As a junior studying biomedical engineering, this fall semester was the first time I embarked on the internship hunt. Last summer, I decided to study abroad in Paris. If you checked out my blog about my Viterbi Overseas experience, you would know that it was one of the best decisions of my life. The summer after my freshman year, I chose to stay on campus to do research. This was another great decision because I had the chance to contribute to meaningful projects and came to the realization that I truly enjoyed research. For this coming summer, I knew that I wanted to see what it was like to work in the biomedical industry.
I am going to preface by saying that the internship search was stressful, and at times, I wondered if I was even a candidate worth considering. The search definitely put my confidence to the test. That being said, it was a process where I saw a lot of growth in myself. I improved at articulating my experiences and philosophies, and I discovered strengths and weaknesses that I didn’t recognize previously. I am grateful that Edwards Lifesciences, a medical device company based in Irvine, gave me the opportunity that I was hoping for. Now that I am finished with my internship search, I want to share some things that I wish someone had told me before the recruiting process.
1. Connections made early on in college pay off. As a freshman, I joined the Associated Students of Biomedical Engineering (ASBME), an organization that puts on professional, academic, social, and mentorship events for the biomedical engineering student body. Through ASBME, I met many upperclassmen who ended up interning and working full-time at medical device companies that I was interested in. This fall, these people, who are now alumni, came back as recruiters. It was so much easier for me to pitch myself to them, and because they knew me well, they were willing to vouch for me.
2. Practice your elevator pitch. There are some people who believe in “winging” an elevator pitch, but I am a strong advocate for having an elevator pitch practiced and ready to go for the career fair. Of course, when you actually give it to recruiters, you don’t want to sound like you’ve rehearsed it a hundred times (which for the record, I probably did). However, when you’re nervous and scrambling for words, it’s comforting to have your main highlights memorized.
3. No matter how much you prepare, not every interview is going to go well. Before this process, I naively thought that if I could land an interview, I could communicate effectively enough to get the job. WRONG. In the interview, there are many factors that you cannot control: the interviewer, the questions, and the interviewer’s responses to your answers. Sometimes, you will get an interviewer that you are able to connect with, and the questions they ask help you to show who you really are. Other times, you will get an interviewer that does not find you particularly interesting and makes you feel like your answers hold no significance. Rest assured that this is normal, and it is not a reflection of you as a candidate. This interview process is analogous to how, in life, some people you become good friends with and others you never quite click with.
4. Don’t underestimate soft skills. What I found most surprising was how much recruiters valued soft skills. They were much more interested in my experience leading teams, public speaking, and writing for my research lab than they were in my programming or computer-aided design (CAD) experience. I am actually really grateful for this because my technical skills are not the strong points of my résumé. When asked for your skills in interviews, don’t be afraid to elaborate on those soft skills!
5. Don’t compare yourself to others. I spent a lot of time comparing my skills and accomplishments with those of other students who were interviewing for positions at the same companies. I also spent a lot of time trying to figure out why a person got the job over me. What made them more impressive or qualified? Looking back now, I realize that it’s all about company fit. Some companies will value certain skills or qualities that you don’t have but others have. That’s okay. It’s not worth the time and energy dwelling on other people’s successes. This process is about you and the company that is going to recognize what you can bring to it.