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A student guide to engineering internships

An internship appearing on a recent engineering graduate’s resume can mean the difference between landing a job in a candidate’s field of specialty and finding employment elsewhere. This is due to the majority of engineering firms seeking out candidates with real-life, practical work experience.

After all, problem solving, which is predominantly what engineers do no matter their area of expertise, is learned in the field and not necessarily in the classroom. Students with strictly classroom experience will likely be overshadowed by a candidate with actual working experience when the time comes to begin a job search.

It is essential that before graduation engineering students accrue real-life, problem-solving experience, prior to entering and competing on the engineering job market.

Benefits of an internship

In addition to giving a potential employment candidate the upper hand in job searches, internships have a host of other benefits. Overwhelmingly, internships with some companies can potentially lead to future employment. This is largely because interns are already trained in that company's policies and operations upon internship completion.

Another benefit of an internship is it gives those starting out in the engineering field networking connections. The earlier this network begins to take shape, the larger the network will become, making it easier when the time comes to conduct a job search.

Internships also help form a student’s impression of the workplace, and thus help them determine what kind of work setting they envision themselves in. For instance, an engineering intern may decide that he or she wants to work in a plant setting or research-based setting. Similarly, they might decide that they are better suited for a larger company versus a smaller one.

How to secure an internship?

First, and potentially most importantly to securing an internship, is deciding what branch of engineering (e.g., civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical) to pursue. Doing so will help the student narrow his or her focus on companies in those particular fields. The student can eliminate unrelated disciplines and companies from their search.

Some disciplines where a student might seek internships include the following.


Aerospace engineers design spacecraft, aircraft, missiles, satellites and national defense systems. Consequently, an aerospace engineering student might want to concentrate on finding an internship with an aerospace company or firm that manufactures, analyzes, designs and conducts aerospace R&D. An aerospace engineering student might also find internship opportunities with the federal government.


Chemical engineers basically turn raw materials into products, be it food, drinks, metals or beauty products, for instance. Engineering students might look for internships in fields including the energy, food, electronics, clothing and life science industries.


Civil engineers are concerned with conceptualizing, designing, constructing, overseeing and operating and maintaining construction projects both in the private and public sectors. Civil engineering students might seek internships within the construction, geotechnical or transportation industries.


Electrical engineers are responsible for designing, maintaining and developing electrical systems and related components. Considering how far-reaching the domain is, electrical engineering students might find internship opportunities in industries as varied as aerospace, construction, IT, energy, automotive, manufacturing, telecommunications and design.


Industrial engineers typically oversee the production process in a number of settings, including manufacturing and healthcare. The industrial engineer devises methods for reducing waste in production and designs systems for improving and making processes more efficient. Those in search of an industrial engineering internship might focus their attention on the manufacturing, healthcare, risk management and finance industries.


Mechanical engineers design, maintain and manufacture mechanical systems (e.g., elevators and escalators) applying the principles of materials science and physics. Mechanical engineers might find internships within a variety of industries working with industrial equipment and HVAC systems, as well as with companies that deal in automotive, aerospace, robotics or medical devices.

Where to look?

Students can generally search for internships through their university’s internship programs, if offered, or career placement programs. Likewise, students can attend career fairs or approach companies in the branch of engineering the student is pursuing. Some engineering companies have entire departments devoted to intern recruiting efforts.

Start early

Students in pursuit of internships should start to look for their possible internship well in advance. A good rule of thumb, according to experts, is to begin the search six to eight months in advance of when the student intends to start an internship. This will give the student a jump on competitors and the chance to apply ahead of its announced availability. Some experts are even recommending that students begin STEM-related internships as early as high school to get a jump on the competition.



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