Do Internships Really Matter in Engineering?

If you are considering pursuing an internship opportunity, but aren't sure if it is worth your time, think about this: “Experience is a differentiator that employers consider when reviewing a resume,” says Donna Gilmour, the SJSU Career Center Engineering representative.

The fact is an internship can be your “foot in the door” to many employers, she says. “The best way to impress potential employers during your job search is to gain and highlight relevant work experience. For college students that’s typically an internship.”
 
Employers agree work experience has become increasingly important for college graduates looking for work in the engineering field, but most say not just any experience matters.
 
In a 2014 national survey of employers conducted by the National Association of College and Employers (NACE), nearly three-quarters (74%) of employers said they prefer to hire candidates with relevant work experience, compared to 1% of those who said they don’t factor work experience into their hiring decisions – a new all-time low.
 
Just 21% of employers said work experience of any type was desirable, even if it’s not relevant to the job a candidate is applying for. “Digging deeper into employers’ preference for work experience, close to 60 percent of respondents favor experience gained through an internship,” the NACE report said.
 
“Students who decide to forego internship experience typically find that their resume is less competitive when it comes to the full-time job search,” says
 Gilmour.
 
That’s one reason Edward Lee, a second-year SJSU electrical engineering student sought out his first job. He landed at Underwriters Laboratories in Fremont as a summer intern. The then-college freshman worked full time testing new devices.
 
“While it can be a challenge for a student to secure an internship after their first year of college, it is not impossible,” advises Jared Tuberty, Executive Director, SJSU Engineering Student Success Center.
 
 “Though in any case, by starting an internship search the very first year, students are so much more comfortable with the process for subsequent years they can be intentional about filling skill or knowledge gaps they may have to be a stronger candidate,” he said.
 
Right now is a great time for students seeking internships, reports Gilmour.  “In Sept. 2014, there were 1,900 internship openings posted in Spartajobs, the University’s job and internship database. Of those postings, 34 percent were seeking engineering students.”
 
Lee said one key factor in landing his internship was having a solid resume ready to send immediately to potential employers. He fine-tuned his over two months during career coaching offered by the Engineering Student Success Center.
 
Through resume critiques, interview coaching, and additional job prep resources offered by the Career Center and the Engineering Success Center, Lee learned how to put his best foot forward when talking with recruiters.
 
It’s also important to now that employers often look for full-time candidates within their internship populations. That’s because interns have spent time with the company; they already know about the corporate culture and have job training.
 
“Many employers use the hiring strategy “recruit one and hire twice,” says Gilmour. “Employers recognize that outstanding interns make a wise investment as full-time hires because they are already a part of the team.”
 
For students, internships provide more time with a specific employer, so you have more time to make a great impression and possibly secure a job for after graduation.
 
“Internships complement classroom learning and help students to better know what they want and don’t want, in their career after graduation,” said Tuberty. 
 
Lee says his summer internship provided him the opportunity to develop new skills, helped him to gain a better understanding of business processes, and be part of a team. He also likes that internship provide an opportunity to “try on” different jobs to learn what aspects of his field are most interesting to him and where he needs to enhance his skills before graduation. Internships, he says, are a long-term investment.
 
Studies show students who’ve scored work experience prior to graduation often receive more interview opportunities than students without experience. Lee hopes once he graduates, his internships will give him an edge in the competitive job market. 
 
“I want to explore the e-field as much as possible before graduation and internships offer me real industry experience I can’t get anywhere else,” Lee said.
 
Lee offers this advice to other engineering students considering internships: Have a great resume and network. Join a club, and seek out introductions through friends, alumni, and your fraternity or sorority, he says.
 
SJSU students have the unique opportunities being in the heart of Silicon Valley, adds Tuberty.  “I have seen many students turn a summer internship into part-time employment with the company during the academic year.  This provides additional learning, income, and motivation to press on toward the degree and frequently leads to full-time job offers before graduation.”
 
To learn more about internships, preparing for interviews, finding internships or other career advice visit the SJSU Career Center, Administration Bldg. Room 154, and the Engineering Student Success Center, Engineering Room 344.
 
During Fall 2014 semester, students can also stop by the Career Center’s satellite Job and Internship Lab, located in A.S. Computer Lab for internship advice 1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. on Monday and Thursday.