With the holiday season and New Years in the rear view mirror, it’s time to focus on your summer internship.
Before we get to my tips, I want to address a common question I receive from younger engineers. . . Do I absolutely NEED an internship? No, but having one will be give you hands on skills to compliment your engineering school book learning. Aside from these new skills, it can also help you determine what types of engineering roles you may want to aim to attain.
With that out of the way, here are five things to be mindful of during your engineering internship search:
#1 Focus on WHAT you will be doing, not for whom you’ll be doing it.
It definitely sounds nice to work for some “big name” company that even your non-engineering great-aunt knows about. However, if they just make you a glorified lackey, then you’re not gaining anything in terms of engineering knowledge. I’d rather see you in an unknown firm where you’re part of the engineering team and given meaningful tasks.
#2 Be leery of newly created internships or ones where they appear to be winging it/making it up as they go.
Sure, it is nice to have some flexibility and ability to direct the role responsibilities, which an unstructured program may possess. The downside is that when nobody prepares to have you on board and knows what you’re doing, you’ll spend a lot of time sitting around and waiting. Also, do you, as an engineering student really know what is important to learn in this new role? That is something best left for the experienced engineers who know the field better.
Long story short . . . there should be a SPECIFIC engineer in charge of the internship program and it’s direction, not simply something that upper management or HR decided to implement.
#3 Don’t limit your internship search to a narrow scope of the field.
One of the great things about internships is that they are an opportunity to see other parts of the field and really get a feel for them. I’m not telling you to go completely away from your interests, but simply not to be that rigid either.
#4 Non-engineering internships can be beneficial as well.
Considering that not all engineering jobs are 100% engineering, the skills you learn in other places can be applicable. For example, an internship in a financial firm may give you some experience as it comes to project budgeting & planning. While an internship in a medical setting can let you really understand where a biomedical engineering device can be utilized.
Of particular note, if you have an interest in moving towards engineering management, then this is a direction you should seriously consider. In these roles, financial acumen is a great addition to your base engineering skills & knowledge.
#5 It’s ok to reach out to “random” people, but don’t make them dig for details.
That is, be clear about the type of role you are seeking and why you think you’re a good fit. Don’t simply tell them you are “open to any role” and make them dig to see where you might be a good fit. Also, make sure to attach your resume. I’ve seen some younger engineers write that it’s “available upon request” which is a mistake as this adds yet another layer that the other side needs to actively seek out.
Wrapping up . . .
Unable to get an internship? Don’t worry, other jobs can be useful too, but may some framing to make sure they’re presented on your resume as a net positive. For example, working with a car mechanic or HVAC installer can give you a lot of knowledge about how the end product is used & maintained that can assist in your engineering design & analysis. Similarly, while perhaps far from the engineering world, working as a waitress or in retail helps you learn how to deal with customers which is beneficial in an engineering role.
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