Now that you realize you need to begin your job search early, you have started to think about how to spend your summer. Most likely, you will land a summer job that looks better in the eyes of hiring managers than those who start looking for jobs in March or April. Remember, all jobs are not created the same. We’re going to show you 10 options to consider from worst to best.
10. THE CLASSIC “SUMMER JOB” (LABOR)
You procrastinator you. The only reason you should have to do a job such as the mowing lawns cliche is because you waited till the last minute to look for something to do. You don’t want to be stuck in this option. Sure, you do learn a little about one particular task and earn some money, but anybody can do this. The point of doing something and putting it on your resume is to stand out. If anybody can do it, it doesn’t add any value.
Sometimes it is better to offer your services for free than to earn a few dollars mowing lawns. Now, you have to be careful with what you are volunteering to do. It is best to align your work with an attribute or skill that you can put on your resume to target a specific industry or company. Anyone can volunteer to pick up dog poo at the park, but if you say that you pick up dog poo at the park because of your love of the environment and participate in the solar decathlon competition at school, you have a story vector. Let’s look at an example…
As a kid I played a lot of tennis (extra-curricular) and have always believed in giving back to the community (company value). When I was 15 I was too young to work at the tennis center, so I offered to volunteer instead (initiative, passion). I spent my time not only pulling weeds but giving classes to toddlers (social interaction, dedication). At this point I have come full circle, whereas I used to take lessons from the instructors as a child, I am now the instructor offering my own experiences to inspire the next generation of tennis players (recap). I know that [insert company here] has the same values, and I plan to continue giving back to the community while at [insert company here] through your [insert company community project here]. See? It may not seem like much, but by aligning the volunteer opportunity with your own values and those of the company you want to work for, you can make a strong statement when it comes time for the interview.
8. SUMMER CLASSES
Most students would think that summer classes would be worse than volunteering. Not only are you not getting real world experience, you have to pay money too! However, taking summer classes can have benefits that allow you to bundle this opportunity with others. First, it helps you finish the classes for your major sooner so that you can get a head start on your graduate degree. Whether you plan to finish the degree or not, starting a graduate degree looks good for prospective employers and if you are still an undergraduate, you can use your financial aid towards your grad classes. Most employers have some kind of tuition reimbursement plan where you can finish your degree while working. You can ask them about this during the interview and say you are “committed to continuing education outside of school”. Second, summer classes are not always taught by Cornell professors. Often the teachers for a typically hard class will be a generic member of the teaching staff and therefore the class will be easier. Check the summer course catalog to see if any hard classes are offered during the summer so you can keep that pristine GPA of yours high. Third, the summer class load is maybe 2 or 3 classes for the whole summer. With an easy load like that you can do research with a professor on cutting edge technology that your company of choice happens to support. If your work is good enough, you can also continue your research as a 490 project (or equivalent) during the school year. Usually, you can work with the professor to discuss how many credit hours of 490 you have time for. So if you already planned your courses for next semester and are coming up a few short, this can be a good option. Usually, after a year of working on a research project, you have developed a deep enough understanding to write about that technology. Research professors write a lot of papers and go to conventions all the time. Who knows, you might accompany your professor on his next trip to speak about a paper you published in Nature magazine. Finally, Cornell is beautiful in the summer. There are many things to do nearby and you can always drive to NYC on the weekends.
Not everybody likes working for the man. Some people want to BE the man. If this is your style, than starting a business may be just the kind of experience you need. Colleges are great at cultivating new businesses because they act like their own self-contained bubbles. All the resources you could possibly need are at your fingertips, along with enthusiastic talent to craft solutions to real world problems. Starting your own adventure comes with a cost though, in this case your life. Expect to spend every waking moment working on your project, failing a lot, and maybe even spending a chunk of your own money. However, you will learn many things that can’t be taught in class, and have loads of fun at the same time.
6. KESSLER PROGRAM
A new program for entrepreneurial engineers is the Kessler Program. In the fall semester of your junior year, you can apply for this program. Fellows are selected in December, and receive a cash prize and stipend along with an “Essentials of Entrepreneurism” course in the spring. During the summer, students get to work at a startup for their internship and experience what it is like to be an entrepreneur first hand. The reason I place this program ahead of regular entrepreneurial endeavors is that Cornell turns the startup experience into a more structured event. This means not having to take all the risks associated with starting a business, but you don’t get all the benefits either.
