January 21, 2020 / Blog

An Unconventional Way to Get Internships & How I got Mine

Throughout college, I’ve heard many discouraged peers say things like: “I really want an internship this summer, but where do I even start?”, “No one hires freshmen”, and “Getting an internship is so hard, why should I even try?”.

Before even beginning your pursuit of an internship, it’s important to set the right attitude. For myself, I was able to land four different internships, starting after my senior year of high school, and I never had to leverage any family connections to do it.

Here’s how I did it and what I learned from each experience:

Senior Year of High School: Strategic Capital Partners

I spent this summer working in a restaurant during the day and working at a venture capital firm at night for $10/hour. By the end of the summer, my manager and mentor George awarded me with stock in two of his companies.

How I Got There:

Leaving high school, I was still bummed that I hadn’t been accepted into my top school, and became anxious and depressed. I was worried about going to college, and at this point, I had put a downpayment to go to NYU and the University of Michigan because I couldn’t decide on where I wanted to go. Seeing my uneasiness first-hand, my mom made the executive decision that I had to start seeing a therapist.

I walked into my first appoint skeptical and nervous. We chat about our hobbies and my interests in business. Towards the end, I tell him I’m interested in venture capital. Drew responds, “Oh my cousin, George, owns a fund.” Me seeing my opportunity, I immediately say, “Can I get his phone number to see if I can work for him for free?” Drew says “Sure” and gives it to me.

Later that day, I call George, the venture capitalist, and it goes to voicemail. I leave a polite message about who I am, how I got his number, and that I’m interested in learning more about venture capital. He called me back within the hour and without asking goes on one of his now-classic rants about every book I should read, what school I should go to, and everything else. By the end of our conversation, he tells me I can work for him for free, and he’ll pay me occasionally when doing a lot of work.

The best response I’ve ever heard to this story was from one of the heads of career development at the Ross School of Business who said, “In all my years, I’ve never met someone who got an internship through their therapist”.

Takeaways:

  • Opportunities are all around you; you need to keep an open eye and always be resourceful
  • The worst thing someone can say is no. When I called George he could have said no, and that would’ve been it, but that would have been worst-case scenario
  • Show that you are coachable and want to learn by offering to work for free. Usually, no one will actually make you work for free, but it shows you are willing to do what it takes
  • You need to build value continuously. You can’t just start off making $30+ an hour and need to start somewhere
  • If you work hard and add value, you will be rewarded

Freshman Year: Juicero

Going into my freshman year of college, I had one main goal, “I wanted to get an internship in California.” Why California? Because I had always wanted to go and I wanted someone else to pay for it. By the end of my recruitment period, I had earned an internship at Silicon Valley’s hottest, most secret startup.

How I Got There:

I ended up going to all of the career fairs at Michigan hopeful and eager but was constantly hindered by, recruiters telling me: “We are only looking for juniors or seniors right now” said by almost all of the recruiters. In response to this, I came up with the strategy of withholding my resume and class status until they heard my pitch. I would sell them this story:

“My name is Philip Ruffini, and I’m an economics major from outside of Philadelphia. In the past, I’ve worked at a venture capital firm and a restaurant. While at the VC firm, I did financial analysis, market research, and simple book work. After both experiences what I’ve learned is that I love the analytical skills I developed at the VC firm, but at the same time, I love working and interacting with people regularly. That’s why I’m interested in marketing because I believe that it combines the best of both worlds. The analytical skills I used in finance, but at the same time, the human interaction I loved while working at a restaurant.”

I wasn’t crazy interested in marketing, but I thought it was my best shot for an internship as a freshman who didn’t know how to code. I impressed a few recruiters who gave me a lot of empty promises. After this, I realized I needed a new plan.

I ended up joining MPowered’s Startup Career Team. I figured that if I joined the team that organized my school’s career fair, I would be in the perfect position to meet recruiters first and develop a relationship with them. Every week I would send ten emails to different startups asking them to come. I finally came across a startup that was in stealth mode and had raised 120 million dollars… That startup was, the now infamous, Juicero. I thought to myself, what startup raises that much before launching a product?????? I needed to work for them. I ended up reaching out to their recruiter, whom I found on LinkedIn through my typical method of sourcing emails. I was lucky enough to set up a phone call with her.

I learned that she was the former head recruiter for the iPod team under Tony Fadell, a Michigan alumni and the creator of the iPod. Because of Tony she had been on a private tour of Michigan before and loved the school. After two 20-minute phone calls with her, I convinced her to come. After that my single goal was to impress her as much as possible. If she emailed me, I would respond within minutes. (At my internship she even mentioned how she was so impressed how she had once emailed me at 2:00 am and I responded in less than 10 minutes) I offered to help book and organize transportation. I did everything possible to go above and beyond. I even held a Q&A panel session between recruiters and students for students to ask about recruiting questions. I put myself in charge of it with the Juicero recruiter’s seat right next to mine. By the time the career fair came, she asked me “What do you want to do at Juicero this summer, and I’ll make it happen”.

