How to Get an Engineering Internship

Updated: Oct 2, 2020

Do you want an engineering internship? You do? Well, you've come to the right place. You should thank your lucky stars because I'm going to show you exactly how to get one. By the end of this guide, you'll be so happy that you will cry tears of joy. I'll be so happy for you I might just start crying myself.


Before the waterworks start, let's first figure out how to get you an engineering internship. In this article, we will look at:

  1. Get Excited About Internships

  2. The Wrong Road to Getting an Engineering Internship

  3. The Right Road to Getting an Engineering Internship

  4. My Step-by-Step Guide to Getting an Internship

  5. A True Internship Story

  6. You Got This

  7. The Winning Job Formula

1. Get Excited About Internships


When you think about working at your first engineering internship, do you get excited? You should. When you think about getting that first offer, your heart should race and your blood should start pumping. You should feel like Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk so you can start throwing stuff around the room. You should feel like popping champagne bottles like you just won the Kentucky Derby.


Maybe that's a little too excited. But you should be excited, because internships are wonderful for your career. Don’t believe me? Here are three great reasons you should be working hard for an internship.

  • They help you get hired. Almost 80% of college graduates have had an internship before graduation. If you don't have one, you'll be way behind your classmates when you start applying for full-time work.

  • You get to test drive a career before you buy it. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it first. So why sign up for a career without trying it out? Engineering degrees are diverse and let you work in a ton of different industries and fields. Internships let you try out those different industries to see which one fits you best.

  • Internships expand your professional network. This is one of the most often overlooked benefits, but may be the most valuable when it comes time to find a job. We will talk about this one in more detail later.

When you create a resume, what will you fill it up with? Your internship experiences.


When you get interviewed, what will you talk about? Your internship experiences.


What do companies want you to have before they will hire you? Internship experiences.


Are you finally getting excited about getting an internship? If you're so excited you want to flip your desk over and start screaming at the top of your lungs, I won’t blame you.


The problem is that most engineering students do not know how to get an engineering internship. They want one but they never seem to be able to get the actual offer. I wanted a date with Jenny Promaroy in high school. Just because I wanted it, didn’t mean I was ever able to get it.


If you want an engineering internship, you must learn how people actually go about getting them successfully. Luckily you have this amazing article to show you the way. Using the information in this article you will be successful. I will show you why most engineering students fail and how you can succeed when it comes to getting an internship.


2. The Wrong Road to Getting an Engineering Internship


You are walking along and you come to the edge of a crevasse. On the other side of the crevasse is an internship. Below is a thousand-foot fall onto sharp rocks. Over the crevasse stretches a thin rope to the other side. You think to yourself, I can tight-rope walk all the way across and get to the internship. You take one step, and then a second. You are getting pretty good at it. On the third step the rope gets a little wobbly and you slip, falling down to splatter on the rocks.


In my story, internet job postings that advertise internships are the small rope. The giant crevasse is where you fall when you apply and never hear anything back.


This is the approach most people use when trying to get an internship. They only apply for internship opportunities they find on the internet. This approach has the absolute smallest success rate out of all the different ways you can obtain an internship.


When an internship is posted on the internet, it is easy to find. Since it is easy to find, tons and tons and tons of people apply. A company might get 200-300 applications for a single internship. That is a 0.33-0.5% chance you will be selected. Even if you have a great resume, there is only a small chance your resume will even get read. See why the bottom of the crevasse is covered with dead bodies?


3. The Right Road to Getting an Engineering Internship


You are back at the crevasse, staring longingly at the internship on the other side. While contemplating how to get across, you notice your friend standing on the other side next to a drawbridge that has been pulled up. After some frantic arm gestures, your friend notices you waving and pointing toward the bridge. With a smile, your friend hits a button and down comes the drawbridge, right across the crevasse.


One minute later, you are on the other side of the crevasse and the bridge is being raised back up. When you look back at where you came from, hundreds of eyes are starting at you, wondering how you were able to find your way across.


The best way to find engineering internships is through someone you know. Outside of large organizations, most businesses only hire interns if they already know a specific person who is looking for an internship. Every intern I have hired has been a friend of a friend or has been referred to me by someone else in the office. I've never posted an internship advertisement or hired an unknown intern from an online application.


That is why when it comes to internships, instead of WHAT you know, it’s more important WHO you know. If you want your own bridge to get to an internship, you must know someone who is willing to lower one for you.


An Intern's Value


To understand right road, you first have to understand the value an intern brings to a company. That value is… drumroll please… basically nothing. Interns are cheap unskilled labor. In engineering, there are very few tasks for an unskilled worker to do. That means the company must spend months training you how to do a specific engineering task, only to have you leave once the summer is over.


