Career Skills

Developing Your Path: Internships Can Propel Your Career

By John Collins

Editor’s Note

This article is excerpted from a recently published IEEE-USA E-book, Developing Your Path: Landing Your Dream Career. Full of important information, tips and guidance about how to get where you want to be in your career, members may purchase this new e-book at a special member price of only $2.99.

— Georgia C. Stelluto

Internships can be amazing and life-changing experiences. These apprenticeships can completely formulate your future career, and give you new insight into your passions and goals.

Internships at the high school level are rare — students simply don’t have enough technical experience. However, if you are an exceptional student, and you live in a location with a high concentration of technology companies, then one might become available to you.

For most students, the most optimal time to get an internship is the summer between your college sophomore and junior years. Applications for internships for large companies are typically in the fall (August-October) of the prior year.


Here’s an example timeline:

  • Fall of your sophomore year (August, September and October): Companies will visit your university for on-site career fairs. Have a resumé ready, and apply at this time.
  • Winter of your sophomore year (November, December, January): Interview on the phone and on-site.
  • Spring of your sophomore year (February, March, April): Offers sent; prepare for summer on-site.
  • Summer between sophomore and junior year (May, June, July): Enjoy your internship!

An internship gives you the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in a real environment. Working with real engineers, solving real problems, delivering real results. An internship is also like a three-month job interview. It gives you a chance to see if this kind of work (and this company) is a good fit for you. Internships give you real work experience, look great on a resumé, and are the single biggest things you can do early on to start propelling your career forward.

The largest technology companies hire thousands of interns every summer, and their internship programs are a strong recruiting tool to get good students to come back full time. And these companies provide activities and fun events throughout the summer. For example, at Microsoft, interns get a secret intern gift every summer — like a new computer. The company also arranges some special events for the interns — like going to Bill Gates’ house, private concerts, and more.

To apply for internships, visit career fairs. A career fair is a large event, where many companies visit your campus, and set up booths. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to a lot of different companies, and even find one that maybe you hadn’t heard of before. These events are the best time to apply for internships, since you will have direct communication with the recruiters. The recruiters are looking to hire people from your school, and rather than being in an electronic database with thousands of other applicants, you are in a group with people only from your university. Some recruiters will do on-site campus interviews, to accelerate the process.

The university job website may also contain internships available, only for students of your university. This opportunity is another great strategy for applying within a smaller pool of applicants. Leveraging your LinkedIn contacts and network could also give you the chance to land that dream internship — by messaging recruiters directly.

Engineering internships will also pay you, and you will be working on and delivering real products. Companies with a history of internships will have


well-established processes, including projects within the scope of an entry-level employee; providing you guidance and mentoring; and giving you valuable work experience. Internships also typically provide temporary housing options, to make sure that the transition to working for the company is as smooth as possible. If you are in the summer between your junior and senior year, at the end of the internship, the company may offer you a job when you are done with school. It can be a huge relief not to worry about applying for jobs, or where you are going to work, during your final year of school.

Companies offer internships during other times of the year, as well; especially for students outside of the United States, where the school schedules may be different. The number of social events and intern peers may be less than with a U.S. company, but international internships are also great options.

And Cooperative Education, commonly known as a Co-Op, is another way to gain experience. Popular in Canada, Co-Ops are like extended internships — but typically last for six to 12 months at a time. You will not attend school during this time, but it can provide you with more extensive work experience. It can be difficult finding entry-level jobs, with no work experience required — but Co-Ops and internships can give you that critical first experience.

Some internships will allow you to go school and work part-time, at the same time. This dual school-work situation can be another way to gain extensive work experience before graduation. However, make sure to prioritize your workload and school commitments first — before overcommitting yourself to other activities.

Some internships can also lead to other internships. Even if you don’t land your dream internship over the summer before your junior year — take an opportunity to work part-time in engineering; or take an internship that may not be your dream, but can give you experience — and an improved resumé, for applying again the following year.

You may not like your internship, and that’s ok. An internship is like a three-month trial — to see if you like the company and your coworkers. Some companies may be inexperienced in managing interns, and might assign tasks outside of your ability. If you notice this trend, speak to your manager and realign priorities. At times, you may feel challenged and confused–that’s normal. Seeking assistance from your coworkers can help. But if you feel your assigned projects and commitments will not be achievable, it’s better to let your manager know early — so that you can realign expectations.

You will also discover other engineering peers from other career fields that may interest you, such as program management, reliability engineering, and others. Reach out to these people — and learn from them.

Take advantage of learning opportunities as an intern. If the company offers training, take it. Schedule informational interviews with company leaders, and ask them about their careers, and for their advice.

John Collins is senior hardware engineering program manager at Snapchat, Inc. Prior to joining Snapchat, he was a hardware program manager for Microsoft on the HoloLens team in Silicon Valley, leading the research and development of battery technologies for augmented reality products. John has also worked as an electrical engineering lead for the motherboard and hard drive for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One and at Apple managing the development of the battery for the iPhone, iPad and iPod line of products.

John has trained hundreds on the processes, tools and best practices necessary to create high-volume consumer electronics. He has been an IEEE and Consumer Electronics Society member since 2008, and was president of the IEEE and Eta Kappa Nu electrical engineering honor society student chapters at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

John also cofounded Daily Lovelies with his wife, a startup that provides custom tailored cosmetics for special occasions.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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