Takeaways:

  • Just because an opportunity doesn’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t create it for yourself
  • People may use your age and grade as the easiest factor to filter candidates, but experience and knowing how to sell yourself matters more
  • There is nothing wrong with not telling someone your age if they don’t ask
  • Your story and why you want to do something matters a lot

Sophomore Year: ZX-Ventures

Going into my sophomore year of College I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that my internship would entail getting paid to start a business that would be successfully launched in the Netherlands.

How I Got There:

After working 40–60 hours a week at Juicero and basically being a full-time employee, I wanted to try a more structured program where they try to convince you to take a full-time offer. I just wanted any standard Fortune 500 program. A friend of mine was the ambassador for Anheuser-Busch InBev’s coveted Global Management Trainee Internship. Despite the internship being for Juniors, she encouraged me to apply. I decided this was going to be the internship I would get. Before ABI even came to campus I set up networking calls with all of the main interviewers and recruiters that were going to come. I learned what the interviews were like and what ABI was looking for. I became the person that they were looking for, and I structured my resume accordingly.

The first time they came to campus was the engineering career fair and even though I was a business student, I went anyway. I got to their booth, gave my pitch, and the recruiter asked for my resume. The first thing he said was, “You’re a business student… Why are you at the engineering career fair.” I responded, “Well, you guys aren’t at the business career fair for two weeks, and I wanted to be the first business student you talked to.” He simply said, “I love it”. After that, I ended up getting invited to an invite-only brew your own beer recruiting event. I proceed to go and talk to them again at the business school’s career fair, LS&A’s career fair, and their tailgate BBQ. The fourth time I saw their team, the head recruiter said, “You again? You really want this, don’t you?” Some companies would have been annoyed I kept coming back, but I knew from talking to everyone on their team that what they cared about most was hiring people that really wanted to be there.

I ended up getting a first-round interview, which is their famous case interview. The case is designed so you can’t finish it and struggle in the interview. It crushed me; boy was mine terrible. But I knew that they just wanted to see me under pressure, so I never caved and completely bull shited my way through it. What helped me was the head recruiter was the one who interviewed me, and he knew I wanted it bad. I proceeded to go through two more rounds of interviews with the final being an on-site interview in NYC with five interviewers and six interviewees all at the same time in a panel interview. At the center of the five interviewers was the head recruiter with his Michigan jacket on and the moment I saw him and said “Go Blue” I knew I was going to be okay. The interview was a breeze because 75% of the questions were on Glassdoor. Before the interview, a friend of mine and I had the president of our consulting club interview us both at the same time and we preplanned our answers to questions such as “Who out of the other people interviewing would you fire and not want to work with”. We were significantly more prepared than everyone else.

I got the offer and was pretty happy until I learned that ABI had a venture capital arm that had a summer program where they put together teams, gave them $25,000, a problem to solve, and told them to start a company to fix that problem. I decided that was what I was going to do. I asked my recruiter about ZX-Ventures, and they gave me an option, “Interview with ZX-Ventures or hope that my GMT placement was with ZX-Ventures, but if I failed the interview, I wouldn’t get to work with ZX-Ventures.” I chose the option where I had more control, interviewing with ZX-Ventures. The first thing I did was reach out to a former ZX-Ventures employee to learn what they looked for, and that was being bold and entrepreneurial.

The interview was another panel interview, and we had to present a 3-minute case: one minute on yourself, one minute on a strategy to take over the craft-beer market, and one minute on an innovative product. The recruiter told me to spend 4 hours on it. I spent four days. I had everyone I could think of tear apart my strategy and innovative product, which included the president of my consulting club, a Stanford Grad Student, the founder of Victory Brewing, and my old VC Boss. All of them, except the founder of Victory, told me not to pitch my innovative product.

My interview was a panel of 9 ZX-Venture executives interviewing me and two Princeton seniors. I proceeded to tell them about myself, my strategy to take over the craft beer market, and my innovative product… Beer infused with THC from Cannabis or better known as Marijuana Beer.

I got my offer from ZX-Ventures to be in their accelerator within 4 hours.

Takeaways:

  • Learn what a specific company is looking for and make sure to emphasize it
  • If you kind of want an internship and are kind of trying to get it, there is someone who really wants it who is working their butt off
  • Just because someone says “We Only are Accepting X” doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to make exceptions
  • If you know you are at a disadvantage, don’t be afraid to take bold risks
  • If you want something, then make sure to go for it

Junior Year: ZX-Ventures

I ended up getting a return offer for ZX-Ventures to do pretty much anything I wanted the following summer. I chose a product management internship on their E-Commerce team.

Takeaways:

  • If you accept a return offer to your internship you can get access to more autonomy as well as unique opportunities
  • You will learn more from two summers and two different companies than two summers at the same company
  • Your internships are the perfect time to try different things and network
  • If you don’t accept a return internship offer that doesn’t mean you can’t work there full-time
  • You should work at a different place each summer of college, or at least try out new roles and teams each time

All of this recruiting for internships is what made me successful in landing the Product Management role at Microsoft.

Hopefully, this helps someone out there get an internship! Good Luck!

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