When you’re trying to land your dream job in tech, getting your “foot in the door” at an organization is half the battle. One common way that aspiring developers break into tech and land entry-level positions is through apprenticeships and internships.
These programs allow people from non-traditional backgrounds to work (and get paid!) as an engineer at an organization for a period of time, with the goal of ultimately getting hired at the end. An internship or apprenticeship is a great opportunity to demonstrate your coding skills through hands-on engineering projects, forge relationships with devs who could become your colleagues, and experience what it’s really like to work at an organization. However, depending upon the specific program, a job offer is not 100% guaranteed for all apprentices and interns.
Here’s some advice from Skillacademy Software Engineers who made the leap from apprentice to full-time employee. Whether you’re wrapping up a summer internship or just want some advice for an entry-level position, these tips will help you stand out and boost your chances of getting hired.
If you find yourself apologizing for asking “dumb questions,” we totally get it — but there’s nothing wrong with having questions and being curious. Learning and asking questions is a hugely important part of being a Software Engineer, so “you should get comfortable doing it,” says Ana Harris, a Software Engineer at Skillacademy.
As an apprentice or intern, you might worry that your questions will reveal your inexperience, explains Sylvana Santos, a Software Engineer at Skillacademy. Don’t let that fear keep you from asking important questions: The sooner you ask, the sooner you’ll get unstuck. “Always ask questions and don’t be afraid to feel silly,” Sylvana says. “Most of the time, you don’t sound silly at all. You just think you do.”
Act like it’s the “real deal”
Your workload as an apprentice or intern probably won’t change majorly after going full-time, says Jenesh Napit, a Software Engineer at Skillacademy. Even though you’re “just an apprentice,” you should approach your work as though you’re already hired, Jenesh says.
“As an intern or apprentice we can often think that we are not capable of doing the work of other full-time engineers and that we are getting easy tasks, but don’t be fooled — you’re getting the real deal,” Jenesh says. “So just do your best and don’t think of yourself as ‘just’ an intern or apprentice. You are fully capable and ready for the next step in your career.”
Set goals based on competencies
Apprenticeship programs are often structured so that participants have a clear understanding of the competencies they need to reach in order to be considered for a full-time offer at the end. (A “competency” is another word for the measurable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors that define success in a role.)
Ana recalls working with her mentor and manager from day one to establish those competencies and create goals that aligned with them. “We had a 30- 60- and 90-day plan, and we checked in on my progress every week,” she says.
Work with as many people as you can
Sylvana made a goal at the start of her apprenticeship to meet with as many engineers as possible, even ones who weren’t on her direct team, so she could learn about the different roles in the organization. She also mentioned this goal to her manager, who was able to keep an eye out for opportunities to work across different departments and could help facilitate introductions.
A good ice breaker if you want to get to know people outside of your department is to ask someone what they’re working on that they’re excited about. “I was very curious about what other people were working on,” Sylvana says. “I would be like, ‘Hey, I noticed you’re working on this thing. Would you mind if I shadow you and see what you’re up to?’”
Support your peers
The high-stakes nature of today’s job market can make you feel like you’re competing against your fellow interns and apprentices. While there may not be a guaranteed job offer for everyone at the end of the program, it’s important to foster a supportive environment with the other apprentices and interns, Sylvana says.
“We would help each other out if we got stuck, share tips, and give each other opportunities,” she recalls. “I think that was a big part of what makes this program successful and helped me to get the offer at the end.” Plus, you never know who you may end up working with down the line.
Get feedback from your mentor
It’s pretty standard for an intern or apprentice to get paired with a mentor who manages and guides them. Your mentor is there to help you, so “try to get their feedback and support from the very start and work with them towards a full-time position,” Ana suggests.
Mentors can also help with the less technical aspects of your career development. For example, Jenesh wishes he would have focused more on his soft skills, like communication, during his apprenticeship. “It’s hard to practice soft skills,” he says.
Keep in mind: Your mentor is also getting practice managing you, so everyone wins, Sylvana says. “A big part of being a Senior Engineer is enabling engineers who are more junior than you,” she says. “Helping people get unstuck and advising on projects is integral to them being able to move up [in their careers] as well.”
Voice your opinions
People experience impostor syndrome at every stage of their career — but it’s especially relevant when you’re first starting out. Looking back, Ana says she struggled to confidently express her opinions as an apprentice because she was so afraid of being wrong.
“I never in the past had issues with confidence or voicing my opinions, but in this particular situation — as a bootcamp grad, immigrant, non-native English speaker — I thought that I didn’t have enough knowledge and experience to be listened to,” Ana says. “Now I can tell that that approach was wrong, and that my way of thinking and understanding of engineering was most of the time correct.”
Integrating with the company where you’re interning or apprenticing can feel awkward at first (especially if you’re working remotely), but you should take advantage of any opportunities to connect with other people within your organization. Are there non-work activities that you could participate in, or clubs and ERGs that are open to apprentices?
For example, Sylvana recalls joining a book club and attending brown bag talks as an apprentice, which helped her get face time with engineers outside her team. “That was a really great way for me to show, like: Not only am I invested on the technical side and helping us get work done from an engineering perspective, but I also really like engaging in community, asking questions in those spaces, and sharing knowledge,” she says.
Hopefully this advice from people who successfully navigated the apprentice-to-engineer pipeline will help you feel confident going into an apprenticeship or internship. Remember: There’s no single path to finding a more fulfilling work life.
Ready to start applying to entry-level jobs? Check out this guide to making a Junior Developer portfolio (because, yes, you need one), plus our guide for writing a resume and some sample interview questions to practice. For even more job-search resources like portfolio projects and interview prep, head to our Career Center.