How not to get a summer internship

I recently received the following email, sent to a non-work-related account I have. Except for removing this person’s name and city, I have not changed the text or formatting (size, boldness, line breaks) at all.

Dear Prof. Davidson,

I am a pre-final year undergraduate student doing Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science and Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), <city redacted>. I am interested in the field of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Vision and looking for a challenging opportunity for summer internship for the period of May-July 2008 under your able guidance at your place.

I read about your research papers which included research on %TITLE%…. I have been really motivated by this area and would hence like to work in the same.

The knowledge in my fields of interest is attributed to the projects and courses that I have done under the guidance of the Professors here at IIT <city redacted>.

I have a current CGPA of 8.0(on a 10 point scale)
I believe that having had the practical learning experience backed by theoretical concepts, I would be able to contribute to your research group, thereby enriching my learning of the subject.
Hence, I request you to consider me for training for a suitable available project in the above field.
Please find my CV enclosed with this mail.

Thanking you in anticipation.

<name redacted>
Pre-Final Undergraduate
Computer Science and Engineering
IIT <city redacted>

Encl : Resume(.pdf format)

Before we get any further, let me note a few things.

  • I’m not a professor. I have never been a professor. I do not ever intend to become one.
  • I have never taken a class on AI or computer vision. Although I have published papers tangentially related to the subjects, I claim no expertise in either one.
  • What’s going on with those misplaced newlines? Keep your sentences in paragraphs, buddy. More importantly, don’t change the font size—it makes you seem computer illiterate (which is bad when you’re looking for a job in CS).
  • Perhaps I’m being too hard on him. After all, he’s read my paper on %TITLE%, so he obviously knows something about my work!
  • This email was not sent to my main account; it was sent to a side account. I’ve only used it as my contact info in one publication, and that one was less than two pages long. It basically said a team I was on had started to build a robot, and that we intended to take it to a conference in a few months. So even if he did read one of my publications, it was the one with absolutely no real content.

This by itself would be bad enough to get rejected six ways till Sunday. Oh, but it got better when I opened the resume. I’m not going to post the whole thing online because it’s full of personal information, but here are some choice observations:

  • He listed five areas of interest, none of which was computer vision. These topics were so diverse that I can’t think of a single career that covers more than two of them.
  • The “Relevant Courses” section includes classes on relativity and real analysis. I, too, have taken courses on both topics, and I still don’t see how either one is related to computer science or computer engineering.
  • The “Technical Skills” section says he’s proficient in Micorsoft Visual Studio. Presumably this is a competitor to Microsoft’s product. Remember that this is in his resume, which ought to be the most polished piece of writing he’s ever done.
  • The “Extra-Curricular Activities” section says he participated in the state ping-pong tournament in 2001. Dude, you were in 9th grade at the time, and you didn’t even place in the tournament. Why is this on your resume?
  • He placed 5rd in an international programming contest. 5rd is apparently such a high rank that I can’t find his name anywhere in the top 10 teams for that year’s contest.
  • His resume had seven entries under “Work Experience.” On further inspection, however, two of these were participation in reading clubs, two were class projects that took less than a month each, and none of them appeared to be real research or real work experience. All of them occurred during either August 2007 or January 2008, so I can’t imagine any of them were full-time endeavours.
  • The resume is typeset in LaTeX, but it’s obvious he doesn’t know how to use it. I won’t bore you with the details, but he made many huge mistakes here. The only reason I could tell it was done in LaTeX at all is that he correctly used the LaTeX logo in the “Technical Skills” section. If he’s as proficient in his other skills as he is in this one, I don’t understand how he’s made it through two years of college without failing out.

I almost feel bad for this guy—he will never, ever get a job at the rate he’s going. However, he can serve as a poignant example to the rest of us.

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  1. This is likely not a student searching for a job, it is probably someone phishing for information about work you or your company is doing. Ignore him.

    • dhalps says:

      Actually, I would say that it almost certainly looks legit for certain very small values of legit. It’s actually much more likely that he couldn’t get into an IIT and as a consequence is applying for stuff with which to pad his resume. And relying on your inability to confirm things in India.

      • Alan says:

        As far as I can tell, he really goes to that IIT. He named several of the profs there in his “Work Experience.” Looking into it more, he actually misspelled one of their names, but at least their research interests correlate perfectly with the classes listed on his resume. I can even forgive his misspelling here; perhaps he has only seen the name spelled in a Hindic alphabet before and he didn’t check the English version of the school’s website. He also claims to have gone to a conference held annually at that particular IIT. If this is an outright fabrication, it’s good enough that I can’t distinguish it from a legitimate but half-assed resume.

