You wouldn’t put a production model on the market without research, development, and prototyping. Consider the same cycle for your career: if engineering school is R&D, then a paid internship is prototyping for real-world success.
Paid Internships = Better Prospects and Higher Pay
Recent research suggests that unpaid internships don’t do much for your job prospects. Paid internships are where the money is. According to 2013 data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 63.1 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer. Only 35 to 47 percent of unpaid interns – or those with no internship – could say the same.
When entering the workforce, paid interns earn significantly higher starting salaries than other job applicants. The median starting salary for those with paid internship experience was $51,930, compared to $35,721 for work as an unpaid intern. (Interestingly, those with no internship experience had higher median starting pay -$37,087 – than those with unpaid experience.)
NACE captured the data from more than 38,000 responses from college students, including 9,125 from seniors earning bachelor’s degrees.
On a related, positive note for those thinking of taking this path: NACE’s 2014 Internship & Co-op Survey (Spring 2014) shows that almost 97 percent of employers plan to hire interns and co-op (cooperative education) positions this year. Co-ops are typically full-time, paid positions, but definitions vary.
How Do I Find a Paid Internship?
Start at Your School’s Career Services Center.
Universities are hunting grounds for companies seeking talent. If there is a big tech company (or companies) nearby, you can be sure there is some sort of relationship between them and your university. Whether this relationship is formal or loose is generally irrelevant; your best prospects for finding quality internships often starts at your school’s career services center.
Your school may include these services as part of “student services”, “student success”, “job assistance”, “employment assistance”, or similar programs. These services are typically open to alumni as well.
- The career services center will help you with your resume and cover letters. They’ll also be a great resource for finding companies who are looking for people like you.
Look to Job Fairs, Professional Organizations, or Engineering Clubs.
The most commonly available outlets for finding job fairs are local newspapers, your Chamber of Commerce, and local venue events pages. To find engineering-specific job postings and internship opportunities, research professional associations, including student chapters of national engineering societies.
- Many engineering societies offer student rates for a few years after you graduate. Take advantage of these reduced prices.
Go Directly to Companies.
You can also go direct to tech companies in your area. Many big companies maintain a revolving roster of interns, year after year, as part of their regular operations. Internship listings are a regular fixture on their websites, such as this one from Lockheed Martin (scroll down to the next page for summer internships listings). In this example, you’ll see that there are a myriad of opportunities for various fields of study, from aerospace engineering to chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering, math and physics, to non-tech fields.
- Use this information to apply directly to the company. Of course, you’ll be using company websites for research on specific companies, to help you beat out your competition as you apply through your school.
Make your own internship.
For the most ambitious and resourceful among us, there is always the option to create your own position. Schedule a meeting with a company you want to work for and propose they take you on as intern. Be sure you look sharp and have an amazing resume when you show up.
Finding Success in a Paid Internship
Before Your Internship:
- Perfect your resume. Go to a career services center at your school or online to get advice on your resume. Have someone proofread it. There’s no excuse for a resume that isn’t your best.
- Practice the interview portion. Prepare for the most common interview questions and learn to speak in positive, definitive terms.
- Research the company you may be working for. Get a sense of the company’s direction, what the culture is like, and what your responsibilities will be.
- Be the first one there. In any internship that’s worth your time, you’ll be facing competition. Apply as soon as you can and complete required steps as soon as you learn of them. It’s an important way to gain advantage over other applicants.
On Your First Day
- Arrive early. Remember: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” Get there at least 5—10 minutes early. It’s a sign of respect and shows you’re committed being a good, responsible worker. You do not want to walk into the office apologizing for being late.
- Listen carefully. Take notes if you have to and ask what is expected of you.
The Best Attitudes During Your Internship
- Professionalism. Dress appropriately for work. Arrive on time, every time. Limit the time you spend socializing.
- Positivity. Take a genuine interest in your job and do your best on every project, no matter how big or small. Keep personal problems at home.
- Proactivity. If there are resources available that will help you answer your own questions, find out what they are. Think in terms of what you can do, not what can’t be done.
- Curiosity. Ask questions. Keep an eye on projects that interest you, and ask if you can help. If there is a person there that impresses you or has had experiences you’d like to pursue, don’t be afraid to befriend them or ask for an informational interview.
- Respect. Be conscious of your place as an intern. This may affect how others in the office treat you. Awareness and a good attitude will help you overcome any issues that may arise.
Make sure you stay busy! Don’t ever let yourself get bored. There’s always more you can do. If you’re idle, let someone know you’re available to take on more responsibility.
At the End of your Internship
- Don’t slack because you’re leaving. Your last hour is your last hour, not a moment before.
- Thank your supervisor. Meet with him/her a week or so before you leave to thank them for the opportunity to work at the company. Let them know how much you’ve learned. Write a formal thank-you letter once you’ve left.
- Give a status update on any dangling projects. Let the appropriate people know if there are projects that are pending or need additional attention. In effect, pass the baton to someone who is equipped to take it.
- Ask for a recommendation letter. Whether you’ve got your eye on a future project or not, you can ask for some good words from your supervisor. Ask your co-workers for Linkedin recommendation while you’re at it.
- Complete any necessary paperwork and return company property.
- Update your resume with your new information.
A paid internship is an invaluable stepping-stone in your career. Beyond the straightforward economic benefits to procuring an internship – such as a better overall job outlook and valuable contacts in the industry – you’ll earn confidence and professional self-awareness.
Featured Image Credit: COD Newsroom