.
  • Alumni Network: And the above does not limit to just immediate seniors. Check out your college’s alumni network on LinkedIn and find out more companies where you have alumni. Your chances of getting shortlisted for these companies would also be high. P.S.: Must seek a referral from them.

2. Applying to off-campus job postings

The referral process is a very powerful tool while applying to companies in the US. Companies trust their employees and are always inclined to hire people referred by them. At times, companies might not entertain candidates applying without a referral.

This entire process was new for me as referrals are not considered that critical back in my home country. Over time, I deduced the following three broad categories of referrals.

  • Direct Referrals: Look up your LinkedIn connections and find out if someone is already working at the company you are applying to. If yes, seek a referral from them. Existing connections are the most reliable source of getting referred to any company.
  • Indirect Referrals: When you do not have any known referrals, find out if any of your indirect connections are working at the company. These can be seniors and alumni from current college, alumni from the previous college, ex-workers and co-workers from past employers, or someone with a mutual connection. Send them a connection request with a note answering “Who are you?”, “What are you looking for?”, and “What help you want from them?”
  • Random (Cold) Referrals: These are the people who are nowhere related to you but are working at the company of your interest. You can send them a connection request with a note answering the same three questions. But the chances of your request getting accepted and them agreeing to refer you are relatively low (not zero).

How long to wait for a referral?

There is no magic formula for this, but you must have this number for each company you are applying to. The closing date for a job might not be mentioned in the listing. I learned this the hard way when a few job postings got closed while I was waiting for a successful referral. Some pointers which might be helpful here are: 1) How old is the job posting? If it is very old, it might be better to go ahead and apply without a referral; 2) Check out the same job posting on other platforms and the companies careers page itself, in case one of them has an end date.

3. It is a Continuous Process

Off-campus application is not a one-shot process. It is rather continuous and iterative, typically having a 5-day timeline.

  • Day 1: You find out a new job posting and you attempt to seek a referral.
  • Day 2–4: You wait for your connection requests to get accepted and someone agreeing to refer you.
  • Day 5: You either get a successful referral or nothing. In the later, you have to decide either to apply without a referral or go back to Day 1 activity of connecting with more people to seek a referral.

4. Do NOT procrastinate

  • Set a daily-minimum threshold: You are in the US not just for an internship but also for your graduate studies. The ground reality is, few days are going to be hectic, whereas few are going to be relatively free. Set a daily-minimum threshold, say “x”, and finish Day-1 activities of “x” new companies each day. Choose “x” wisely as it should be achievable on an over-occupied hectic day.
  • Keep Applying: Off-campus application process can be tiring, cumbersome, and at times frustrating. Try your best to be motivated and regular. In particular, do not stop applying after getting some interviews scheduled. Prepare for the interview alongside continuing your application process.
  • How much to apply? Until you sign an offer letter, there are always more companies to apply to.

5. Keep Track

It is impossible to keep a mental map of companies you want to apply to, companies you have already applied to, which stage are you with an already applied company, etc. Take the help of online tools like Google Sheets. Below is my sample tracker with some drastic color combinations which luckily worked for me. Come up with what works best for you, or feel free to use my tracker. I used Sort Range Plus add-on to sort rows as per their color.

6. LinkedIn Premium

One fine day, you may hit the upper cap on LinkedIn’s searches for free accounts. This was a dead-end for me and I purchased LinkedIn Premium at this point. If you find another solution, do share it with me. From my own experience, I found it to be very useful with unlimited searches and some other extra features. P.S.: You also will apply more once you have paid for LinkedIn Premium :P

Part 3. Preparing for Interviews

Your interview gets you the job offer.

By now, we have a solid grip on how to apply for interviews. Let us now look at how to prepare for them.


As a Computer Science student, most of your interviews are going to be technical ones, assessing your coding abilities. Leetcode is one of the most useful platforms for technical interview preparation in the US. A lot of companies even mention using Leetcode while preparing for their interviews.

Leetcode Premium?

While you can access all the questions using a free Leetcode account, a premium account lets you filter questions by companies and frequency. This is very helpful in company-specific interview preparation, or in general to practice most frequently asked questions, etc. Having used a premium account myself, I found it to be worth investing in.

Coding without IDE

During interviews, you would be writing code on paper, whiteboard (face to face interviews), Google Docs, Codeshare, etc. (telephonic interviews). Thus, it is important to practice writing code without relying on an IDE. Leetcode editor does a great job for this and you should be good to go if you are practicing on Leetcode.

Mock Interviews

Most colleges conduct mock interview sessions and you should attend at least one of them before you go through an actual interview. They allow you to practice and improve your interviewing techniques and answers. You can also conduct mock interviews within your circle if that works for you.

Behavioral Interviews

The basic premise behind behavioral interviews is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. A sample question for this round can be, “Tell me about a team experience in which one member did not meet expectations.” It might be very difficult to tackle such questions on the spot, without any prior preparation. In responding to such questions, it is best to provide a specific example to support your response. I would let readers explore the internet to know more about behavioral interviews.

Scheduling your Interviews

The best of us have missed interviews, or scheduled overlapping interviews. Use tools like Google Calendar to log all your interviews, and refer to it while scheduling new ones. Also, keep in mind there are multiple time zones in the US and check the timezone properly in an interview request.

That’s all folks

I hope you learned something new which helps you with your internship hunt. Be confident. All the best. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Please do add a note to your connection request for me to accept the same. :)

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Arpit Jain

Scalability & Big Data Enthusiast | Microsoft | Sumo Logic | UW Madison | Myntra | IIT Guwahati