What advice would you give to a student planning to do an internship in your field?
Background: I am currently working as a software engineer intern at General Dynamics Land Systems (a branch of General Dynamics which is a global aerospace and defense company). The branch I work at focuses on land systems – mainly Abrams tanks and Stryker vehicles.
1. Develop a good relationship with your managers/superiors.
Internships are important for the connections! Your relationship with your managers will determine whether you will be hired or if they will help you in the future. Help being letters of recommendation, referrals to new opportunities, or interviewing someone you are referring.
2. Make an improvement list for the next intern.
When your internship comes to an end and you are asked in which ways your internship could have been improved, it will be hard to come up with something really valuable, specific, and feasible to the company on the spot. So make a list. My list includes: more social activities for interns, a company career fair, career planning, and a resume critique day… You will be making a difference for the next intern, and it will help you reflect what you want in your next internship.
3. If you have downtime, be productive; improve yourself.
During the first half of my internship, I had a lot of downtime. I was given work that I could finish very easily. When I did ask for more work, I was told to read the company’s documentation until they were ready to give me a new project.
If you ever find yourself in a situation like mine, then this is what I think you should do:
Read! Read about finance, career advancement, something that will help you in your major, maybe even fiction. Reading is one of the most productive things you can do when you can’t actually be productive.
If you learn new skills from your reading/research, then work on your own projects.
This may be more applicable to those pursuing careers in software engineering/development, but in my downtime, I read “Cracking the Coding Interview.” Through the book, I practiced coding problems on my work environment, and I re-studied concepts that I learned in my computer science classes.
As an intern, reading about things that will directly help you is way better than doing nothing at all and waiting for your superiors to tell you what to do.
4. Make mistakes.
This seems counter-intuitive, but the thing that holds us back the most is being afraid of making a mistake. Your manager/superiors won’t give you anything that will destroy the company, so dive right into your project. Plus, if you do a mistake, then it’s a chance to grow. “Tell me about a time you made a mistake” is also a common interview question so now you’ll have a great story for that.