I've received a lot of messages from friends and people on LinkedIn and Twitter, about applying for and gaining internships.

The time I spent at Entrepreneur First for 6 months helped me take my first step into the tech ecosystem in London. When approached in the right way, internships can have a hugely positive impact on someone's career; approached in the wrong way, at best, they become something to fill your CV.

Take time to understand what interests you

People don't spend enough time early in their career considering what excites them. This is the time where you should be trying lots of things, and learning what interests you, and what doesn't. You only need to find one thing that really excites you.

Don't rely on the front door

Everyone I speak to assumes that the only way to gain an internship is by applying to one that has been posted. The most exciting companies to work for almost definitely don't have a pre-defined internship programme, unless they're large. This is particularly true in tech.

If you no longer restrict yourself to companies advertising internships, you start to focus on what matters: the companies you're applying to, and the work that they do - whether they have an official internship programme becomes incidental.

This is how I ended up working at Entrepreneur First - by reaching out, persisting, and even showing up to public events they were holding at their office. They weren't actively looking for interns at the time.

Only apply for what interests you

Instead of focusing on the companies that have open internships, you can ask yourself the question: which companies am I actually interested in joining?

Perhaps you don't yet know what you're interested in? Internships are not a good way to figure that out - at least to begin with. The opportunity cost is high when committing weeks or months to something that you're not sure is interesting to you.

First try connecting with people in the industry separately, or reading around the topic.

Optimise for learning

Optimising for learning naturally leads you to smaller companies in most cases; or at least companies which are structured in smaller teams internally. It is too easy to get lost in larger companies, where you'll be given less responsibility.

Smaller companies offer more responsibilities, but also give you more autonomy to solve problems outside the specific scope of your role. There will always be more problems to fix than people to fix them at small companies, and that's an opportunity.

Value your time

Some companies offer unpaid internships - don't take them. Your time is worth more than that, and it reflects the culture of the company. If they're not willing to pay you, they won't care if you end up wasting your time - the incentives are not aligned.

Tailor your application to the company

If you're not applying for a pre-defined role, try to understand where a company might need additional support, and mention this in your application if you believe you can help.

  • Noticed that their website loads slowly? Tell them that you could help to speed it up.
  • Noticed that they haven't posted on social media, but it is a viable distribution channel for their market? Offer some suggested post ideas for them to use, and how could help them to create more if you were to join.

Most people don't bother to do this, but it takes less than 10 minutes per company, if you know what to look for

Tweet by Justin Kan, founder of Twitch

Going solo is better than making coffee

The Internet has made it possible for people to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in new ways. If you don't think you'll be learning or working on anything interesting at a company, you're better off going solo.

  • Interested in FinTech? Start producing valuable content about the sector.
  • Interested in ways to solve the climate challenges the world faces? Create short-form content on YouTube or TikTok outlining the latest initatives tackling these problems, and build your own audience.

We're always looking to connect with ambitious people looking to break into tech, at Stairway. Reach out if that's you

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