A Guide to a Successful Engineering Internship

Updated on March 19, 2018
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Katy has mentored young professionals beginning their careers and financial journeys to make informed decisions.

All your hard work applying paid off: you landed an awesome summer internship in the engineering field to give you hands-on experience and maybe a little bit of cash for your efforts. While that in and of itself is a big accomplishment, the true value in an internship will not be that you were given one, its value will be in how you apply yourself to that opportunity and what you learn from the experience.

Now, what do you need to know in order to succeed in your first internship as an engineer? How do you learn as much as you can while proving yourself in the new position? The answer is you work hard, ask questions, listen, and take responsibility for your learning and your career path. Each of those elements is broken down to describe how to do them and their importance in your internship and future career in engineering.

Recognize the Value of an Internship

You have been given an opportunity to be a part of an engineering team so that means whatever role you are given you can contribute to the team by working hard. This will show your peers and your superiors that you are serious about improving your skills and adding value to the company, even if you do not have much experience yet.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking, "I'm just an intern" and your contributions don't matter. Most established engineering firms do not hire interns for cheap labor, they bring young people into the work force to expose the next generation of engineering minds to the workplace. At the end of the summer you might have only had a small impact on the company but the opportunity to gain experience and form connections is irreplaceable.

Internships open the doors to full-time positions in engineering, make sure you give it your full focus!
Internships open the doors to full-time positions in engineering, make sure you give it your full focus! | Source

Set Some Goals

A summer internship goes by quickly and can be made so much more effective if you are aware of what you want out of it.

Make a few goals before you even set foot in the office on your first day. Adjust them after you complete your first week. Aim to set at least two professional goals and two personal goals.

The professional goals should be discussed with your immediate manager. Try going to him or her with some general goals. Some examples could be:

  • Present at a technical meeting
  • Code a working program
  • Complete a design document
  • Learn new software

Depending on the type of work they have available your manager may be able to assign you tasks that get you to this goal. That might not be the case but having a few goals in mind will help guide the conversation with your manager about what you want from the internship.

Make sure the goals are attainable but still challenging. You also want some sort of metrics in place before you begin that you determine with your manager so that at the end of the summer he or she can review your performance.

The personal goals are up to you and can be kept to yourself or shared with a mentor. If you have no one to directly discuss them with, at least write them down to help you stay more accountable. A few examples of personal goals to work on during your first engineering internship are:

  • Improve writing skills
  • Admit mistakes
  • Be accountable for tasks and deadlines

Whatever you pick, try to make it a couple things that are currently outside of your comfort zone. These goals should stretch you to grow.

Discuss your professional goals with your manager early on and revisit them before the end of the summer.
Discuss your professional goals with your manager early on and revisit them before the end of the summer. | Source

Adjust to Your Tasks

You are here to learn. The new position might seem intimidating to you at first but keep in mind that the engineers working with you know that you are in still in college and don't expect you to know everything right away.

But at the same time realize most engineers working with you won't know the skills you already have from college or other work experience. It can be challenging for engineers to assign tasks to

The people assigning you tasks and overseeing your work are not necessarily the ones who reviewed your resume or made the hiring decision. So don't expect them to know everything about you or how well you know the software they use.

You need to ask questions if something isn't clear. This means there will be a lot of questions early on but this will keep you from spending too long going in the wrong direction. So go ahead and ask questions, just make sure it's at an appropriate time.

Network With Other Interns

The office might have a few other interns or maybe the company you work for is large enough that there are intern groups in your area. Get to know them and get involved in any intern networking events the company puts on.

Connect with other young professionals outside of work to expand your network.
Connect with other young professionals outside of work to expand your network. | Source

But Spend Time With the Professionals Too

A close group of interns can make your workplace a lot friendlier but make sure it doesn't hold you back from socializing with and getting to know the more senior engineers and other professionals in your office.

Though I enjoyed being around them, I had to force myself to detach from the intern group at my company during social events or even sometimes during lunch in the cafeteria. More of the older professionals were willing to strike up a conversation with me or reach out to help me with something when it didn't mean committing to interacting with a gaggle of early 20-somethings. Can you blame them?

Keep this in mind when you go about your work day and when participating in networking events. It will help you stand apart and be remembered if you are not surrounded by people your own age looking for the same positions.

Leaving the Internship

As the summer wraps up and your thoughts turn towards the next semester at school, try to get a formal exit interview or discussion with your manager and/or teammates. Make sure you walk away from the internship having discussed these things:

  1. Feedback on your performance
  2. Contact Information for key members of the office
  3. Steps to take to return next summer or interview for a full-time position after graduation

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Katy Medium

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