Internships are an extremely vital part of an engineering education. While they are not required, they absolutely should be. You gain knowledge at an internship that you would never be able to learn in a classroom. This is as close to real-world experience as you will get until you graduate.
Companies like hiring interns for the benefit of scoping out potential future employees while still getting productive work done. It is also beneficial for students since they will get some real engineering knowledge. There are plenty of internships available, usually in larger companies. Like jobs, however, there is often stiff competition. Here’s a list of things that will help you get an internship.
1. Join a Club
The nice thing about applying for internships is that the employer does not necessarily expect you to have any previous experience. After all, it’s an internship. The point of an internship is to get you ready for a job. Employers do like to see that you’re doing something outside of the classroom, though.
This is where being more active in your college engineering clubs and organizations are going to help. Most students applying to internships will have little experience. If you have experience on your resume that shows you are part of an extracurricular activity for engineers, you will immediately stand out. Plus clubs are a great way to improve your engineering skills.
It will also give you great material to use for an interview.
“Tell me about a project where you were the leader.”
“Describe a time you had to work as a team to overcome an obstacle.”
These are both questions you will come across early on in your engineering career. They are difficult to answer unless you have had some experience working on engineering projects. Being in a club is a great way to stand out among your peers and gain some really useful skills.
2. Keep Up That GPA
Obviously, a higher GPA can only help you and a lower GPA can only hurt you. This, unfortunately, tends to be more important for internships than it does for jobs. This is because interns are hired because of their academic performance while employees are hired based on their professional experience.
As an intern, keep your academic performance as high as possible. Grades aren’t everything but do try to keep them above a 3.0. This seems to be the cutoff for a lot of companies that hire interns, at least in my experience. If you don’t have a lot of relevant experience, a GPA is what represents your character. Keep it as high as you can if you’re not planning on doing much outside of the classroom.
3. Take Relevant Courses
This can be tough depending on how your engineering curriculum is organized, but try to scatter a few core classes throughout every year of your undergrad. Usually, the general education classes are enforced the first couple years and I’ve always hated this model of teaching.
I always tried to take no more than one or two of these general education classes a semester so I could spread out the classes I actually wanted to take. I recommend you do the same. This keeps a good balance of difficulty throughout your engineering education and keeps the tougher stuff fresher in your mind as you’ll need a little bit of it every year instead of cramming a lot of it at the end.
Another reason you want this is so that you have something to talk about during your interview. It can be difficult as a sophomore or even a junior to get an internship when all you have is psychology and history classes under your belt. If you can talk about a technical project you worked on in an electrical class or a structures class, you will seem like a much more valuable intern to your new employer.
4. Rock That Resume
Now that you have a couple of hard items to put on your resume, make sure it looks professional. You should have a well formatted, well-written resume ready to hand out. Some students seem to think that since they are applying to internships, they don’t need to be very professional with their resume but that is absolutely not true.
I think this is because most students have never had a job that required a resume. A lot of them are coming from part-time jobs, or summer jobs, where you just fill out a resume and hand it to a manager. Making a good first impression is extremely important at any time in your career so the sooner you start, the better.
Let this work to your advantage by being professional as soon as you walk into college. Treat every internship like you were applying to a real job because, honestly, it is. If your college offers a resume review or mock interviews, take advantage as soon as you can. Anything you do now to plan for your future will make your eventual job search so much easier.
5. Don’t Be Too Picky About Where You Apply
This is the complete opposite of what I recommend when applying to jobs but, when applying to internships, apply everywhere you can. Don’t be picky, especially if you lack in any of the areas mentioned above. There is a lot of competition for internships, just like jobs, so don’t think you’re above anything.
I recommend this because an internship is a perfect time to “test out” a job. You’re only going to be there for around three months so even if it’s the worst job in the world, you’ll be out of there before you know it. You’ll have the experience, a few bucks in your pocket, and you’ll know exactly what it is you don’t want to do professionally.
It is much better you figure that out now than get a job and then figure out you don’t like it. It’s tougher to change jobs when the roof over your head depends on it.
Another reason to apply everywhere is that internships are such a perfect way to try out all different types of engineering. Even if test engineering isn’t something you want to do, you can give it a try for a few months and see if you like it. You might find that there are parts of it that you like more than you thought you would.
Internships are also a great way to try out different companies and see various ways these companies work. It’s a very revealing opportunity. I worked for three large companies when I had internships and it was really neat to see the similarities and difference between the two. Furthermore, when I finally got my first real job, I was able to take some of the things I liked from the three companies and bring them into my new company. It really helps to round you out as an engineer.
6. Be Accommodating With Hours
Most summer internships expect you to work full-time for at least 12 weeks so plan on being available during this time. I know it may be tough to leave your year-round, part-time job for this, especially if you’ve worked there a while, but it really is important to do this.
Financially, this can be tough. Especially if you count on that part time income for the rest of the year. But in the long run, an internship will greatly work to your advantage. An internship will help you get a higher paying job sooner than if you didn’t get the internship. Loans suck but take them if you need to. Sacrifice a little bit now to get a whole lot more in the future.
For co-ops, this can be even more important. Co-ops are like internships that you work throughout the year. This is done with the understanding that you will be slightly less available because of school but you will probably be required to work 10–15 hours a week. The more available you are, the better.
This doesn’t mean to sacrifice you grades for a job but if you can adjust your schedule in such a way that you can block off a couple days, it will work to your benefit. Co-ops should give you time off for exams so don’t worry too much about time for studying. If you can get at least10–15 hours a week in, you’ll really gain a lot for it.
7. You’re Not Too Good for Anything
Don’t think any work is below you. This is especially true on the job. You shouldn’t have to just get coffee for your boss, and I’ve never personally seen this, but don’t think you are too good for organizing shop areas or ordering parts. These are essential functions of an engineer’s job and I guarantee that you’ll run into the same stuff at your first real job.
It does become a problem when ALL you are doing is organizing work areas and ordering parts. I’ve encountered this at an internship so I had to really go out of my way to ask for more relevant work to do. But guess what? This can be similar to a real job as well. You won’t always be told what to do so sometimes you really need to go out and do it yourself.
This is an important lesson to learn as well. The problem with school is that you are taught to follow directions and do very little outside of the box. Internships and jobs are different. They want you to think outside of the box. That is an engineer’s job. Push the limits and get creative.