An Internship Outside Your Major.
The application of sales in the oddest of places.
Congratulations, you made it to college. Get good grades and attend class, and you’re almost guaranteed to find a job within your field of study.
While getting a college degree is a large part of applications to the job market and professional schools, it is hardly an automatic ticket to an offer. In fact, 27% of students actually get a job that only remotely relates to what they studied in school.
Maybe it’s the fact that those students were forced to pick a singular subject of study at 18 years old. Maybe it’s because their family expected them to be a certain profession, but it turns out they found no joy in it. It could even be due to a discovery of talent: maybe they had a knack for interior design that overshadowed their ability to put formulas into Excel.
Regardless, getting internship experience within your major is often hard to do, and even harder when you’re young. Mix that with a competitive field of study, and you’re in a real pickle.
So, here’s my story about how I navigated job markets that realistically were not in my favor as a freshman engineering student.
One of the things you should note as the reader is that no freshman engineer at my university gets a designation. None of us enter as “chemical engineers,” nobody begins as “computer science.” For your first year, you are considered “general engineering.”. Therefore, all internships that were labeled with “biomedical engineering” (my expected field) immediately disqualified me. Why? One of the requirements was being enrolled in a biomedical engineering program. Now I had a hard choice: where do I look for experience?
I’m only going to say this once. Immediately working as a lifeguard, server, etc. over the summer is a waste. It’s a great fallback option, but do not resign yourself to that position unless absolutely necessary, because, who else qualifies as a lifeguard? High schoolers. Same for waiting tables, working a cash register, etc. If you have three months a year without the constraints of school, why would you use the only chance you have to be “different” to be in a high-school level position? That makes no sense.
I won’t lie, I had almost gotten to that stage. I was applying for minimum wage jobs at restaurants, retail stores, etc. because I had no shot at getting a cutesy professional internship.
And then I got a phone call. Some college kid that I’d never met said that a company he worked for was hosting informationals about an internship. Now, as a freshman, getting a call and hearing the word “internship” induces an amazing amount of excitement.
To be fair, I was also extremely skeptical. I knew nothing about the company, I’d never applied, and never heard of them either. But somehow, I was “qualified” enough to get a call, so I went to the informational session anyway.
Disclaimer: The following account is not to promote any business, but rather to tell a story.
The company’s name was Southwestern Advantage. Let me tell you how they changed my life.
After a rousing informational, I learned a few key things about this company and its internship program that I want to address right away:
- It is considered a “sales” internship, but its focus is not sales.
- It had no guaranteed pay.
- Interns are suggested to work 80 hours per week if they wish to hit their goals.
- It is a competitive environment, and not for the faint of heart.
- It is out of state.
- You can earn a trip to Mexico.
So, you can imagine my concern as an engineering student regarding just how relevant this “internship” was going to be down the line. However, I was low on options, and I wanted to win a trip to Mexico, so I applied.
It is the best thing I’ve ever done.
Initially, I knew for a fact that this had nothing to do with my major, but it took me about a week into the interview process to realize that the program actually had everything to do with my future. I mentioned before that the focus is not sales. The focus is the development of leadership and soft skills. Any developing professional in any major needs to identify the importance of soft skills. Things like communication, critical thinking, teamwork, and work ethic are not skills that are perfectly taught in a classroom, they’re acquired through practice. And long story short, I was given an offer and spent my freshman summer in Virginia with this company.
I finished in the top 5% of my class of interns, was promoted in the middle of the summer, and earned over $11,000 in the process, as well as getting my trip to Mexico. But, those stats are the least impressive out of what I got from the program. The real impressive part was what happened immediately after.
The months following my internship, I began to set my life on fire. I interviewed and assisted in recruiting for Southwestern Advantage, I got into a research program, juggled the process of beginning two biomedical engineering start-up companies, networked with faculty to promote the creation of my current position as a student worker, and studied and aced the MCAT (the notorious medical school admissions test) in four weeks of study. I assisted in the creation and funding of a library in an impoverished area of Mexico, I’ve visited more countries and states than I did in my previous 18 years of life, and I’ve gained invaluable friendships along the way. I’ve won three campus-wide awards at Texas A&M, and competed to win two national awards from my fraternity and one from the New York Academy of Science. In my organizations, I’ve only spent one semester without being elected as an Executive Board member.
And it was all because I sold books for 84 hours a week.
A 12-week summer program, not in my major, out of state, and with no guaranteed pay was able to single-handedly explode my resume with awards, major-relevant experience, and soft skills that set me apart from most engineers. I learned to take a chance on myself, to be courageous and confident with all different kinds of people, and to work long, focused days, all with a smile. And I gained invaluable relationships, both from the internship and those that were formed afterwards.
Because I took a chance on a sales internship.
Remember, we’re young. We have the opportunity to take chances. Not everything has to revolve around your pre-law curriculum. Not everything has to revolve around getting a 4.0 and an internship from Microsoft, or Amazon. The best thing I ever did was learn how to lead, and how to talk to people.
Because being smart, experienced, and well-rounded is fun, but what’s the point if you can’t tell anyone?
You’ve got three months a year. Twelve weeks to set yourself up for success and differentiate yourself from the crowd.
You don’t have to do what I did. Just don’t do what everyone else is doing.
Written by Zach Mendoza, Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering Major, Class of 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Texas A&M University.