If you’ve got engineering work experience lined up for the future, in the form of a placement or internship, then you’ve got a great opportunity to open your eyes to the world of professional employment in this exciting sector.
Work experience programmes are valuable to your personal and professional development, because they let you apply what you’ve learned so far during your degree in a real-world setting.
Other major benefits of doing a placement or internship include finding out whether a career in engineering seems right for you (before you graduate) and also gaining vital experience that you can include on your CV.
After graduation you’ll find that many companies ask for potential employees to have some relevant prior experience, so if your CV does contain this then you’ll be in a great position.
What are placements and internships?
You may have heard these terms be thrown around without much explanation about what they are, so if you’re a little confused about what exactly they involve, we’ve provided a brief description of each one below.
Placements – a lengthy period of work experience that you’ll spend working for a company and being treated as any other employee would be.
This means you’ll be involved in important projects and have the chance to show your value as an employee. If your degree is a four-year long course, the third year will often be a placement year in industry. These can last for up to 12 months.
Internships – these are shorter periods of work experience that generally last about four months. Other types of programme, like summer internships, can be shorter still (about one or two months) and be completed between your academic university years.
Both types of experience are incredibly valuable to your professional development, so if you’re interested in one, pick the programme that suits your requirements the best.
Make the most of your engineering work experience
Once you’ve secured your place on a programme, you should make sure you approach it with the right attitude. Below are some tips on how to get the most out of your placement or internship.
Be proactive – if this is your first taste of full-time work, then it’s understandable that you might be nervous. That’s fine. However, don’t let this impact your work and willingness to get stuck in.
Your manager and colleagues will be keeping an eye on your performance and attitude, so if you let nerves get the best of you, then you may not come across as well as you want to. Ask for work and things to do. If your manager has nothing for you, ask other colleagues and departments if there’s anything you can help with.
Not only will this let you try your hand at different tasks, it will also help you make a good impression on your team.
Ask questions – okay, so there’s no such thing as a stupid question – as long as it’s work-related. If there’s something you’re unsure of or need some help with, it’s fine to ask for help.
Get a feel for the culture – following on from the last point, you should be able to quickly work out what kind of culture exists in the company. Some places might be quite serious, while others may be far more laid-back.
If it’s a corporate atmosphere, you may have to hold off on speaking about your favourite show on Netflix (at least until a social event comes around). If it’s a more relaxed place, you may find it easier to settle if you do join in with the random conversations.
Really it comes down to getting a feel for the situation and using your common sense.
Find a mentor – if you want a bit more support, or even someone to learn from, it’s worth asking for a mentor when you start your placement or internship. Not only will this mean you have someone to confide in and discuss your progress with, it will also aid your professional development.
When you’re nearing the end of your placement or internship
The chances are that your time working for the company will fly by, but make sure that you do the following things while nearing the end of the programme to make the most of the experience.
Get feedback from your manager – if you’re part of a placement year in the industry as part of your degree, the feedback you get from your manager could contribute towards your final grade. Even if it doesn’t count towards your degree, it’s still worth asking anyway, as it will let you see what you did well and how you can improve / develop your skills. Make sure you bring it up in plenty of time before you leave, not the last afternoon!
Ask for references – as your experience is likely to become a crucial part of your CV, it’s a good idea to ask if your manager or mentor will be your reference. If you have a LinkedIn profile, you should also think about adding your placement or internship to it before you leave and asking if your colleagues will provide references on there too.
Enquire about future employment prospects – if you feel like you’ve done a great job for the company, it’s worth asking (if it hasn’t already come up) about the likelihood of returning in the future as a graduate. Many companies use placements and internships as a means to scout out future talent, so you may well get a nice surprise.
We hope you’ve found this advice useful on how you can get the most out of your engineering work experience! You can find plenty more information about working in the engineering sector by clicking the link above.
Written by Nick Clapp, copywriter at RateMyPlacement.