Despite current market conditions, demand for qualified engineers is still strong. Studying overseas for an engineering degree that is grounded in practical, hands-on experience will make all the difference to your job prospects, wherever you want to work in the world.
The most important way to add that practical real-life experience is an internship. But how do international students go about finding the right one? In this article you’ll discover five top ways to get the engineering internship you want.
What’s in an internship?
A recent study in The Times newspaper showed that graduates who undertake internships increase their chances of being noticed by an employer.
The UK’s biggest graduate employer is Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and its head of graduate recruitment explains; “Strong academic performance is a prerequisite for application, but those with employment skills will demonstrate experience that puts them in the best possible position, even a downturn.”
An internship is a temporary work placement – sometimes a few months over a summer break, sometimes part-time work throughout your degree. It might be paid, usually at an hourly rate, or unpaid, in which case you should at least expect some expenses (such as food and travel to work) to be covered.
Many employers recruit their new graduates directly from their internship program, so it’s the best way to get your foot in the door. For these companies, it’s also a chance to see how you perform in the workplace, and get you up to speed before starting full-time with them.
So how do you find one?
1. What type of internship you are looking for?
Engineering is a very broad field, so you need to narrow your prospects down first. What are you specialising in? Civil engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, electrical engineering, materials engineering, computer engineering or chemical engineering?
Your field will determine what you do in your internship. For example, a civil engineer may do CAD drafting, road or bridge construction inspection or specification writing. A chemical engineer will be working in a chemical technology lab. If you’re in computer engineering, you’ll get a chance to test software, develop programs or network technology.
And of course it will also determine the company you want to work for – whether that’s a telecommunications firm, construction business or a transportation provider.
At NYU Poly in New York, the internship program is a key part of their engineering degree. NYU-Poly students have worked as civil engineering assistants, analyst programmers, engineering management aides and network developers. They have experienced real-life projects at companies such as IBM, Con Edison, the MTA and Xerox.
Undergraduates and postgraduates can participate, and international students can work for up to 20 hours per week during term and full-time during vacations. Plus, these positions are paid – in 2007, the average hourly salary for undergraduate interns was $15.00.
2. Ask your school careers office
Your first stop should be your university careers office. They may be able to organise a placement for you, and they can also help you with your application, cover letter and resume.
At the University of NSW (UNSW) in Australia, engineering students are able to apply for industry placements through the Co-Op Scholarship program. These placements take place over holiday periods and throughout the fourth year of study – in fact, you’ll spend about a third of your total degree program working in industry.
UNSW Co-Op graduates find graduate employment easily, and many alumni of this program now work for companies such as Alcatel, Canon, Energy Australia, Motorola and Telstra. They’ve had experience at the forefront of technological change, including areas such as solar energy conversion, communication systems and electromedical equipment.
3. Talk with your professors
Sometimes it’s all about getting an introduction to a certain company, and your professor or tutor might be able to help with that. Or they might have some ideas on ways you can apply your thesis or area of expertise in a particular business.
In the UK, engineering students in all specialities are encouraged to apply for internships. Brunel University’s computer science masters’ students now complete an industrial internship as part of their dissertation. This allows them to apply state-of-the-art technology to the real world, for companies such as Accenture Technology, BMW, GlaxoSmithKline and Microsoft.
4. Target specific companies
Some internships are not advertised externally, so you need to contact their recruitment office directly. Research online to work out which companies you’d really like to work for, and whether they have a program. Make sure you find out any application deadlines, and write each cover letter specifically for that company.
Show your motivation and initiative in your application, and be persistent. You also need to be organised – start looking for your engineering internship six to eight months before you want to start.
5. Search online job boards
There are many ways to find an internship on the net. Start with some networking sites like LinkedIn – you can post your interests and see what happens within your network! Also, there are specialised internship job boards such as iHipo. Just make sure you understand exactly what is required to confirm your internship.
No matter what kind of engineer you plan on becoming, an internship will guarantee you make the contacts you need before you graduate – and set you on the path to global success.
For more information about studying engineering abroad, read our recent subject guide.