For this reason, an intern gets much more out of an internship than the value they give back to the company. An intern gets knowledge, experience, industry exposure, and money. A company gets almost nothing.


So why would a company want to hire an intern? Most do not. The companies that do hire interns do it because they want to help.



Who We Like to Help


If I came up to you randomly off the street and asked for your help moving next weekend, would you help me? No way. You would tell me to get lost (which would hurt my feelings). However, if your best friend asked you to help him move, would you help? If you had the time, sure you would.


So why would you help your friend and not me? Because you know your friend and have no idea who I am. We like to help people we know. That's basic human instinct.


So if a company wants to help someone, who do they want to help? A random resume found on the internet or someone they know? The answer is always someone they know.


4. A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting an Internship


Now that you understand the force behind getting an internship, let’s look at how to use that knowledge.


Step 1 – Create a Great Resume


No matter what job you are applying for, you will need a great resume.


Not just any resume: a great resume. See our free guide on the The Winning Entry-Level Engineering Resume for some ways to make your resume great.


Step 2 – Apply for Jobs Online


The next step is to apply for jobs online. What the hell, you said that was the wrong way! is what you are probably thinking. It is the wrong way if you rely solely on it. It does not hurt to try to make it across the tight rope. Just don’t get your hopes up for actually getting an internship this way.


Step 3 – Make a List of Engineers You Know


The next step is to make a list of all the engineers you know. These will be the people who will lower the drawbridge to their company for you.


When you start to really think about it, you will be surprised at how many actual engineers you do know. Here is a list to help you brainstorm some of your existing networking connections:

  • Family. Think aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

  • Engineers you have met while participating in Professional Engineering Organizations.

  • Professors that you have a good relationship with.

  • Former classmates who have since started working in the engineering field.

  • Your parents' connections.

  • Friends of the family.

  • Neighbors

  • People you know through sports, volunteering, or other social groups.

The closer you are to the person, the better the chance they will be willing to help you. Once your list is complete, you should have 5-10 names for potential internship leads.


Step 4 – Build Your LinkedIn Network


If you are unsure of the exact places where your engineering connections work, it's time to do some research. Fortunately LinkedIn makes this incredibly simple. Just find all of your connections and friend them on LinkedIn. Now you have access to everyone’s work history information.


Use your acquired knowledge to figure out which companies your connections work for. This will let you know narrow down your list to just the people who work for companies that you would be interested in interning with.


Advice Nugget – let me step on my soapbox for a minute. Don’t be too picky with your first internship, especially if you are a freshman or sophomore. Even an internship in a completely different engineering discipline is better experience than being a Subway sandwich artist.


Step 5A – Wave Your Hands and Get Their Attention



Now you need to leverage your professional network to get an internship. Your network of engineers will not do you any good unless you get their attention and let them know you are trying to find an internship. You need to approach them and ask about internship opportunities at their company.


Make sure you approach people several months before the actual internship would begin. Companies need time to set stuff up and get all the internal approvals prior to bringing on an intern. When you approach, let them know you are trying to gain real-world engineering experience and would love to work for their company.


Step 5B – Cold Calling


If you don’t have any connections inside the engineering world, you should ask yourself why. It is probably time to start joining some professional organizations, talking to your older classmates and professors, and building your network.


In the meantime, don’t worry. Even if you don't know anyone, you can still reach out to engineers in the industry to find out about internship opportunities. While reaching out to strangers does not have as high a success rate as people you know, it still can be very effective.


Look at job websites to get a good idea of which companies in your area are hiring your type of engineering discipline. Now make a list of all the organizations you would want to intern with. Start e-mailing everyone on your list, letting them know you are looking for internship opportunities. This method tends to work best with small and medium businesses.


Make sure the e-mail is sent to a specific person in the office you would intern with, and not a general company e-mail address. Here is an example of an e-mail you can send.


Mr. Jones,

Hi, my name is Mark Edwards. I am a mechanical engineering student at the University of Michigan. I will be returning home to Detroit this summer and I am searching for an internship opportunity. Your company has a great reputation and the projects you work on are very exciting. I would love the opportunity to learn from the engineers at your company and gain real-world experience.


I am a hard worker, fast learner, and go-getter. If you have any internship opportunities available for someone like that, I would love to be able to apply.


I have attached a copy of my resume. I look forward to contributing to your great company.


Thanks,

Gill Penderson


This method takes a little bravery on your part because you are risking rejection. However, to the bold go the spoils.


