Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.
How I got my internship at JPL happens to be one of my most asked questions. Truthfully there isn’t necessarily a “recipe” for how to get one, but I really hope that my experience will be able to help you through your own application process. I’ve been lucky enough to experience both sides of the process since recently I was able to select an intern to mentor as well!
The Online Application
Internship online applications are an extremely daunting task. I was growing used to either receiving rejections, or not hearing back at all. The online application often does not leave much room to truly show who you are. This is why your resume is vital. For tips on how to make sure your resume is ready to submit, check out my block post “Telling Your Story Through Your Resume”.
After you submit your resume, it will likely end up in a “resume pool”. This is where potential employers will use different filters in order to narrow down their candidate choices. Often the amount of applicants for each posting far exceeds the amount of resumes an employer is willing to sift through. This is when employers begin to utilize keyword filters.
General Application. When I applied for an internship through the general application, I made sure my resume had all of the keywords associated with the job I was looking for. For example, as a PCB designer, my resume did not only say PCB, but it also included the design tools I was familiar with (i.e. KiCAD, Allegro). The reason for this is that I wanted to make sure I came up in as many searches as possible. Sometimes an employer is not only looking for a designer, but a designer with specific experience in certain tools. If you do not have those tools in your resume, you simply will not come up even though you have the skill.
Job Posting Application. When I applied for an internship through a specific job posting, I incorporated the skills I possessed on the job posting into my resume. A potential employer will most likely not take the time to ask any questions about possible skills, so every skill they required and I possessed was clear and emphasized.
I knew that the online applications were a waiting game. So I decided to also attend as many career fairs as I could and made sure JPL was my first stop. I also made sure my passion and excitement for the work JPL did always shone through. I was not asked for an interview during any of the conferences, but did notice my resume would be placed in a small pile as opposed to a large pile each time. I got the name of each recruiter I spoke with and submitted my applications once more through the conference links and spoke about my conversations with the recruiters in my cover letter and mentioned them by name. I figured that somebody reading my application could, if they wanted to, ask the recruiter for more information about their opinions and impressions of me.
Eventually, (about 5 months after I began applying) one of the multiple efforts I made paid off and I got an email for an interview! I was ecstatic, but so nervous at the same time. The next phase would be to make sure I was as prepared as possible for my interview. I went through every section of my resume and prepared a “script” of points I wanted to emphasize for each of my skills and points of experience just in case they asked. I also prepared a list of questions I had about the project, mission, and JPL culture in general. I figured that even if I didn’t get the job, I would take advantage of the opportunity to talk to an engineer at JPL about their job. My excitement about the opportunity must have been evident, because my interviewer ended the interview by telling me not to give up trying to work at JPL. About a week later I received the call that I had been chosen for the position and would start right away!
The application process is long, daunting, and months can go by with no response. It is important to keep trying, keep applying, keep trying to make those connections with recruiters, and to prepare yourself as much as possible during each phase in the process. You must give each phase your all for any internship you apply for. Remember, if you have applied to many internships and have not received a single interview, it’s time to fix your resume.