An arrangement of various school supplies.

Three Tips on Getting Engineering Internships

By Kirby Koch

A posed portrait of Zachery Dean.
Zachery Dean, a junior in Mechanical Engineering, gained valuable firsthand experience over the course of his internship.

Even though internships may not be mandatory within the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, students realize that many employers are looking for students that have already gained real world experience. The problem is how do you get that first internship without already having experience?

Zachery Dean, a junior in Mechanical Engineering, spent the last school year co-oping at Eastman Chemical Company. Not only did he get compensated for his work, but he gained insight into the day-to-day operations he would likely see after graduation and, one would argue most importantly, gained that highly sought after real world experience. Zach gave me his top three tips as to how he got his co-op and how you can get one, too.

  1. Get Involved
    “The earlier you get involved the better.” According to Zach, one of the first things most companies will ask you is what organizations you were involved in. Clubs such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Baja SAE team, or any of the Ware Lab teams provide great opportunities in which to get involved. Not only do these organizations give you something to talk about with employers, they also provide valuable experience for students of all academic levels.
  2. Take Leadership Roles
    Once you get involved, it is time to start thinking about taking a leadership role. Zach stated that this does not just have to be limited to academic clubs; if you are captain of an intramural sports team, that leadership experience can be just as valuable to employers. “Companies are constantly asking about leadership experience you have. It shows you are willing to take charge of a team (a go-getter) and can manage a team of people with multiple personalities.”
  3. Research Companies You Are Interested In
    This last piece of advice Zach gave is especially important whether you are applying for an internship, a co-op or a full time position. Zach first found out about Eastman Chemical Company his sophomore year when he was looking through a list of employers that were attending the fall Engineering Expo. He researched the company and found out about their programs and core values. “You can discuss what you are looking for in an internship and how working for that company will provide you the experience you want. The companies want you to like them as much as you want them to like you.” Showing interest in the company and demonstrating knowledge about them will set you apart from students who are asking questions that can be easily looked up on the company website.

Zach also stressed that many employers are looking for that golden 3.0 GPA and having that can possibly compensate for a lack of involvement or leadership experience.  Getting that first internship can be hard work, but well worth it in the long run.