It’s never too early to start planning for college internships. That was the case when Edward Li, a business major at the University of California-Irvine’s Merage School of Business, got a chance to work within one of the hottest young companies — Uber.
“Although not everyone will intern after their first year of undergrad, coming from a non-target school for consulting, I really wanted to build up as much work experience as I could,” Li says. “I was applying to — and getting rejected from — a lot of 2018 summer internships.”
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Li was involved in many extracurriculars in high school, including student government, sports teams, and clubs. One of those clubs was the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), which he later became president of at his high school.
During his time with the FBLA, Li says he was exposed to the world of business and competed in case study and business plan competitions at the local, state, and national level. In the process of preparing for the competitions, Li was paired with a strategy consultant professional to help guide him, and he says the connection convinced him to begin pursuing his interest in the business professional services industry, ideally in management consulting or risk advisory.
As he persisted and applied to all the relevant internship opportunities he came across while wrapping up his first year of college, Li says he was getting worried that it was too late to secure an internship. In May last year, he came across a listing where Uber was seeking a “Restaurant Partnership Onboarding Intern” while looking for opportunities on LinkedIn. Li, a Silicon Valley town of Cupertino, says his familiarity with the brand led him to apply but he was not expecting a reply.
“When I was in high school, Uber was revered as one of the most influential unicorn, startups of its time,” Li says. “The internship listing seemed really interesting because it was on the Uber Eats team and described work to expand the restaurant partners on the platform. I did not know as much about Uber Eats, but I love food, and it was EasyApply, so I decided to send in an application.”
LANDING THE INTERNSHIP
Within a week of applying, Li says he was invited to a phone screening with a recruiter where he was asked some behavioral questions and about his resume. That was followed by a similar video interview with the same recruiter. When he passed that, he was sent a written and analytical exercise via email that consisted of responding to a lengthy email from a hypothetical Uber Eats restaurant partner and utilizing formulas to pull and analyze restaurant data in Excel. And finally, he took part in a second round video interview where he spoke with multiple people who were pod leads for the Western Region SMB (Small and Medium Businesses) Restaurant Onboarding, Southern Region SMB Restaurant Onboarding, and U.S. & Canada Enterprise Restaurant Onboarding team for Uber Eats. While Li took the interview via video, he says that the company asks those based in the San Francisco area to interview in person.
Things moved fast and by early June, Li received an offer for the summer internship.
“I was really excited but this was literally the Friday before finals week so I was also stressed at the time,” he says. “I remember having to do all the paperwork and tax documents during finals week which was rough but I was very relieved I found a summer internship and excited to start.”
INTERNING AT A PRE-IPO COMPANY
For 12 weeks starting in June, Li says his days usually started off with his family dropping him off at the CalTrans station in Sunnyvale to catch the 7:32 a.m. train. After one and a half hours, Li would arrive in San Francisco and take the 30-minute walk to one of Uber’s three corporate offices in San Francisco, arriving at about 9:30 a.m. Li made sure to stop by one of Uber’s many food spots for employees for breakfast before heading to his workspace.
“They had smoothie machines, lox, bagels, avocado, fresh fruit, and plenty of snacks and drinks,” Li says. “After breakfast, we would usually have a team meeting of some sort: all SMB Onboarding, Self-Sign Up, or West Region SMB.”
On a day-to-day basis, Li says he was hired into a cohort of interns to assist the Restaurant Partner Onboarding teams in the Uber Eats Operations division. Onboarding a restaurant partner is the process that takes place after an Uber Eats salesperson has closed a sale and convinced a restaurant owner to join the Uber Eats Platform. Li says his team then takes over the account via Salesforce and begins a series of operations processes to get it live and available to customers on the app.
“We had to work on this step-by-step that described the onboarding process in specific detail and formatting it with screenshots and video gifs,” Li says. “We worked on this project while simultaneously managing our onboarding accounts. The day before it was due, the other intern and I started extra late to finish and prioritized the accounts during normal business hours. I learned that dividing the work and specializing can really speed up a large project.”
Amid plenty of stressful deadlines and steep learning curves, Li says he also shared plenty of memorable experiences with the team at Uber Eats. From participating in a spicy food eating contest and winning a Spicy Food Uber Eats t-shirt, to meeting with the team at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, he says they shared many laughs. Towards the end of his internship, Li says the team hired a group of fresh graduates from all over the country and it was fun training and meeting new people.
USING THE POSITION TO NETWORK WITH UC-IRVINE ALUMS
Working at a tech upstart can create some interesting and unique ways of connecting with others. Li says that the internal Uber employee database is nicknamed “Whober” and whenever he had any free time, he would use it and the internal chat function on their intranet to reach out to people who wrote in their LinkedIn profiles that they too worked at Uber in the San Francisco area.
Through this, Li says he connected with University of California-Irvine alumni in various positions at Uber, including the accounting, software engineering, and supply chain departments.
“I messaged them and set up informational lunches and learned about their different positions and what they did in their job,” Li says. ”It was really easy because the internal chat function made my outreach really credible and since I had an employee ID card I could meet them at any of the three Uber corporate offices in S.F.”
WHEN ONE INTERNSHIP LEADS TO ANOTHER
While at Uber, Li says he was assigned a supervisor with whom he met bi-weekly. He also connected with his supervisor’s boss at the beginning and end of the internship. Li added that the team also had frequent programming that brought in former onboarding interns that had moved to full-time positions in Sales or Marketing as well as presentations and guest speaker events involving Uber executives from other service lines such as Uber Freight and other high-level executives that reported directly to the C-suite and had been around since the early inception of Uber.
While most interns are thankful for their experiences, Li says he was exceptionally fortunate as the onboarding team began downsizing due to automation after he left and will no longer be needing summer interns.
“I essentially got really lucky to intern on this team when they needed help beefing up their Uber Eats operations before Uber’s IPO and the automation of the process,” he says. Though he won’t be returning to Uber this year, his time at Uber has already paid off as Li says having the brand on his resume helped him secure a 2019 summer internship offer at Seagate on the Business Excellence and Business Process Management team in Longmont, Colorado.
“I am looking forward to meeting new people and having new experiences in a completely different state,” Li says. “The work that I will be doing is also very exciting, as I will be working in a team that is project-based and focused on improving and benchmarking internal processes. This will allow me to work cross-functionally with many different departments within Seagate and pick up data analysis skills in Excel and data presentation skills in Tableau.”
MOVING FORWARD AS A BIZ MAJOR
In line with his adventurous nature and a go-getter personality, Li says he plans to volunteer on a farm on the weekends when he isn’t exploring Colorado or networking in Denver to diversify his scope of experiences. He has already contacted some nonprofit farms and is working to make arrangements for lessons in cow milking, and receiving fresh milk and eggs, in exchange for his labor on the farm.
Li is now a second-year student and says he is still reaching towards his dreams in business. Currently the Executive Vice President of the Merage Undergraduate Student Association and Vice President of Professional Activities of Delta Sigma Pi, a professional co-ed business fraternity, he says he hopes to eventually become president of both organizations. And in five years, he hopes all his work has helped him join the professional services industry in management consultant before applying to a top MBA program.
Not all first-year students are as certain of what they want as Li. Starting college is often a challenging enough time for many young adults. And while Li says he probably isn’t in a position to be giving anyone advice, he says what really helped him was starting early and constantly learning.
“Learn in your business classes, other classes, free webinars, books, news articles, part-time jobs, internships, LinkedIn, networking, informational interviews, friends, etcetera,” he says. “I have found the earlier you start the easier it is. People also love talking about their job and mentoring someone younger than them.”