        As for the international programming contest I mentioned, it’s a contest headquartered at his school. I can believe he placed either 5th or 3rd (with a typo) in his class and simply didn’t mention that last part. It looks much more impressive if you leave out certain details, no?

    • Alan says:

      I considered that, but it’s good enough that I think he really is looking for an internship. This email address is in no way associated with my current job. My name appears first on that publication (we made them alphabetical by last name), so I can half understand how he got the idea that I was the lead researcher or professor on the project. If this is phishing, it’s the most personal, targeted phishing attempt I’ve ever seen.

      I do agree with your conclusion, though. I’m not even going to reply to this guy.

  2. janna says:

    Oh man, at the career fair we had someone tell us he was interested in a job for like a year and a half before he planned on leaving to pursue his masters. I guess honesty is nice… but thats a really bad position to put yourself in. I know its mostly unrelated… but it fits with how not to market yourself…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Some clarifications…..

    Mr./Dr. (whichever pleases you more) Davison,

    I would like to make a comment on your post. It was a case of an IIT student really getting his Internship application wrong, but rest assured he is from an IIT. I, myself being a CS student from IIT would like to say (at the cost of sounding like a lid-blower!) that this guy is one of the many IITians who apply to institutions/companies/work groups abroad for their internship and this is the sort of application that they send to all such places. As far as the text formatting errors are concerned, I guess he has copy pasted stuff from different places, so that screwed up the uniformity of the mail :)

    As far as your opinion of the resume being the ‘most polished piece of writing he’s ever done’ , a fact remains that IITians generally don’t pay much attention to this aspect as they are guaranteed good jobs and in the Indian scenario, the resume doesn’t need to be immaculately done as is the case in the US and other countries.

    I would say that he’s made a lot of rookie mistakes (I myself had a hearty laugh after reading this!). You’ve already pointed that out, so I probably shouldn’t reiterate.

    Although this is not the best practice, every year lots of IIT students send out such applications (mostly better than this particular one!) in order to get a chance to work in different environments. One of the major reasons is the acute lack of Research facilities in India. So people seek alternate avenues, like university research groups, research institutions etc. Plus who would want to miss out on a nice trip to the US or Europe! :)

    As far as the ‘phishing’ hunch goes, well that is really misplaced!

    All in all, the guy has indeed made a nice little mess of his application but I guess that was inexperience showing :)

    • Alan says:

      Re: Some clarifications…..

      As far as the ‘phishing’ hunch goes, well that is really misplaced!

      I disagree. This is exactly like phishing except that this guy actually needs to show up and do work before he gets money. Just like phishing, he has sent his proposal to a total stranger without knowing anything about the person (for instance, I’m not a professor, I don’t work in AI or vision, and I don’t work at a university or research institute). Like phishing, it appears that he sent these out to as many people as he could find, hoping that a small percentage will reply (the %TITLE% makes me believe this was auto-generated, and he could very well have sent out thousands of these. He only needs one person to write back with an offer.). Like phishing, he flat-out lied in his email (if he had read any of my papers he would know he’s on the wrong track, and in his resume he heavily distorted the truth regarding his participation in the programming contest). The only difference between this and phishing is that this guy used his real name and is willing to hold up his end of the proposed deal.

      This is definitely not phishing, but it’s about as close as you can get without doing something fraudulent/illegal.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: Some clarifications…..

        I bet this is the first time you are receiving such an application from anyone in IIT (or from India). The all too “extreme” errors in this piece is actually quite common. I confess of making similar mistakes when it was my turn.
        The lack of research before mailing was the biggest problem, but then not all applications are like this.
        This is in part an issue of cultural difference. I bet the resume had date of birth, gender and other personal information. I agree with what the earlier comment said about copy pasting stuff. Its just something not taken as seriously as its here (US)
        There are no resume writing centers or workshops to teach you how to sell yourself. This guy did what he could with the limited resources available. Sometimes I do get mails form my juniors (yes I am an IIT alumni) asking for help which usually results in a long reply suggesting corrections.
        My request to you would be to send that kid a link to this blog (from an anonymous id if u wish). Atleast then all your effort be put to some real good. Making change where it is required.

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