First things first . . . If your goal is coast through your engineering internship just to have it listed on your resume, then this advice is not for you. So save your time and read some of my other articles (start with this one about Why technical knowledge IS NOT all you need for success in engineering).
However, if you really are interested in learning and gaining new skills from your internship, then I highly recommend you implement this advice to make the most of the experience.
Why do interns struggle to gain experience?
It seems a like a crazy question to ask. After all, shouldn’t experience be be a given now that they have landed the internship?
The problem is that many engineers, myself included, often fall into a trap where we are extremely busy and should delegate more work. However, we’re worried that nobody will perform the task exactly the way we want it done, so we do it ourselves. This is an issue that applies to all workers and not just interns. However, with interns, this feeling is intensified since you will often be gone in a few months. This creates a situation where there is even less incentive for a senior engineer to take the time to invest in teaching you the way they want something done.
As an intern, you need go the extra mile to show the senior engineer that you are serious about the work and really want to learn.
Therefore, I recommend you implement these two pieces of advice . . .
First, stop coming to me with every little question. Write down your questions and bring them to me at one or two times during the day. Every time you ask me “just one small question” you are disturbing my work flow. Those familiar with Deep Work by Cal Newport know that these little disturbances can add up to big distractions.
Second, come with potential solutions. Nobody expects you to have all of the answers, but we do want to see that you are trying and not just running to me to hold your hand through every challenge. When you bring an issue to my attention, offer a suggested solution and why you think that is a good approach given the variables. This will help you build trust with your senior engineer and hopefully make them more willing to take the time to guide you along.
In the end, there are no automatics when it comes to internships. Some are going to suck and offer little value. However, at least trying these methods will give you a better shot at a positive experience.
Beyond gaining engineering experience, you should use the internship to develop your network.
For many engineering students, networking development is something that they overlook when it comes to the internship experience. As I have mentioned in other articles, it is important to develop your network early so that it is there for you when needed. I compare it to having the proper emergency supplies on hand prior to the storm and not waiting to get them as the storm is imminently upon you.
Think of your co-workers as your “adult friends” now that you are getting out into real life. Just as you would with your high school friends, try to find some common interests that connect you to one another. Try to branch out past the simple shared engineering interest and look towards things like schools you attended, areas where you grew up, or sports teams of which you are both fans.
Once you have completed the internship, stay in touch with them on a semi-regular basis. I recommend connecting with them on LinkedIn and staying in touch with them on that platform as well as via email. If you live nearby, make it a habit to drop by once in a while or set up a time to meet for coffee/lunch every few weeks or months.
Developing these real relationships will pay dividends in the future when you need advice for your job search or perhaps they can point you to a specific opening. I have also used my network to find suitable candidates for an opening I needed to fill as well as for advice on a difficult project when I needed some advice.
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