I’m often asked what’s one of the most important things students can do in college to have a successful career. The answer is simple: get an internship. The truth that every student in any major needs to hear is that full-time careers are way different than college. College courses only provide a small amount of the knowledge that anyone really needs to succeed in a career, and they don’t fully prepare a young adult for working 40 hours a week. An internship is like an experiment, and it teaches students so much even if they fail. It also gives them a chance for hands-on experience in their prospective career field, which can be vital to their future professional happiness. What are all the ways an internship can benefit an Engirlneer?
1) Internships can help her decide what career she wants to go into. Most majors can lead to a variety of career options, and STEAM careers are no different. In college, I was torn between traffic engineering and environmental engineering, both fields within civil engineering. As a college sophomore, I applied to an internship program for traffic engineering, and was able to intern at a local, large engineering firm. Throughout the course of the summer, I learned what traffic engineers do on a daily basis. I also was lucky enough to learn a little about environmental engineering by reading Environmental Impact Statements from my firm. I discovered that I was more interested in the environmental path than the traffic path.
2) Internships can help her decide what type of atmosphere she wants to work in. Does she want to work for a large firm, small firm, governmental agency, non-profit, etc.? Each of these different types of employers have very different cultures. Some allows workers to wear jeans to work every day, work flexible hours, and move up varying career paths within the organization. Others may require a suit and tie and that workers are at their desk from 8 to 5 with a 1 hour lunch from 12-1. The atmosphere of where someone works can be so much more important than the work itself. Studies are consistently showing that benefits of a company are often more important than salary, and being happy with where she works can greatly affect her happiness within her chosen career.
3) Internships lead to careers. During my junior year, I was able to find an internship in environmental engineering, and once I graduated, I knew I had a career offer on the table. I worked for the company full-time for a total of about six years, and I made many connections that have helped throughout my career. When I was interested in moving on to another company, it was a former coworker from this internship that hired me. Because I was a good employee during the internship and my career, he knew he could count on me to be a good employee at the new job. Some internships are only meant to be temporary; however, even if her employer can’t hire her full-time, the connections she makes can help her get a full-time job somewhere else. Having a respectable professional connection can do wonders for getting her feet in the door elsewhere. Networking is important, often who she knows is just as important as what she knows.
4) Most importantly, INTERNSHIPS GIVE HER EXPERIENCE. As I mentioned above, there’s a lot that college courses can’t teach a student, and employers value real world experience as much, if not more, than her college courses. When I got my internship in environmental engineering, I told the company that I was going to graduate school immediately following my undergraduate program, and therefore couldn’t start at their company full-time until graduate school was over. I was told by several managers that they would actually prefer the full-time experience with an MBA over a Master’s Degree in Engineering. Professional experience helps her learn the business skills that she just won’t learn in college.
Since internships are so important, what should an Engirlneer do to help her get one?
1) Join professional organizations at her college, and attend professional networking events. I say this constantly, to anyone who wants to be an Engirlneer or who is raising an Engirlneer, and I can’t say it enough because IT IS SO IMPORTANT. She’ll make connections and possibly learn about internships before they even become available. She may also make connections that can help create an internship, even if the company wasn’t planning on hiring one.
2) Attend career fairs. When she attends career fairs, she should have her resume ready and engage those attending company booths. A first impression can make or break an opportunity. Career fairs are also important because she may learn about companies that she had never heard of before, or learn more about companies that she had already heard about.
3) Apply for any internship available, even if it isn’t precisely what she’s interested in. The experience and connections are important even if she chooses to switch career paths. Most companies are extremely understanding if an intern chooses to move on, and if they aren’t, then they probably aren’t a place she would want to work anyway.
4) Apply for a position even if it’s unpaid. This is easier said than done if an Engirlneer is responsible for her own college tuition or other bills. However, she can always discuss options with the company to potentially intern only a small number of hours which would still allow her to work another job.
Encourage the Engirlneers in your life to polish their resumes and put effort into finding an internship. Her career could depend on it.