An Intern's Guide to Gaining Confidence, Building your Network and Expanding your Skillset

Woman standing in front of a digital community.I’m a first-generation, Hispanic woman from South Houston majoring in computer science and specializing in cybersecurity. In my college experience thus far, I haven’t been surrounded by an abundance of information on preparing for a career after college. I’m not sure anyone thought, based on my background, that I would make it this far.

I became interested in computer science due to my love of being a level 80 warrior in World of Warcraft. After I achieved this feat, I was absolutely consumed by the idea of becoming a game designer. A few Java programming courses almost squashed this dream relatively quickly, but eventually I discovered I wasn’t so terrible at coding after all. Realizing that I am going to pursue this as a career one way or another, I began to seek out professional development in any way, shape or form that I could get my hands on.

Here are four tips that have helped me gain confidence, build my network, grow my skillset and follow my STEM career dream: 

1. Some job qualifications are negotiable.

You’ve probably heard the statistic,“Men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.”*

Is it true? I don’t know. I’m not a statistician. But I do know that as women, we have this compulsive need for checking boxes. When first applying to internships, I was always creating reasons to not Yesenia Valles standing in front of Emerson We <3 STEM.apply because of hurdles I’ve yet to overcome.

When you fall into this mindset, it becomes important to evaluate yourself. Take stock of and show off the skills that you rock, while humbly admitting that you are willing to learn new skills. Everyone has room to grow but a constant stride for perfection can hinder you from progressing in any field.

2. Use social media to simplify the concept of networking.

Networking is essential to a successful job search. However, the idea of making and keeping up with so many professional connections can be daunting for a busy student (or anyone). The mere thought of building a network often derailed me from even making that attempt. So instead of jumping right into the deep end of things, I decided to break the ice professionally, by using LinkedIn and Twitter.

LinkedIn helped me connect with a former lecturer, now mentor, who I never got the opportunity to take a class from. Today, I bounce ideas off him and have received some of the best professional advice (including tips for writing this blog post.)

Using these platforms, I have sought out people from companies that interest me and can have a casual conversation with them. I was astounded at how easy it was to connect with someone by just showing interest in what they had to say.

If you’re a person who likes to make a face-to-face connection, there is also something out there for you. Meetup.com is another great resource I use to find workshops and networking events in my area. You’ll notice that most of these events take place in more relaxed environments as opposed to formal conference halls, which is great for developing more meaningful connections

3. Learn and practice the Law of Attraction to create a better support network.

Making genuine connections with people who I also I want to build professional relationships with is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in college. You can hack yourself into dream positions by placing yourself around those who inspire you, even if you feel like they are astronomically more experienced or “smarter” than you. It’s called the Law of Attraction. It is the concept that if you focus on, for example, a goal or being positive you will see more of that subject or idea in your life. This goes hand in hand with putting yourself out there and making it a point to not just meet people but connect with them.

A great read I suggest to help you grasp this concept is How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. This book can help you learn about and understand people’s interests in a genuine way. Using these concepts helped me create a robust network of people who have not only helped me achieve my goals, but have become great friends in the process.

4.  Pursue a passion project to round out your skills and experience.

Make it a point to push yourself out of your comfort zone and learn new things, document your findings and teach them to others. Every day, I recommend working on a project of your own or contributing to someone else’s project. These activities should be separate from your day job and they should challenge you creatively.

There is a plethora of resources for finding open-source projects to join, but I think the easiest resource is Github. If coding isn’t your thing, starting up your own blog and maintaining it on a personal domain is highly suggested. On your blog, you can review professional books online, post about any creative projects you are working on and show a side of you that is more personal than a traditional resume.

Every day, I am becoming more and more confident with myself and my abilities. Instead of viewing my “unconventional” background as a crutch, I choose to think that it has better prepared me for the “real world” by giving me a perspective that is different from my peers. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

*Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2014/09/11/are-women-too-timid-when-they-job-search/#20088919411d

  • Love the "Law of Attraction" advice.  It's relevent, true and something I will put into practice. Thanks for opening our eyes to it, Yesenia!

  • Yesenia - this post is full of valuable advice but actually fun to read! I agree that colleges aren't the best at helping you prepare for a real career and I love your suggestions for taking the lead on that. Sometimes what you do outside of the office can be just as beneficial to your career. Thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for the great post !  A lot of great insight in here for all of us to learn from.  I especially like your advice around the "Law of Attraction" - I have found that being surrounded by great people helps all of us do better.