My internship work experience was the single most important thing that helped me find my first job after graduation. I worked two summers (following my sophomore and junior years of college) at a prestigious national laboratory (I’ll be referring to it as “the labs” from here on out). This amazing internship experience happened for me due to two main reasons: 1) I worked hard in high school and my first two years of college which helped me have an impressive resume and 2) I knew someone.
Yes, it’s how most people get jobs these days: you have to know someone. That someone I knew was my boyfriend (and now husband). His father worked at the labs and my boyfriend had also worked there as an intern since the summer after he graduated high school. His dad had gotten to know me and was impressed by my academic achievements and work ethic, so he made sure a hiring engineering manager saw my resume. But I still wouldn’t have gotten hired without a quality resume.
Prior to this internship I’d had no previous technical work experience. My work experience was all summer jobs: a junior lifeguard at the local pool, a doughnut shop, and at a department store at the mall. But I listed them all on my resume to show I had worked and held jobs – most of them I had worked more than one summer in a row, which showed that I was liked enough to be hired back the next year. I also included information about my course work, GPA, extracurricular involvement and leadership roles in both high school and college on my resume.
I was very excited when I was offered a position at the labs as an undergraduate student intern. The office location was a two hour drive from my home, so I lived with my boyfriend’s family for the summer since they lived much closer to the labs. It was my first experience living away from home, and I had fun getting to know his family better. His mom taught me how to cook some of their favorite family recipes and I was constantly joking around with his dad. We had a 45 minute drive to work and my boyfriend and I would sleep while his dad drove us most mornings. In the afternoons we’d all talk and tease each other the whole drive home.
The first few weeks of my internship were orientation and courses to learn safety and security standards and practices that I would be required to follow in my job. Once all the training was complete I was able to go to the job site. I got to shadow an experienced and highly respected engineer who was my mentor. He had worked on some pretty amazing projects and I was trying to soak up as much as I could watching how he and the other engineers in the office worked and interacted with others. He gave me a research project to work on for the summer. This was perfect for a new intern because I learned a lot during my research and got my first experience writing a technical paper to present my results at the end of the internship.
I finished my first internship and was excited to start classes again in the fall. The next school year turned out to be the one when the concepts in my classes finally clicked and I started getting straight As, and I have no doubt some of the confidence I gained that school year was due to my internship experience. I wanted to do well in school so I could get hired again the next summer, and also after my internship I started to understand why I needed to take these classes and how what I learned would be used once I had my first job.
I applied for the same internship the following summer and was rehired. The second summer went similar to my first: interesting research project and shadowing my mentor and other engineers in the office. This second summer my mentor helped me co-author a technical report on my research that was published within the labs. Another great thing about my internship was that both summers I was also able to take a summer school class, which helped lighten my course load during the following school year.
I had two unforgettable summers working as an intern at the labs. I eventually decided not to apply for a full-time position there, but I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and invaluable experience I gained during my time there an intern.
How was your first internship? Did you have to relocate to work there?
Check back for my next post on how I graduated college without any student loans.