STEM Career Advice: Internships and Career Fairs

Note: Destenie Nock has already contributed two articles for My College Advice: "Choosing a Engineering Degree: An Unconventional Method" and "When I Realized What College Meant to Me." She is a Mitchell Scholar and a future STEM professional. Enjoy this great post on finding internships and preparing for the career you want. 

Destenie at her internship in Iowa. 

Destenie at her internship in Iowa. 

ou are majoring in STEM, and you finish your degree with good grades. Now a job should come naturally...right? A lot of people seem to think that a job will just appear after you graduate from your degree, but there is a difference in just having a job after your finish your bachelor's degree, and having the career you desire. The thing that every person in STEM should do before they graduate is make sure they have an internship (typically summer) or co-op (where you take a semester or year off of school to work). Having an internship or co-op will show companies that you have work experience, and this will help you determine what type of company you would like to work for in the future. 

When I entered college at 17 I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do in my career, but by the time I graduated I had changed my career plans at least four times. Through internships I was able to experience different working environments, which aided in determining what type of company I would like to work for. Also each internship added a piece to my resume, which made getting the next internship easier.

When you are looking for an internship or job you should think of a few questions:

  1. Would you like to work for the private or government sector?
  2. Do you picture yourself at a small or large company?
  3. Would you like to be doing primarily individual work, or do you prefer to work in teams?
  4. What type of projects would you like to work on?

The last question is probably one of the most important because the variety of potential jobs is immense and can be intimidating. With endless possibilities how do you choose? As an electrical engineer when I went to my first career fair I was overwhelmed by the choices. There were car companies, power companies, Frito-Lay, and so many others that it was hard to decide where to apply. So in the heat of this decision I just started applying to any job that said they would hire a freshman.

When you are applying to internships there are two essential things to have:

  1. A resume
  2. An elevator speech

The resume is the document that will leave people with an impression of who you are. Your GPA and past work experiences should be clearly stated. It is a good idea to talk to your school's career services department, and have them review your resume. The career services department can give you good feedback and advice on making your resume stand out to potential employers.

The elevator speech should basically say who you are, and what you are interested in. This elevator speech should show that you are able to speak with confidence and you are not afraid to introduce yourself. It should be short, to the point, and said with a smile. An example of an elevator speech is

"Hello, my name is _______. I am interested in _______. I was wondering if your company had any internships available for the summer?"

Career Fairs 

Career Fair suit headshot. 

Career Fair suit headshot. 

The next step in getting the internship you want is going to a career fair. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you should go to every career fair available to you. Although it's tempting, don't just go to the career fair for the free stuff, although free things are always nice. When you go to the career fair you need to dress for the part. DO NOT show up to the career fair in jeans. You need to show up in a suit.  I am talking a full on SUIT, a jacket and matching pants (a skirt also works if you are a woman), and a collared shirt. The colors for the collared shirt are typically blue, white, green or some neutral.  First impressions are everything at a career fair. The suit does not need to be expensive either, as long as the pants match the jacket you are good.

Going the career fair is a good way to get your foot in the door, and potentially get an internship that will put you one step closer to the career of your dreams. After the career fair hopefully you will most likely have to go apply to internships online, and you may get called for a couple of interviews. If you do get interviews then this is your chance to make a good impression. Show up for the interview at least 5 minutes early, have a few resumes on hand in a portfolio, and be dressed in business attire. While waiting for the interview do not start texting on your phone, you do not want to look distracted in case one of the interviewers comes out and signals you in. During the interview you should be honest and try to remain clam. If you are nervous about going on interviews check with your career services department about mock interviews. Going on a few practice interviews will show you something you can expect from the real interview, while also providing valuable feedback.

Through all of the preparation you should be able to land the internship you want. Remember to go to career fairs, and if you do not get an internships from the career fair then you can also ask the career services department and some of your professors if they know of any internship or summer research opportunities. The earlier you start looking for jobs the more likely you are to get the internship you desire. Internships will help you see how things you have learned in classes are applied in the workforce. They will also provide invaluable opportunities for networking. Previous work experience and good networking skills will increase the career options you have post-graduation.

Please share any thoughts, reactions, or questions in the comments section below! If you enjoyed this post, you might also like "Landing a STEM Job with Non-STEM Credentials," "Inventing an Internship," and "Saying Yes."