Practical ways to get your Internship in Christchurch New Zealand
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
This article is intended for people seeking tech internships in Canterbury New Zealand. It gives some examples of how to start getting experience in the tech field after and during your education. This is based on a talk given by Ian Wells at Aspire2 in February 2018. Please send any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Is tech important in Canterbury?
Sure is. Our Canterbury tech sector adds $2.4billion to the GDP, consists of 9% of the local economy, contributes $1billion in exports and employs over 14.5 thousand people. So tech is a great career choice in Canterbury.
There are more people wanting internships than internships being offered. The problem is, although there is a tech skill shortage in Canterbury, most tech companies want to hire people with 1 to 2 years work experience. The skill shortage is driven by tech industry growth and baby boomer retirements. Here are some ideas to get internships to bridge that gap
Why would you want to get an internship in Christchurch?
Work or intern experience is one of the most important things a potential employer looks for, when considering you for a tech job. Your work or intern experience gives them confidence that you can work effectively in a NZ tech environment and gives them evidence that you have actually done things done in tech, not just studied them.
Who would hire a pianist who just showed you their music grades. You want to hear them play! Software and tech is based on doing things, not just studying them.
Getting an internship in Christchurch may seem confusing.
That’s because it is. Many tertiaries require students to get internships as a pre-requisite to graduating but many students end up waiting to get their degrees officially after they get a job – the job fulfils their internship requirement. That’s not the idea, but there is a shortage of internships available. We have several large, multi-national companies in Christchurch who run excellent internship programs because they know that their future depends on future talent and are willing to invest in interns. “invest” is the right term here because most companies that hire interns find it “costs” them more ( time, effort) to bring in an intern than the value that intern provide at the time.
SMEs ( Small to medium enterprises) in Canterbury often can’t afford the investment in interns so tend not to hire them. They are too busy making product. And most students want an internship from November to February, Christmas and summer breaks being the worst time for most companies to schedule staff workload to guide the student’s work.
Some companies like to hire interns as a way to carry out a long term interview with them, with the possibility of hiring them after graduation. Other companies like to hire interns as a way of raising their own profile in the competitive Canterbury tech talent search.
At tertiaries, professors and staff help students find internships via their personal contacts. However not all students get internships and I would guess going via your professor would favour the top students, because that's in both parties best interest.
For a student, it can seem confusing to get an internship because there are so many ways to get and find interns in Canterbury. And because some students get their internships due to chance meetings and unexpected connections, it can seem that the whole process is ad hoc.
This problem, of course, has got lots of attention. We need to attract talent to Christchurch, we need to give students the chance to get work experience. There are web sites set up to help match make businesses and students.
Student Job search is a national site and from my experience, has not been used a lot for tech jobs. It looks like a great place to find casual employment however..
Sexy Summer Jobs has a lot of resource for students and businesses in Dunedin. It is well connected with Dunedin businesses and has a defined process to get internships, including the Speed Interview event in September. Summer jobs only.
Summer of Tech is currently Auckland and Wellington focused and primarily for summer jobs. It is funded through businesses that hire interns and is free for interns. Offers heaps of training for both interns and businesses. Supports Pacific tech, Marketing and HR students and also now non-summer internships (yes!)
Digital Cafe in Wellington uses a clever business model that integrates marketing student interns ( associates) so as to provide value both to clients and interns.
Signal ICT Graduate School 1 year graduate program with a campus in Christchurch. Practical experience and projects, industry internships that are 3 months long and offered at times not in the summer.
I will describe some examples of successful internships, some approaches to get an internship, tips on job interviews and some further reading.
Is it possible to have a less confusing way to get and find interns?