5. STUDENT PROJECT TEAMS
Robocup. This was one of the main reasons I chose to go to Cornell. I was watching TV and saw an episode of “Scientific American Frontiers” with Alan Alda. He was doing a show on robots with a focus on the annual Robocup competition. This is an event where groups make robots to play soccer. Cornell’s team was dominating this competition at the time by winning the “small size league” championship a few years in a row. Mr. Alda went into detail about how Cornell’s team designed, built, and tested their robot. That year, Big Red went on to win again. Even though I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, this TV episode inspired me so much that I wanted Robocup to be my senior project and even volunteered to do some work on the team as a freshman. Unfortunately, at the end of my Junior year, the professor running the team retired Cornell from Robocup altogether. He said something about other teams merely copying Cornell’s design and that there was no more innovation. Although I never got to do Robocup, I did other project teams along the way. You can learn a lot, and many of them have work to do during the summer if you stick around the campus. This is another opportunity that you can bundle with others. The work you do during the summer will not consume all your time, so you can usually squeeze a summer class or maybe even a secondary research gig in your schedule too.
4. SUMMER PROGRAMS
Many institutions offer summer programs that can be equivalent if not better than a regular internship. You’re gonna have to do some research, because not all of these programs are worth it. When I was in high school, I discovered the Space Grant Consortium by NASA. Every state has it’s own chapter and it is usually made of universities that do research relating to space technologies. At the time, I did some volunteer work to help design, build, and launch a cube shaped weather station attached to a balloon known as CUBESAT (Colorado University Balloon Experimental Satellite). Now there are official CUBESAT projects that are actual cube-shaped satellites in space and CU has since dropped the CUBESAT name. I learned a lot, and that experience helped me get into Cornell’s Engineering program. Fast forward to junior year at Cornell. I was going down the elevator in the space sciences building. I have never been there before, but I was near the building and decided to walk around. I saw an advertisement for a summer program under New York’s Space Grant Consortium. However, this wasn’t some volunteer thing. This was an internship thing. It offered an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the top 4 candidates from each state. Yeah, that almost stopped me too. Top 4 candidates in all of New York??? Can’t be. Well, I did some research and found that previous candidates were almost all from Cornell. So, what do I have to lose right? My mom used to tell me that if you don’t try the door in front of you will definitely remain closed. So I tried the knob. I applied for the summer internship just like a regular job and forgot about it. Later that semester, I found out that I was one of the selected few. Woa. Working for NASA was a childhood dream of mine, and now I was about to live it. It was a very research oriented internship with a bunch of interns from every state. We were told that if we performed well, we had a chance to get a full time job there. Then, JPL released a newsletter about a summer job fair it holds. Interns could come to the fair to apply for various full time job openings. It turns out that they were “aggressively” hiring, which translated into hiring 5 systems engineers in 5 years. WTF!!! 5 in 5 years is aggressive??? Regular engineering positions were in more demand, and of all the interns in my division, only one got a job offering. Despite this setback, my resume suddenly seemed to have a big star on it that attracted recruiters when I returned to school. That year I received all kinds of interview offers, and it was my “pride of Krakow”.
Research, the foundation of an any engineer. This is one of those bundle-able opportunities that you can combine with summer classes. What makes it good is that you get to see the most cutting edge technology in the particular field your professor is working in. Also, you can continue working with a professor during the school year as independent project 490 credit (or equivalent). Coming up with some cool technology means that your name will appear on papers and you may even get to go to conferences to show off your work. One bad thing about research is its intensity. You start with nothing and your peers expect you to create miracles from it. Finding relevant information is just part of the job, the hard part is leaping from discovery to discovery and then applying them all together. It’s a fairly high pressure job, and you tend to get pigeon holed into the role in the real world.
2. ENGINEERING CO-OP
Coop is a really good program, but it is highly overrated by the school. Essentially you apply for a position at a participating employer during your sophomore year. If selected, you take classes during the summer and then work during the fall semester of your junior year at the company. The internship is monitored by the school in that both you and the company report on the kinds of things you work on to make sure it is “fit for a Cornellian”. This means you won’t be fetching coffee, but actually doing meaningful work. Cornell also puts this program on your transcript and it looks all official and almost school-sponsored. It’s really hit or miss. I heard of coop students who had a great time at their job and others who were bored out of their minds. Keep in mind the kind of company you apply for. A utility company like Con Edison will still be … a utility company *gasp*. They probably won’t have the cool engineering jobs you’re looking for unless you’re a civil engineer.
1. REGULAR INTERNSHIP
Although not regulated like the Coop jobs, regular internships can be the best work experiences for college students. Whereas coops almost feel like the school holds your hand throughout the whole process, a traditional internship is the real McCoy. You find your own opportunities, you apply for them and compete against students from around the country. When at work, you have the ability to be heard and are given tasks where you can take charge. You create your own destiny in a regular internship, and it carries a lot of weight when applying for full time positions. It is also one of the hardest to get. Very few people know about those previously mentioned programs above. However, students will come out of the woodwork to apply for regular internships, and then you will get a true picture of how good of an engineer you really are. Trust me, even if you have straight A’s, participate in extra curriculars and have a small side business, there is always someone better than you.