McGill TechFair: An Honest Review

By Marie-Lynn Mansour

On February 6th and 7th, a variety of companies, both big and small, set up their booths for the McGill TechFair. Hundreds of students attended, dressed their best, resumes in hand, waiting in line to talk to one of the dozens of company representatives present at the semi-annual event.

Every semester at TechFair, there seems to be one recurring trend: the long lines at all the “known” brand names – Bell Canada, Bombardier, SNC Lavalin, Lowe Canada, Cisco, etc… Of course, this makes sense. Everyone wants to get an internship with the well-known names, because it looks great on a resume. Every semester, without fail, you can see at least a dozen students lined up and waiting to talk to the representatives of these companies. My question is, why don’t just as many people line up for the lesser known businesses?

I’ve been to the TechFair for my past 4 semesters at McGill. The first time, in freshman year, I was naturally excited to go talk to Google and Bombardier and all these huge companies. But after the 2-day event, I realized how much time I wasted waiting in line to talk to the representatives, wasting printouts of my resume, only for nothing to come out of it. After that first experience, I vowed to talk to smaller and mid-sized companies the next time around.

Companies like Bell, Bombardier, Pomerleau, or Honeywell get hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants from around the world for their summer internship programs. Landing an internship with any of these corporations is a phenomenal achievement and yes, it would look great on your resume. But why do we overlook the value of interning with a smaller, “lesser known” company?

Every company has something to offer to its interns, whether it is a billion-dollar corporation or a start-up. There are lessons to be learned, experiences to be had, and skills to be acquired. We tend to think that only the larger companies will permit us to achieve these at the end of the 4-month summer, but I am going to attempt to prove this wrong. Here are five reasons why interning at smaller to mid-sized companies can be just as valuable, if not more so:

#1: There is a smaller volume of applicants. A smaller volume of applicants means a greater chance of getting not only the internship, but, if applicable, the position you want as well.

#2: The opportunity to create stronger relationships. Interning for a smaller or mid-sized companies enables you to forge better connections with the people you are working with, since there are fewer of them.

#3: The ability to be in a more personal environment. In general, bigger companies tend to have more impersonal, generic work environments. Since there are fewer people in a smaller company, the environment tends to be much more friendly and less cold.

#4: Having more opportunity to help and contribute. There are more opportunities to work on various projects, contribute your ideas and opinions, and have bigger responsibilities than you would at a larger company.

#5: Leaving a more lasting impression. Because there are fewer people, you have the opportunity to have a lasting effect on people. This connects to point #2. The relationships that are fostered during the internship will allow you to show people who you are. It can set you up for more internship/job opportunities in the future.

Sharon Kattar, a second year software engineering student at McGill, gave me her opinion on the TechFair and whether she prefers going to see the smaller companies or the larger ones: “I personally like visiting smaller companies, but not so small that they’re more probable to only hire one intern. I prefer the smaller companies, or less famous companies, because I believe they receive a lower volume of applications. I also like to believe that the work environment at smaller companies is fun and truly reflects the company representatives that they send to TechFair.”

Naturally, interning at a big company is an incredible experience, and if you have the opportunity to intern for one, you should take it. But never forget the value of the unique encounters and the distinctive experiences gained from interning at a small or mid-sized company. You can surprise yourself with the things you will learn interning at that one company no one has ever heard of. And in the end, yes, we do internships to have things to put on our resumes, but we also do them for the skills we learn and the people we meet along the way.