How can I successfully land an internship as an engineering student?
April 13, 2012 5:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm an engineering student that's been applying for internships since the start of the year but with no offers. Can any MeFi members give me any advice on landing one and how to keep my motivation?

I'm a third-year Chemical Engineering student in Canada with a huge interest in having a career in the oil and gas industry. Ideally, I was looking for a 16-month internship in oil but since the initial round of offers I've been applying for summer, 8 and 12 month work term positions as well. That being said, I've been applying to anything chemical engineering related and I've been having no success. My marks aren't terrible (B+ average) and my relevant experiences seem sufficient enough to land me some interviews, but I can never cross the line between being an applicant and the intern they want. I've been using the university's careers website, and for job postings.

I've been shortlisted for every position I've been interviewed for but never chosen. Now, people including friends and classmates around me are getting internships and engineering summer jobs, and frankly I'm feeling absolutely depressed and worthless. Since I'm an out of town student, I've delayed my housing to the point that I'm going to have to find a temporary place for the summer and am probably going to have to live with strangers in the school year. I really wanted a year-long or at least a summer internship because I have no connections to the industry I want to work in and I see this as a way of getting my foot in the door.

I've had numerous mock interviews (they said I was good), resume checks (apparently my CLs and resumes are good to excellent) and phoned a few of the places I applied for to check in but it seems that no matter how much work I put in to it, I just end up disappointed. Now companies are closing up shop for student positions and I'm afraid that I just screwed myself over by trying so hard to get one for the next school year.

Can anyone who's been in my position, has done an internship or is an engineer in the oil and gas industry give me any advice on how I should proceed?
posted by This Is Reality to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've had numerous mock interviews (they said I was good)

Who have your mock interviews been with? Your school's career office or...? Because usually the problem if someone is getting multiple interviews but no offers is something they do in the interview- either you come across as socially awkward or out of it somehow, or you have some weird requirements that you go on and on about (you won't work certain days or certain hours, you're only going to do X kind of work, you expect to be running your own company by 30 so they should feel lucky to have you), or shoot yourself in the foot some other way.

Other than that, it is a numbers game, unfortunately.

The only other advice I have is to be way more proactive with your career office- see if they have databases for internships you aren't using, if they've placed students with one particular company that they have a good relationship ship with and can put in a good word for you, if you qualify for any on-campus interviews, etc.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:52 PM on April 13, 2012

Response by poster: At the school's career office. I don't have any weird requirements and have stated in interviews that I can work anywhere they want. I also stated that I hoped to do my internship at a company I could work for after graduation, if that comes off as weird in any way. Additionally, two thirds of my interviews were on-campus and have asked for them to put in a good word for me (I think they may have numerous people asking that since I never heard back from them about it). I have used all the resources my school's career services supply including contacting numerous alumni, so I'm kind of at a dead end at that.
posted by This Is Reality at 8:23 PM on April 13, 2012

I'm a chem eng grad from SK, my internship was oil & gas related. A lot of 1-year internships came up in January too, that's when I landed mine. So don't think this is your last chance ever at getting pre-grad experience.

For summer work though, you should be applying for any job you're qualified for at this point, no sense being picky. Anything that gets you working at a plant site of any kind is highly desirable on a new grad resume.

I also strongly suggest you humbly and enthusiastically go to your profs and ask around if anyone's got need of a summer research student because it's what you'd really like to do this summer - at least engineering research is some kind of engineering work, still looks good on a resume.

Where are you, anyway? If you're out east, then a lot of jobs might not be getting posted out there at your university like they are out west. You might need to go check on company websites if you haven't been already. Memail me if you want some company names to look up, or if just by chance you're from SK.

And to be honest, if your resume and cover letters are getting you interviews, and you're interviewing well but just not making top of the list, I agree that the issue lies with how you're interviewing. It might be seeping through a little bit that you're trying hard to impress them and win them over, which is a little uncomfortable. If they selected you for the interview, you met the qualifications. Now they're pretty much just screening candidates to find out who would be friendly and a pleasure to work with, someone fun and cheerful. My best interviews have all been situations where I either didn't want the job or was pretty sure I wouldn't get it... so I didn't care about impressing them and simply went in with the objective of making good conversation with the interviewer, and enjoying myself. I know it's going well if I can make them laugh.
posted by lizbunny at 10:58 PM on April 13, 2012

Are you female and/or non-white? Sadly the stats suggest that you will have to make many more applications than your white male classmates to find somewhere satisfactory -- though fortunately the stats say that doesn't necessarily mean you will only be offered low-end posts. You need to keep going, and pump out a lot of applications, even though it is very difficult to keep trying when all you get are rejections.

Possible sources of leads that you haven't mentioned are:

Your staff -- talk to them -- ask for advice, ask if they have useful contacts. They are human, they do like to help students.

Your local branch of a relevant oil-and-gas professional engineers association, and/or a branch of the more generic engineering associations

The Rotary and Lions clubs in your hometown. A longer shot, but they may be more willing to go out of their way for you.

Can you afford to do a stint for a charity like Habitat for Humanity? A friend with very average marks found that 3 months with them resulted in excellent job offers.
posted by Idcoytco at 6:26 AM on April 14, 2012

Would you consider going abroad? Places like North-East of Scotland or Western Australia would also have oil and gas engineering jobs/internships, and maybe a slightly different focus which could be enough to get you across the line?
posted by EatMyHat at 7:31 AM on April 14, 2012

Memail me.
posted by moiraine at 8:16 AM on April 14, 2012

Hey! I am also a 3rd year chemical engineering student (in Alberta)!

My experience with finding internships, and the experience of a lot of my peers, has been very similar to yours: lots of interviews but then nothing. It can be horribly discouraging.

In my own experience it tends to boil down to who you know first, then your actual qualifications second. Also there are lots of positions that never get posted on websites but are just filled purely through networking (this is how I got my job for the next 8mo., the position was never posted publicly but some people at the company knew me).

This does not help, I know, because when you are new you don't know anybody. This just highlights what lizbunny said about just getting a job, any job, which places you in industry. This not only adds the whiff of industrial experience to your résumé, but if you keep in contact with the people who you worked with they can steer you towards positions that are filled internally.

As far as interview skills: I have found that being personable and funny has gotten me farther than actually knowing anything about how do to anything. That is probably the single most depressing thing I have learned in the work force.

In the short term you may not end up with the internship you want, but that isn't the end of the world, even though it may seem like it at times.
posted by selenized at 2:03 PM on April 15, 2012

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