Trekking to Mars: SpaceX and My Experience with Career Searching

Ian-2016 Ian, Internship, Viterbi Summer, Work 1 Comment

This summer I managed to secure a dream internship in SpaceX’s purchasing department. Beyond the daily duties required as an associate buyer, my main task was creating a comprehensive spreadsheet of all the materials used in the composites sub assemblies of the Falcon 9 rocket. While this was a lot of digging through the SpaceX files and contacting vendors for materials usage information, the spreadsheet was, and is, extremely valuable for managing our outsourcing strategy and preventing raw materials shortages.  The work was engaging and challenged me to think outside the box to manage the company’s Composites commodity.

landing legs pic

Awesome shot of the Falcon 9’s landing legs. The legs are made from composite material, including carbon fiber, and they were part of my group’s purchasing responsibility.

“How did I land an internship at such a cool company?”, you may ask. My job search experience was unorthodox. Lately the ‘hot’ industry has been consulting. Initially I was attempting to get interviews at companies like Deloitte, and PWC, and Bain. I went through channels like USC Connect – our online portal where companies post job and internship opportunities – but because of my GPA was often ruled out of the initial resume cuts that so many of these companies go through.

Initially I tried to improve my chances of making it past the initial cutoff by networking. I attended information sessions and I spoke with recent grads and alumni at the companies I was interested in, and hoped to get my foot in the door that way. At the information sessions I received company cards and contact info, which I used to reach out to employees. Although these people were often part of the Trojan family and very happy to help forward my career, either their recency in the company or the fact they hadn’t known me for an extended period of time meant the weight of their recommendation wasn’t weighted as heavily as the hard statistic of my GPA.

I had often considered SpaceX an incredible opportunity and had applied several times in the past, with similar success as the other places. But late last spring, an alum from my fraternity reached out to us and said he was looking for someone to fill an intern role at the company during the summer. I wrote to him expressing my interest and filling him in on my current activities. As it happened, this particular alum I had been fairly good friends with at USC, and kept in contact with when he visited. Because of our relationship in the past he understood that my activities outside the classroom occupied much of my time and he understood the work ethic they required me to uphold for success. Moreover, he and I had spoke about my interest in SpaceX and the opportunities there. He agreed to recommend me to his boss, and helped me land my first interview.

As with the other companies that I had applied to, SpaceX was concerned that my GPA indicated a disinterest in work and wanted to know how I would fare in a high paced workplace like theirs. Given the opportunity to explain, I was able to show them all of the activities I pursued with great success outside of the classroom. Convinced by my involvement and ability to explain the work I did, they offered me the purchasing position that I happily filled this summer and will be returning to next year.

This is a 'fairing' for the F9 rocket. It can carry a payload to Low Earth , Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and beyond.

This is a ‘fairing’ for the F9 rocket. It can carry a payload to Low Earth , Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and beyond.

Although my experience was unorthodox I believe it offers ___ helpful lessons. First: it pays to be involved on campus. Getting experiences outside the classroom and the dormroom enrich your college experience, and will definitely contribute towards your success in the real world. And second: building relationships of all kinds will pay huge dividends down the line. In my case the relationship came from my fraternity, but it just as easily could have come from alumni or sponsors of the race team (so getting involved can help this too. I say ‘of all kinds’ because the particular alum I connected with wasn’t even an engineer – he was a business student.

Until next time!

This is a 'fairing' for the F9 rocket. It can carry a payload to Low Earth , Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit and beyond. It may not look it, but all that white is entirely cork! Cork is a great ablative material for high temperature applications.

It may not look it, but all that white is entirely cork! Cork is a great ablative material for high temperature applications.

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Ian-2016

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Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2016, Learn more on his profile here!

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