Yes, there are examples from other parts of the world where university and jobs are better integrated. For example, the University of Waterloo co-op program. I have experience with this program both as a student and an employer years ago, when I was manager of testing in Christchurch. I had a fixed deadline to test the latest high accuracy GPS hand held mapping unit. I did not have enough testers on staff to meet the deadline. This was in the winter. I needed smart, motivated, and critical thinking people to do testing for a fixed amount of time. The solution was to hire interns, but where could I find them? How could I find the best students with the least amount of effort? I needed to hire them full time. I developed a way to organise my testing team consisting of master testers ( ie my staff) who created test processes plus motivated student interns. This combination worked great - it enabled us to find the most number of critical problems in the least amount of time. Interns were a perfect business fit because the interns brought fresh thinking to some complex problems and what was repetitive to the master testers, was new to them. Perfect for finding new ideas. The interns themselves, most who would not take up a testing career, gained valuable insights into quality testing, to help them in their careers, when they would be working with testers.
I ended up hiring interns from University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada because the program there matched my business and schedule and skill needs perfectly. I got full time motivated students all year round, something I could not find in New Zealand, sadly.
I hired students for 4 month work terms, 1-7 at a time. They provided excellent business value – it took about a month for them to come up to speed technically and after that were self motivated, productive and worked together as a team and brought excitement, insight and most importantly found bugs so they were fixed before release. Really worked well for all involved.
The Waterloo experience made it clear that there are better models for internships in the world. The Waterloo co-op model obviously cannot be applied here in New Zealand - it requires a wholesale restructuring of universities.
As an employer, what did I look for when hiring intern testers?
When I interviewed the Waterloo students, I looked for 2 years education at least, high attention to detail, proven critical thinking and problem solving. My most revealing interview question was "give me an example of how you solved a particularly hard problem" ( the answer “looked it up on google” was the wrong answer)
I looked for both written and verbal communication skills ( critical for describing engineering problems), also enthusiasm and ability to work on their own but know when to ask for help.
How to find an internship in Canterbury
If you don’t have a professor or staff person finding you an internship, then I recommend 3 things
Anecdotally 60% of jobs and internships are found through contacts and networking; these jobs are not advertised. People not from Christchurch find networking especially challenging because so many people in Christchurch are already connected through school and family to others in Christchurch have existing networks. It is an extra challenge to break into these existing networks and of course, extra benefit to the companies who find employees/interns from places other companies have overlooked!
The goal of networking is to find the person who needs YOU at that time. Although we all have many connections on line, face to face is the most effective way to network. You need to talk to other people and its actually fun. The more people you talk to, the better sense you get of the industry here and how things work. And the more known you get.
Where do you find networking opportunities?
Coffee and Jam Tuesday noon meetings is great – they even have shout out opportunities.
Canterbury Tech meets first Tuesday of each month and is jam packed and free for students.
The Tech summit is held yearly and and is the premier tech conference in Christchurch.
Tech week is coming up in April with lots of events and networking opportunities.
And of course, meetups on every topic and almost every day all month. The point is to go there and meet people who can direct you in the right direction. You may meet people that you could schedule time with to meet over coffee. So much business is done over coffee these days.
Think about what you would say to someone when you meet them face to face. Do not ask them for a job. If you like reading books, and meet someone else who also does, talk books, Or ask about their favourite podcasts. You will find most tech people working do want to be helpful to people to get started in the industry, because every one of them had been starting out too. They might know of someone else who has opportunities available – ask! Or just chat about common interests and find a way to help them out.
But before you start networking, its good to have a couple of things nailed down. First is your CV – ideally one page, listing very specific accomplishments written in the active voice.The CV has to meet the needs of the person who could hire you. Do not include a photo. Also give examples of how you have fitted into some company or team culture – demonstrate soft skills. Have a colleague review it – or ask someone you meet to review it. CVs usually need quite a bit of work before they are aligned with NZ and tech business needs.
While you are at it, create a Linkedin Profile and put your final CV on it. Check to make sure your public Facebook, etc pages reflect your professional side.
Based on your CV, and before networking, you need to have stories - your stories. Stories are what people remember. Everyone has experiences that relate to what an employer would like to hear about, even if they are not directly in your industry. Work up a few of your stories so you can tell them in response in a variety of questions. There are lots of places on the web to find out how to tell a good story, if you have not done it before.