Step 5C – Volunteering


If you really want to step up your engineering game, consider volunteering during your fall and spring school semesters. Approach the local engineering companies near your university and see if they would allow you to volunteer with them 4-8 hours per week. You can use the same approach discussed in Step 5B to try to find that opportunity.


You're probably wondering “Why would I want to do that?” You do it because it gets your foot in the door and gets you real world experience! Next year, when you go to find a paid summer internship or start applying for jobs, you have something to put down in the experience column. You've probably heard the saying “It’s easier to get a job when you already have a job.” The same is true for real world engineering experience. The first experience you get is the hardest to find. Once you have that first experience, it gets easier to get more.


Step 6 – Nailing the Interview


Being referred by someone (see Step 5) helps you skip past the other hundreds of resumes and gets you in the door for an interview. However, knowing someone will not let you bypass the interview. You will still need to nail the interview if you want the internship.


I could spend this whole article teaching you about how to be a good interviewee. Instead, I will give you the three biggest factors that will help you nail the interview. If you follow these, you will be leagues ahead of most college graduates.

  • Dress, look and act like a professional engineer. Don’t come in looking and acting like a college student. You want your interviewers to view you as a professional, so look and act the part.

  • Look up the most common interview questions and practice your responses. There is a good chance some of these questions will come up in the interview. Knowing how you will respond lets you give better and more confident answers.

  • Act happy, positive and excited during the interview. People want to be around happy and positive people. Nobody likes or wants to work with a negative Nancy. Interviewers also want you to be excited about the potential internship. Act like this internship is the dream job you have been waiting your whole life for.


5. A True Internship Story


Cory was a civil engineering student finishing up his sophomore year at college. He tried applying for a couple internships in his hometown, but he never got a response. It looked like Cory was going to spend another summer as a lifeguard at the local pool.


One night during Cory’s weekly call to his parents, Cory’s mom spoke about her office at the hospital having to be relocated because of a big expansion. An idea struck Cory. He asked his mom to ask the contractor if they hired summer interns.


The next day, Cory’s mom called to tell him about her conversation with the contractor. The contractor said they do hire interns from time to time and asked that Cory call him for a phone interview.


Cory called the contractor the next day, and after a 30-minute conversation, Cory had a summer internship. That summer Cory learned that he did not want a career in construction management due to some of the work and travel requirements.


During Cory’s junior year he used the experience from his first internship to apply for and get a second internship. This time his internship was with an engineering consulting company. When Cory graduated, he was able to get multiple job offers, partly due to fact that he had two engineering related internships.


Was it sexy the way Cory got his first internship? No. Was it effective? Yes. Is it how many people get their first internship? Yes.

The great thing is when Cory got his second internship, did they care how he got his first one? Not at all. All they cared about is that he had already had an internship. Nobody cares how you get a certain job, it just matters that you got it. In the real world, more students get internships through their parents, relatives, and friends than because of their grades.


Do you remember those 1980s commercials where they would ask random strangers, “what would you do for a Klondike bar?” People would act like a chicken or do any number of other embarrassing things just to get the frozen treat. In similar fashion, I will ask you, “What would you do for an engineering internship?” If you want to be a winner than the answer should be “whatever it takes.”


It is up to us to use everything at our disposal to move ahead. The network of people you know is one your most powerful tools, so use it!


6. You Got This


In summary, you got this! I know if you follow the steps in this guide, you will be able to get an internship. It all comes down to how hard you are willing to work for it.

  • Internships are important and will provide way more value than the few dollars you are paid. The lessons you learn in your internship can shape the future of your engineering career.

  • Don’t just try to find internship opportunities on the internet like everyone else. If you do, you are going to have to battle everyone else to get them. There is a better way.

  • Use your professional network to find internship opportunities. Companies are just made up of people, and people like helping people they know. By leveraging your professional network, you will create internship opportunities that might not have otherwise existed.

  • If you follow my step-by-step guide to walk through the process of getting an internship, you will be successful.

Get excited! You are going to get an engineering internship, which will lead to a great engineering job! You will take the engineering world by storm, conquering every challenge that comes your way. You are an unstoppable force that will change the world!

Now go get them!


7. The Right Job Formula


At Job Formula we know that you want to be a great professional engineer. In order to do that, you need to get hired! The problem is that most graduate engineers struggle to get their first job.


I personally understand how difficult it can be to navigate the job market. As a professional engineer myself, I went through the same struggle trying to get my first job after graduation. That is why I am determined to share the unwritten rules behind what it takes to get hired in the engineering industry.


Job Formula put together a free resume guide just for young engineers to help them improve their resumes. Sign up below and get it in seconds!

Stop worrying about not getting hired and instead start moving toward your engineering career.