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How to land an internship at a great Nigerian startup

Getting an internship at a great company is one of the best ways to kick-start your career in tech. You’ll get to learn from top-notch developers/designers and work on ambitious and exciting projects/products. Plus if you do well, you’ll likely be given a full-time offer which is pretty neat.

Here are some tips on how to land an internship at a great Nigerian startup…

Do your homework

I remember being caught off guard when asked about the company I was applying to by my interviewer. I knew very little about the them. Great startups want folks who know and care about their vision and products.

Make a list of all the startups you’re interested in applying to and do your research. Google is your friend. Visit their websites, read their blogs, follow their activities on social media and checkout the latest news about them. If possible, do same for influential individuals at the companies. In addition to being able to answer questions about the company when asked, you’ll be able to learn about their products, tech stack, culture etc and know for sure if you’d like to be part of what they do.

Don’t go through the front door

Going through the front door means applying to a company directly e.g from a job ad or sending them an email. Many Nigerian startups don’t have formal internship programs. As such, its hard to find good internship job ads on/offline. Also, from personal experience sending tons of emails, I’ve found that a good number of companies don’t respond. The ones that do usually say something along the lines of “sorry, we’re not recruiting interns at this time” (really annoying).

There was this company that said they didn’t take interns at the time but I knew people who were interning there. In fact, I asked someone who was interning there how he got in and he told me he “just got a call”. What was the interview process like? “I wasn’t interviewed”. Who called you? He refused to tell me. He definitely knew a top dog at the company. For sure.

The best way to go is through the “back door”. If you can get a referral from an employee at a company or make friends with the folks in upper management, you’ll most likely get yourself a job. There are several avenues to connect with people — meetups, developer communities, Twitter, friends of friends etc. When you try to connect with people, don’t beg or ask for favors. Get them interested in you and/or your work, then register your interest in their company and opportunities for internship.

It’s hard to socialize and network, especially if you’re introverted like me. Getting people interested in you is not the easiest thing in the world but if you do a good job, you likely get yourself an interview or even an offer.

Work on personal projects

If you’re looking for an internship, you probably have little or no work experience, and experience is a very important factor used by employers to rate one’s skill. You can make up by working on personal projects. Personal projects help you develop yourself, and give you something to talk about at interviews and other situations where you might want to sell yourself.

When working on projects, aim for quality and not quantity. The number of apps you’ve built is not nearly as important as what the apps do, how you built them and how much impact they’ve made. You don’t have to work on something big and complex. You just need something interesting and thoughtful.

Write a solid CV

Most of the people (e.g CEOs, developers and recruiters) who I’ve chatted with about internship opportunities at their company have asked me to send them my CV. It’s important to have a solid CV handy during your job search.

I’ve found that a one-page CV with the headings: Summary, Experience, Projects, Skills, Education and Accomplishments does the trick. But I’m no CV expert. Do read My Personal Formula for a Winning Resume by Laszlo Buck and watch How to: Work at Google — Resume Tips for more insights.

Don’t lie

Don’t lie about your abilities! You’ll probably interview with a developer/designer who has years of experience working with a plethora of technologies. They can spot liars easily. Don’t try to wow them. Instead, tell them about your learning journey — where you want to go, how far you’ve come and how working with them would move you towards achieving your goals.

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