How to Gain Experience Without an Internship
Like many of you, I've also experience the dreaded cycle of needing experience to get an internship, but needed an internship to get experience. What if I told you, it doesn't have to be so complicated?!
When I transferred to UCLA, my first quarter was rough. What I didn't know at the time was that my entire community college GPA would be wiped and replaced by my UCLA GPA. The problem was that recruitment season for Summer internships begins the previous Fall and like I mentioned, that first Fall was ✨rough✨.
A combination of things happened during that recruitment season. My confidence was very low and I had no experience on top of that. I felt unprepared and not ready for an internship experience. Previously, I had focused on research and research programs. Applying for internships was brand new to me and it terrified me. This low confidence was reflected in my resume as well as in the way I personally presented myself to recruiters. As you can imagine, I did not land an internship that summer. However, I should also mention that I was scared to even try.
I decided I NEVER wanted to feel that level of low self-esteem and lack of faith in myself ever again. I decided that I would take matters into my own hands. I spent the entire summer working on my skills and as a result, was able to land my dream internship a few months later!
Take a class.
If you don't feel quite ready yet to venture off on your own, consider enrolling in a few courses online. Many options exist, some of which are completely free. This is a good way to learn something new that you can add to your resume, while having that accountability of a course that we are used to.
Some places to look include:
Learn a valuable applicable skill.
What positions are you interested in? All too often students apply for positions they are currently qualified out of fear of being rejected to positions they actually want, but feel unqualified for. Remember that many of the skills you need for your job, you'll actually learn on the job! Don't be afraid of knowing you'll have lots to learn.
A good place to start is by looking up current job postings and taking a look at what they're looking for. Knowing that, you can begin to learn some of those skills.
Let's take a look at an example job posting:
Position: Space Robotics Mechatronics Electrical Engineer
" B.S. in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, or related disciplines required plus a minimum 3 years' experience in Robotic System design and construction
Must have experience in two or more of the following areas:
• PCB Design Experience (Altium Preferred)
• Electrical Schematics and Cable Harnessing
• Hands on lab/hardware experience with soldering, cable routing, test equipment (oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, DMMs, power supplies, etc.)
• DC Power Distribution
• Excellent verbal and written communication skills and the ability to work in a multi-disciplinary team of mechanical, electrical, and software engineers designing and building world-class, field-ready robot systems
• Ability to manage multiple priorities with little supervision.
• Highly responsible, team-oriented individual with strong work ethic.
• Highly developed coordination and organization skills.
• Must be flexible, open to new challenges in a dynamic environment."
Based on this job posting we can easily extract some major skill necessary for this position. PCB and Schematic design skills are needed to this position and they specifically mention which software they prefer. Therefore, a good place to start would be to learn how to use this software. Check whether free student versions are available (they usually are).
Another major skill we can extract includes Cable Harnessing. This is another great topic to dive into and a wonderful skill to learn. Same thing applies to "DC Power Distribution". It is a great topic for research and can be a great project.
Lastly, we see Hands on lab experience! Don't underestimate the importance of learning how to use lab and test equipment!
Do a Summer Project.
Another great way to take advantage of your summer are summer projects! This is a wonderful way to show that you know how to take your individual skills and put them together to create a final product.
You can be as formal or informal as you want when it comes to your project, but I recommend keeping yourself organized. Breaking a large project down into small achievable goals will help make the task less daunting. Remember, managing your project is a skill as well! Knowing how to create realistic goals, deadlines which incorporate lead times, budgets, etc, are important to project management.
Start with the big picture. What are you trying to accomplish? Then begin to narrow it all the way down to what you'll need to learn in order to get started. If you find you are having trouble with any particular part, go back to basics and gain a stronger foundation.
You can come up with your own idea and work towards it, or you can follow along with any projects you find online. It's up to you what and how much you want to learn!
Have fun and let me know if you have any questions!