For example, its good to have a story ready of how you solved a real and hard problem. Or what you did when you found something surprising. Or how you handled a hard situation working on a team. Or solved a customer problem. Or what your colleagues said about you.
I remember my friend Felix. He had just graduated from Uni. He was really smart and had ok grades, but had never had a summer job or any job at all. After graduating, he basically sat in his room and looked on the web, and applied online for a few jobs but of course got no replies. I recommended, as I have here, he fix up his CV ( a lot) and get business cards. I helped tease out stories from his uni experience. I recommended he start networking and talk to people and eventually he would find someone who wanted to hire him. I reminded him networking would be hard and would take repeated tries – it was clearly not his strength – Felix was much more at home on a keyboard, not face to face. I coached him how to start a conversation and advised him to go to Coffee and Jam.
The next time I went to Coffee and Jam, Felix was there! He was reading the bulletin board while people milled about. I was pleased to see him - he was taking the first step! I brought him over and introduced him to my friend Harvey who runs a startup. Harvey and Felix immediately struck up a conversation when they realised they had a common passion for a particular technology. Within 4 sentences – and I am not making this up, Harvey asked if Felix would like to join him as an unpaid internship leading to a full time job. Needless to say, Felix said yes and started work the next week! Advice to job seekers: this is NOT typical - networking takes a long time to get results like this ( except for Felix).
This was a few months ago, I called up Harvey. “how did that internship work out?” I asked. Harvey said it was great – Felix had indeed proved his worth as an unpaid intern, then was being paid; a second intern was hired and the 2 inters worked as self-motivated team, addressing some hard problems that Harvey needed solved. And Felix not only solved the problems, but would come back to Harvey if assumptions were wonky - he was thinking about what he was being asked to do. The keys to this successful internship, Harvey told me, were that
Felix was really smart - the 2 interns worked together mostly autonomously. Felix had approached him, which showed Harvey that Felix was motivated before even knowing an internship was available.
After you have found a person or company hiring, or after your “coffee interview”, you will have a real job interview. A recent podcast told me that most interviewers make up their minds in the first 10 seconds!
So – number one, don’t be late, have firm handshake, good eye contact, remember their name, dress appropriately, read about the company beforehand,, and pay attention to everyone around you.
There is lots written about interviews. Be sure to bring your stories, some technical, some about soft skills. Be culturally aware. Leave your business card.
At the end, shake hands, say good bye with the person’s name. I like to follow up the next day or so with a short email to the interviewers about something I forgot to say or something I thought of afterwards.
In this country, employers do tend to send you a yes or no email saying whether you got the job or not, which is very polite.
Main thing for before you interview – practice practice practice. Find someone who will pretend to interview you and do it 5 or 6 times! Its also best if you can interview first at jobs you are not interested in, and save your most practiced interview for the company that matters most!
Ways to distinguish yourself
Many people want a job of course. The things employers look for is proof that you have done something ( not just studied it) and you are productive in a New Zealand team environment. The second one is hardest for a student or a foreign student. I know of some experienced tech immigrants who had trouble getting a job because of lack of experience in NZ companies. What this person did was first get a job doing service work, then adding that to their CV showing they had kiwi service/team experience and combined that with foreign tech experience to get their current tech job.
Here are other ways to distinguish yourself based on doing things.
Volunteer ( for example at Code Club)
Be a Maker - make somethingCreate an app
Contribute to open source or git hub, so others can see your codeBe an entrepreneur ( Ministry of Awesome can help you)
Find a mentor and work with them
Some additional References
For cultural understanding, The Culture Map was recommended to me.
Podcasts are an easy way to keep up to date with the tech world – including Canterbury ( risky business, Seeds, NZ tech podcast, a16z, etc)
Student Job Search (SJS)
Summer of Tech
Sexy summer jobs ( Dunedin)
Blogs: reddit, wired, etc
How to make friends and influence people – still relevant today!