As someone who just finished his second summer internship, I know that an internship can be a time to learn more about a career without serious commitments, an opportunity to build relationships, to gain skills for a resume, or maybe just a time to think about your future. Most importantly, though, a good internship can help you gain confidence and knowledge to get a job in the future.
After spending this last summer as a petroleum-engineering intern at a small oil and gas firm in Texas, I learned a lot about one of the largest industries in the world. I know that I have taken away a better understanding of this incredibly complex sector, but I also have some skills and advice that are applicable to anyone looking into an internship. Here are a few examples of my takeaways from the past two summers that may help you in the future:
Building a relationship with your coworkers and supervisors can be super helpful in networking in the field. Chances are, the people you work with know others in the industry that can help you down the line. Talk with them over lunch, ask them about their work, what they did in the past, how their current job is different than others they’ve had, or any advice they have for you. Most of the time, they want to help you and they’d love to share what they know and their experiences with you. People love talking about themselves and the easiest way to connect with coworkers is to ask them about their work. Building and cultivating these relationships helps with networking and will be crucial when you need recommendations in a few years.
Knowledge of the field
During your time at an internship, try to absorb as much information as you can. You’ll probably begin to realize that the work in a certain industry is much more complex than you thought. When I worked this summer, every minute that I wasn’t working on a project, I was looking up words, talking to coworkers about things I didn’t understand, researching, reading articles, and finding new things out about the oil and gas industry. While I was working I kept a running list of terms, abbreviations, and concepts that I didn’t understand right next to my computer. I would recommend doing the same. As an undergraduate who’s new to an industry, you shouldn’t and most likely don’t know a lot about it. Take time over the summer to gain a more nuanced understanding of everything that happens in your industry. This can sometimes happen passively, but taking a proactive attitude towards learning can be incredibly valuable.
Skills for your resume
Hopefully at your internship you’ll learn some skills in addition to everything you learn about the career. This can be software experience, presentation experience, more technical knowledge, or any other career-specific skill. These are all great things to put on your resume. Keep track of all the things you do on a daily basis that could contribute to your resume. This is much better than sitting down with your old resume and only a vague idea of what you accomplished over the summer a week before the career expo. Take this list of accomplishments, skills, and knowledge and weave them in with descriptions of projects you worked on. This list can also be a good thing to review before interviews or meetings with industry representatives. Just make sure you have a solid and concrete idea of what skills you’ve gained over the summer.
Understanding of your future
Two summers ago, I was a research intern at the University of Colorado hospital in a biomedical research lab. I worked with some other undergraduate students from around the country and had some great opportunities to shadow doctors, learn research techniques, and gain a greater understanding of the healthcare industry. I am really happy I had this internship because I absolutely hated it. I realized that I cannot stand biology, research, medicine, health care, etc. and I came to school the next year with a much clearer vision of what I wanted to do. Sometimes an internship that you dread going to every morning can be great because you learn about yourself and what you don’t want to do. On the other hand, a great internship can introduce you to jobs and careers that you never knew existed. Sometimes, the most valuable internships can be purely informative for you to explore different industries and career paths.
Hugh Grier is a Peer Career Advisor from Will Rice College. He is a sophomore studying chemical engineering.