Up to Interpretation

Let Interns Apply Late

Why do companies punish applying late? If a student dares to start their intern application process in January or February, they’re met with a wall of “Sorry, we’ve finished our intern hiring process for the year”. Why is that? It’s not like earliness beyond all reasonableness is an inherently good quality. Plenty of great applicants apply late, whether due to exigent circumstances (cough COVID cough), ignorance of timescales, or laziness.

Yes, yes, the early bird gets the worm, fortune favors the prepared, I know the aphorisms. But plenty of brilliant, hard working programmers are lazy about recruiting. That shouldn’t rule them out for jobs.

Internship recruiting gets earlier every year because companies keep racing to scoop up the same pool of talented interns. If Microsoft hires their interns in October, then Amazon can scoop up a few who would have gone to Microsoft by hiring in September.

But why keep desperately raising the stakes for the same pool of interns? It’s not the only source. For every intern who starts preparing their spreadsheet of applications in July, there’s multitudes who don’t even think about internships until winter break.

Indeed this knowledge about recruiting cycles and early-ism—as I’m deciding to call it—is restricted to those who inhabit certain circles, whether that be prestigious schools, online communities such as /r/csMajors or just an ambitious friend group. If you exit those spheres, you realize how few people are actually even contenders for these jobs.

But what drives recruiters to blindly insist on recruiting earlier and earlier, instead of sitting down and questioning the beliefs that drive them to these ridiculous conclusions?

I suppose there’s the common problem of inertia. This is the way it’s always been done. But ascribing too much to inertia is being uncharitable to recruiters. There’s understandable reasons why recruiters insist on earliness. A recruiter’s job is to hire good programmers. From the perspective of a recruiter, there’s a pool of applicants and since every company is taking from the same applicant pool, it makes sense to arrive early to get the best applicants.

That’s what I’d term a local solution. It solves the problem in the local, immediate sense. Need better candidates? Start recruiting earlier. You cut yourself? Get a band-aid.

But this isn’t the only way to solve a problem. Local solutions don’t scale and often miss the true issue at hand. You can keep recruiting earlier, but eventually it’ll get ridiculous. If you keep on cutting yourself, you don’t put on more band-aids; you examine how you’re using the knife.

Instead, let’s try to find non-local solutions. Let’s not try to get more applicants from the current applicant pool. How about we find other applicant pools? If I were a recruiter for a moderately large company, I’d have two rounds of recruiting. I’d have the traditional recruiting round that gets earlier every year. Perhaps by 2030 it’ll be right after high school graduation. I’d also have a recruiting round right before the internship, perhaps from March to May. Maybe even June.

By that late, we’ve exhausted the typical applicant pool. However this does not imply that we’ve exhausted all potential applicants. Far from it, we’d probably get a remarkable applicant pool. We’d get the crazy ones, the misfits1, the people who didn’t or couldn’t apply earlier. Cloudflare is a great example of a company that hires late. They even expanded their intern class due to COVID. I hope other companies follow in their footsteps.

  1. The people who (mis)quote Steve Jobs ↩︎