The Elephant in the room . . . Who even had an internship this summer?
Yes, I am fully aware of the fact that many of my readers had their internships cancelled due to the whole corona craziness.
However, I decided to continue with this article for two reasons.
First, many of you DID have internships and I think that this is going to be some good information for you to ensure you are making the most of the situation.
Second, the reason this article focuses on leaving an internship is because it’s a natural ending and a move to something different which is the crucial point. The same general recommendations I note below can apply equally to a situation when you are leaving a job or moving on from one school to another.
Internships, why get one in the first place?
Let’s start with the basic question of why you decided to spend your summer in an internship.
There are three common reasons that an engineering student has for getting an internship while they are out of classes for the summer:
- Money – This may not be the primary reason, but, let’s be honest, the money aspect certainly comes into play. I know many engineering students who have chosen one internship over another (even if it was not as enticing work-wise) due to the compensation offered.
- To find your engineering passion/interests – An internship can expose you to the real life application of the engineering area that you want to enter and can help you see what your field of interest is really like. Even those that hated their internships have gained as they now know that they need to re-assess the field of engineering that they want to pursue.
- Enhance resume for future job search – When applying for an engineering job, there is no doubt that having some engineering experience on your resume is going to look better than if you worked as a waiter for the summer.
Using the internship as a building block
Your summer internship has ended and now you are back at university sitting through lectures & taking exams. Does this mean that your internship is a thing of the past and just a line item on your resume?
If you play it right, the power of the internship can help you for years to come.
Putting aside the money reason which doesn’t really affect your future engineering career per se, let’s look at the second two reasons. At face value, these are static reasons; you can use your internship to decide if you like that field and you can use your internship as a nice check mark on your resume.
However, I would like to re-frame the way you look at these reasons and also recognize them as dynamic reasons by continuing the relationship with the co-workers and other engineers that you met at this internship.
Instead of thinking back to those few weeks in a specific field, I want you to be able to reach back out to those people and ask follow up questions. As you move on in your studies and life experience, you might start to view that internship in a different manner and it can be very helpful to be able to reach back out those contacts to ask questions based on this new information.
Similarly, don’t just think of an internship as something on your resume, but rather a link in your network that can help you find a place to pass along your resume and have it considered for employment. Further, these can be engineering connections who you can turn to for advice when you want to understand how things work in the engineering world.
The only way you can do this is if you STAY IN CONTACT with the engineers from your internship. If you wake up two years later and reach out to them, it is very possible they will have forgotten you or will think you are only reaching out for a job and they might feel used.
ACTION TIME: Keeping the internship connections alive
So let’s get practical and talk about some of the ways you can keep these connections alive and how you can develop the relationship further.
- Send a thank you letter – Hand written on a real card is best as this will really stand out. However, sending an email can be beneficial as well. The important part is that you show them your appreciation of the support they have given you over this internship period. Use specific examples of where you gained and how they helped you achieve this level of growth.
- Share applicable class material – Have you ever learned something new and then had a completely new understanding of something you experienced in the past? Or perhaps you learn something in class and it reminds you of how you applied this in the past. When something like this happens and you remember something about the internship or how you applied a concept, use this as a time to reach back out to your internship connections. They’ll be happy to know that you remember some of the little things they taught you and/or that you understand a concept they taught you on a deeper level.
- Applicable articles about projects/topics – I like to share articles with some of my connections when I see something that I know would interest them. Just send the article with a short note along the lines of “Hey, came across this article and thought you might find it interesting”.
- Drop in once in a while – If you are in the vicinity of where your internship company is located, try popping in once in a while to say hi. You can also set up a time for an information coffee or lunch meeting to just catch up.
- Ask their advice – One of the best ways to foster a relationship is to ask someone for advice and also to check in with them so they can see you actually took the advice. This puts them in a guidance role and is a natural role for many senior engineers who are always willing to help along the next generation. You can continue to do this on a semi-regular basis over the following year(s) not just in the months right after you finish.
Long story short . . . HOW you keep the connection alive is irrelevant. All that matters is that you keep it alive to some degree so that the connections you made during your internship can be a valuable part of your engineering network.
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