Why this Kitten got meow an Internship
Looking for a non-technical startup internship as a foreigner in the US is rough. Although I am pursuing my master’s degree in business and engineering, have startup experience, and have been organizing the Lean Startup Meetups in Karlsruhe, Germany for one and a half years, most of the companies I applied to didn’t even take the time to write me back, to be honest. I was just one of hundreds.
I believe these are the reasons that made it so difficult for me to get a non-technical internship:
- Language barriers: Non-technical positions often require strong communication skills. A lot of content creation and editorial work is involved. Obviously I’m at a disadvantage compared to native speakers, here.
- Visa stuff: Although I already had a visa for my exchange year at UMass, many companies discarded me because they feared they’d need to act as visa sponsor, which is expensive and time-consuming.
- My major and university: Although my major is well-known in Germany and my university is first in many rankings, many people here in the US just don’t know about it and prefer familiar alternatives.
So here I was, applying to companies on sophisticated online platforms (which probably sorted me out automatically), trying to reach out to as many contacts as possible. I got so fast at writing cover letters. The problem: apparently no one really reads your cover letter. At least I have that feeling after all the interviews I’ve had.
Following up with a Kitten
My visa extension application date was nearing and I was still waiting for a lot of replies. Someone told me that I should give it a try to check in with everyone after like a week. Startup life is noisy and it could have happened that people just forgot to write back or my E-Mail got lost in the fray.
I knew that busy startup founders probably get a lot of boring E-Mails, so I tried this:
And it worked! Immediately (I mean minutes after I sent it out), I got responses and people asking me for interviews. It was crazy. Here are 3 reasons why I think it worked.
Do the Unexpected
I wrote a blogpost about unexpectedness some time ago. About doing something your “target audience” (in this case the founder or person in charge for interns) doesn’t expect. Although my applications weren’t that fancy, my kitten image made me stand out. Also, most people really like cats (duh) and connected my resume/cover letter with positive emotions. At least that’s what I hoped.
Know your Audience
Of course I’m not telling everyone to go out and wildly send kitten pictures to anyone. It highly depends on who you want to reach. I usually do quite some research before applying for a job: who are the people working there, how is their humor, how does the overall working environment seem to be like to me? Obviously I would’ve never applied for a Wall Street job with a picture of a cat. (Obviously I would’ve never applied for a Wall Street job.)
At first, I was afraid that people wouldn’t get my humor and just find it awkward and not funny at all. My second thought was, though: Do I want to work with people that don’t appreciate a friendly reminder with a kitten? It’s a bit of a weird way to put it, but I see it as kind of like a “natural selection”: I don’t want to be interviewed by people who don’t respond to that E-Mail anyways, so everything is fine!
That’s pretty much it. I’ve been learning a lot while applying for internships. I’m glad I found a great job and eventually switched to sending pugs rather than kittens to my coworkers on Hipchat. I don’t exactly know why. I like both.