If you have mates in second or third year, you’ve probably seen them getting stressed about internships in the past couple weeks. Indeed, internship has been on practically everyone’s mind. The Faculty recommends doing one internship after second year, and another one after the third, so no doubt people would be in a frenzy. Equally, you might have even seen some of the second-years talk about how they got their internships. As I can attest to, many of them have interesting stories to tell.
Unfortunately, but this is not going to be one of those stories.
Because as of now, I have yet to find an internship. I know, it’s sad, especially as new vacancies become less and less. At least the rejection letters were in large enough quantities for wiping away tears. This is, however, not exactly unexpected. Roaming around the career expos earlier this year, one foreshadowing phrase were uttered from almost every employer I talked to: “We would prefer third-years, but feel free to still apply.”
The cold harsh reality is that, employers do have a preference for third year mechanical students. Compared to us second-years, they offer several distinct advantage. The biggest one is that, third-years could go back to them as a graduate after their forth year. Companies love that, especially since it saves them trouble in rehiring. In addition, of course, third-years have learned a lot more stuff, which is a quality any employer would want. So, from a market competition perspective, successfully selling us (and you in the future) second-years to employers is no small feat. Indeed, many of my aforementioned rejection letters emphasised how they had “gave the position to a third-year”.
Do you feel defeated by having slapped by the concrete of reality? If not, good on you, give yourself a pat on the back. If yes, still give yourself a pat on the back, plus you just saved me a transition to this next section.
What Does This Mean for You?
Ultimately, I’m only a single data point, the number which causes stats students to roll their eyes. Mechanical internships certainly exist for second-years, despite my previous narration. However, even if you are certain that you would not land an internship, it is still a worthy experience to seriously apply for them. Should you decide to join our elusive order of mechanical engineers, the importance of iterative testing soon becomes apparent. And just like testing and improving any products, internship applications are good opportunities to refine your application skills.
For starters, efficiently crafting an application is the baby step to every (potential) internship. You might not have had much trouble producing a CV and cover letter before, but things will get heated if you are trying to apply for several positions in quick succession. Sadly, I don’t suppose I could offer any advice as I’m still internship-less, but there are people to help you! CDES does a large number of CV and cover letter workshops every year, and they do go into quite the detail on each one. Aside from that, CDES also offers a number of CV checking services, where they could check over your CV against a job description and offer suggestions. As someone who got their CV checked somewhat frequently, I could say it probably helped me land a couple interviews. After a couple applications, hopefully writing them would become a second nature to you.
And secondly, we have the matter of interviews. Assume your brilliant applications impressed those employers who didn’t throw out everything that said “second-year student” on it, good job! I personally found interviews absolutely nerve wreaking. It’s not like I studied engineering to avoid talking to another human [nervous laughter]. There are, of course, people who could help you with interviews. Many places, such as CDES, Engineering NZ, or even your engineering club, may organise Mock Interviews or Speed Interviews, which are useful to practice your skills answering interview questions. Although, even with these practices, a real interview could still make one nervous. That’s totally normal, especially since the opinions of some random interviewer could very well determine how you spend your summer 😬. But just like writing applications, practice makes perfect. Even if you, like me, failed to get those internships, nothing beats actually conversing with an interviewer.
Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that it’s not entirely your fault if you don’t get an internship. In many ways, luck plays a non-negligible role in whether or not one gets an internship. To use the nerdiest analogy there is, getting an internship is like rolling for a skill check in Dungeons and Dragons ¹. Of course, if you have a higher skill modifier, you are more likely to win the check. However, if your dice decide to roll a natural 1, sorry mate, but no modifier is going to save you from a critical fail. This analogy, I find, is oddly applicable to any kind of applications, where one is being judged upon by arbitrary set of criterion. As one actual mechanical engineer I talked to puts it, you never know what the recruiters feel when reading applications. Maybe they ate something bad, maybe they got distracted, or maybe the temperature in the room was just a tad too annoying. In the end, you are unlikely to have a lot of direct control over how your application goes. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t land any internships, give yourself a pat on the back, and just try again. Even the most unluckiest die can roll a critical success eventually.
What to Do Without Internships?
Imagine you have no internship at the end of your second year. Seems very far away, isn’t it? But beware, time catches up eventually, and you may very well find yourself in this situation. If it happens, what can you do? Well, the first thing might be to look past the sad part of this reality. Yes, it is true that you might not be able to attend the same graduation ceremony as your mates. However, you still might be able to start working at the same time as them. It is said that companies don’t necessarily focus on whether or not you have a sheet of parchment with a degree written on it, and that may very likely to be true. But, we are getting too far ahead of ourselves here.
One very immediate benefit is that, hey look, your summer is freed up! Aside from whatever you normally do in the long break awaiting you, this would be a great time to start a personal project or two. Perhaps something you find genuinely interesting, had no time to do it over the semester, and related to your degree so that you could flex it at the employers in your third-year? And hey, don’t wait till your second-year, you can start doing it now, and flex it at the employers by your second-year (mind blown)! You’ve learned more than enough in first-year to get something risk-free going. Maybe build something that you feel could make your life easier? (I’m looking at you, whoever yet to invent pickle jar openers) Maybe write a personal blog monologuing at strangers online? (where did I get this idea from 🤔) Heck, maybe enrol in summer school and do some courses ahead of everyone else if you so please. After all, the summer is yours. If you don’t get an internship after your second year, it’s not the end of your degree, and it certainly shouldn’t be the end of your right to enjoy what a break could offer.
Firstly, sorry for this super long post. I might have rambled a bit about something that’s still a long time away from you. But again, it doesn’t hurt to know about the iceberg below the horizon. By the nature of icebergs, they are unpredictable things, and chance still plays a big part in whether you hit one or not. Go into your second year with an open mind, applying for as much internships as you can, and don’t get beaten down by rejections. Make the best use of what you have, and enjoy it before your third year hits 🙃.
Above all, the right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world.
Footnote 1: In Dungeons & Dragons, a skill check is asked for to determine whether a character can successfully complete a certain short task. For example, a character trying to diffuse a trap may be asked to perform a “Dexterity” skill check. To perform the check, the player rolls a 20-sided die, then add their character’s “Dexterity” modifier to the number displaced on the die. The resulting number is compared to the task’s difficulty (which is also a number), to determine whether the task was completed successfully. A critical fail occurs when the die rolled a 1, which means the character definitely failed the task. See Basic Rules page 61 for details. Alternatively, feel free to join one of the many Uni’s role playing game clubs if you want to try out Dungeons & Dragons yourself 😉.
Image credit: Modified from I Want You poster.