How to Succeed at Your Engineering Internship

How to Succeed at Your Engineering Internship

It’s the off season for hiring interns but it’s probably the right season to start thinking about your future internship for this summer or the next if you are an engineering student. Dressing appropriately is only part of the battle (and I love the tie from Sandra Lara via creative commons). Many of the suggestions might apply to many other industries as well. So I apologize if they’re a bit generic but as I’ve worked with a couple crops of interns so far I thought I’d offer some ideas from my perspective.

  1. Treat everyone with respect. Some interns save their kissing up for the bosses and senior folks only. But that’s real obvious to the other employees. And yes it can seem kind of insincere to be kissing up to everyone all at once. But really people will expect it from you and not hold it against you as long as it’s fair and not too over the top.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you’ve been a working engineer for some time you learn that much of what makes your job you’re going to learn on the job. But when you are a college student all of the knowledge you’ve tried to memorize in the face of your more experienced colleagues’ tribal knowledge can seem intimidating. However your new coworkers will expect you to ask them things.
  3. Meet new people. Just because you’re part of a team of five people and one supervisor doesn’t mean you can’t find the time to chat with the engineer who works in another group but sits across the hallway from you. Try to interface with as many people at the company as you can. Tell them what you’re working on and ask them what they do and what they like about their job. It’s not so important that you “network” with everyone, but meeting new people will broaden your perspective as a budding engineer.

So go forth you young engineers, be polite and take advantage of your first job when the least is expected of your knowledge and only the most is required of your civility and positive attitude. Looking forward to hearing any tips the readers might have on this one too!

5 comments

Great article! There isn’t much good advice out their for engineering internships! Thanks!

I disagree with #1 in the sense that kissing up to everyone and actually showing respect are two very different things. I would categorize respect as doing things like telling people when you’re borrowing their equipment or showing them you actually listen to what they try and teach you. If you get feedback actually implement some changes as your mentor/boss will probably know better than you. Should you disagree do it politely and try to find out the reason the suggestion was offered in the first place. All those things, to me, are much more respectful than kissing up to people. I take kissing up to be things like getting coffee every morning for whoever is in charge.

To add to the discussion though on #3, definitely meet the people who can make your job easier and befriend them (sans sucking up). Having a tech or the guys in the machine shop squeeze in a job for you on top of their busy schedules is immensely helpful. Getting in with the head of the production is nice too for when you’d like to run a 2 minute, non-destructive, on some units to prove a point for your boss without filling out pages of request forms. In my experience if you only come by to throw work over the fence to these people they’re less likely to help you when you need a favor.

For a #4 I would say show you’re excited to work there. Sure the internship may not be in the exact field you want but that doesn’t mean the work is any less cool or interesting and you can’t still learn something. Being positive and enthusiastic can only help you in practically every other area.

A side note on #2. If a co-worker, or intern, is Aspergian, you will need to go out of your way to involve them, unthreateningly, to get them to ask questions. I don’t ask questions because I am afraid to ask, but because it never occurs to me to ask until long after the fact.

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