It’s Never Too Early to Intern

By: Kirsi


Well… according to child labor laws the absolute minimum age of an employee is 14 however I’m talking late high school/early college here. It is true, you can have a meaningful relevant internship before completing your major’s core classes! While it may seem intimidating to get a taste of industry I’m here to spill some early career secrets.

Intern Early

Photo source: Unsplash | NASA

Need a Job for Experience – Need Experience for a Job Paradox

Demonstrating you have experience without a previous internship is a common early career hurdle. However, employers often hire interns knowing they don’t have ample experience and train them on the job. Before completing my core classes in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering I participated in an internship at Rockwell Automation. Rockwell Automation creates computer controllers used in factories, water treatment plants, and even roller coasters at amusement parks. Knowing that I was not familiar with their controllers they signed me up for training my first week where I learned how to code a basic assembly line program. After completing the training I was entrusted to test the controllers for anomalies. The summer before my freshman year of college I interned at NASA’s Glenn Research center designing a circuit board for a deep space habitat. Contrary to common belief I had never designed a circuit board before! My mentor shared training videos with me and I learned how to draw circuits using computer software. Basically it is more important to have passion related to the work, and patience to learn something new.


Controller we programmed during training, motion sensor and buttons.

In a depressingly titled BBC article, “This is the reason new graduates can’t get hired”, Anthony Carnevale, director from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, shared his thoughts. Carnevale explained, “Employers say students may have textbook knowledge but don’t have the ability to take that knowledge to think critically, innovate, solve complex problems and work well in a team.” Fortunately UMD offers opportunities for students to grow in book smarts and applied smarts. In addition to your studies join a club that challenges you to use the skills gained in your major. Students in ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) club attend hackathonsKirby Program Board gives students opportunity to develop leadership skills and organize campus wide events, and a number of sororities and fraternities conduct community outreach and volunteer. Outlets external to UMD where you can gain experience include job shadowing a local career person you look up to, attending a conference related to your major, or volunteering at a hospital, nursing home or site related to your major. You will see a trend that employers hire students for internships if they expand their experience into extra-curriculars.

What are Employers Actually Looking For?

Instead of reading minds of perspective employers, Forbes interviewed them in “What Employers Are Looking For When Hiring Recent College Grads”. Microsoft representative Anthony Rotoli shared that they look for candidates that are “willing to take risks”, “offer a fresh perspective ” and are “self-motivated and excited about technology”. Stacey Klein head of human resources at J. Walter Thompson explained they want students who are “innovative problem solvers” and “have awareness to other people and cultures”.


Microsoft interns (Photo by Microsoft)

This past fall I attended a tech conference called Grace Hopper, a celebration of women in computing. Despite the focus on women I learned career advice applicable to anyone at any level of their career. During a luncheon I spoke with Steven Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm and asked him what are characteristics that got him to the position of CEO. Mollenkopf shared that communication is key. Speak confidently, convince others of your idea and be a good public speaker. While you are not applying to be a CEO of a company, insight on what it takes to be a CEO is still applicable for applying to an internship and will certainly give you an upper hand.

Update your experience descriptions on your resume to highlight skills in communication, problem solving, and other skills employers look for. Fuse these into your experience descriptions rather than listing them as skills alone.


Steven Mollenkopf talking with us about what it takes to be a CEO (photo by NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology))

Highlighting Your Eligibility 

Even with extra-curriculars, volunteering, and class projects added to your resume, you may still think it does not fully communicate your eligibility. Sending a cover letter allows you to craft your passion for the internship position into a narrative form. Tell a story about why you are interested in the internship, what have you done to grow in that profession already, and what you can offer them. Employees don’t often request a cover letter but when they receive a well written cover letter that is what can tip the scale from “consider” to “hire”. Our Career Handbook explains how to write a strong cover letter specific to a internship position. Make an appointment with a career counselor to look over your cover letter before you submit it to your potential employer.

No previous internship? Haven’t finished your core classes? No problem! Equipped with extra-curriculars and a stellar cover letter you are on the path to internship victory!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Kirsi’s other posts

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