Internship hunt as a second year civil student!

It seems like all that everyone talks about is internship. If the prospect of applying to lots of companies, knowing you have very little to offer, is daunting to you, welcome to Part II Engineering!

My Experience

Internship hunting is hard, especially for someone who has only worked in a family business and never had to apply for a real job before. Unlike many of my peers, I never had to write a CV or cover letter, let alone do an interview. It does not help that most companies prefer third-year students over second years. While there are a lot of civil engineering internship opportunities out there (and I mean A LOT), my lack of experience, coupled with the high competition for the roles, makes for an interesting ‘hunting’ experience.

Despite being fully aware of the Engineering work requirements, my hunt did not begin until late July. From the stories I’ve heard, I had expected it to be a long and challenging journey filled with rejections. If only I knew how right I was. From Watercare to Fulton Hogan to KiwiRail, I’ve applied to more than 20 different companies from late July until late October. Below are screenshots of my “Internship Hunt” notes I used to keep track of my applications.

Most of my applications, 18 out of 23 to be precise, were rejected or ignored. Only five of my applications managed to move on to the second stage. Of those five, three were online one-way interviews, and two were in-person interviews. I must say online one-way interviews are not my cup of tea. I dislike the idea of recording myself talking to a screen and hearing the echo of my every mistake. In-person interviews, on the other hand, I quite enjoy. I like the human element of in-person interviews, two parties learning more about each other. It feels more like a conversation where you can genuinely feel the connection. In one-way interviews, I felt I needed to be perfect to prove myself “worthy”.

In the end, I did manage to land myself an internship on my very last application. I am thrilled to say that I’ll be working at Mott MacDonald over the summer as a Geotechnical Engineering intern! So far, everyone I met at Mott MacDonald seems lovely, and the recruiter was very responsive. So I am very much looking forward to working there!

Key Takeaways

  • It gets easier! – The more you apply and the more you practise with your interviews, the easier it gets.
  • Customise your CV and cover letter to match the job description for every application! – I personally have found little success when using my generic one-fits-all CV and cover letter. I have found more success by customising my CV and cover letter to showcase relevant projects and coursework that match the job description.
  • Interviews are conversations! – Your interviewers have been in your shoes and know what it is like. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and ask questions to learn more not only about the company but also about the person interviewing you! (why they do what they do, their proudest achievements, their advice…etc.)
  • Do research about the company and your interviewer(s)! – Find out the company values, services…etc. Check out your interviewer’s LinkedIn profiles; find out about their work experiences! This will help you build rapport and connect with your interviewers and portray you as someone who’s willing to put in the work!
  • Expect a lot of rejections!– Landing an internship is hard, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. It is very normal to be unsuccessful in your first few applications (or 22 in my case).
  • Apply to as many companies as you can! – While some companies only look for a single intern, others may look for many! Downer, for instance, hires a lot of interns each year. You can drastically improve your chances of getting hired by making the most of these opportunities.
  • Attend the career events! – Join CESA and Engineering NZ and attend their speed interviews and other career events. This will portray you as a well-rounded person and is a good talking point in your cover letter and interviews. (Having talked to [name], a [their role] at [company], I like/learn/find … interesting..etc.)
  • Regardless of the outcome, you will come out of this better than when you first started! 

Lastly, if you’re looking to read more about internships, I find the tips in this post, in particular, to be extremely helpful. This post by Jerry Sun is also a fun read!

That’s all for me!

– Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooor




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