My first Civil Engineering Internship as an International Student in USA

May 16, 2023 | Engineering | 0 comments

Introduction

I am Nirav Khanal, pursuing my master’s degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. In this blog, I am going to share my experience and provide insights on how I successfully secured my first summer internship in the United States as an international student.

As an international student from Nepal holding an F1 visa, I understand the challenges of seeking a summer internship in the United States. Despite applying to over 100 job applications, I experienced a lack of response from more than half of them. Out of the remaining 50%, I faced rejection from over 45% of the companies. However, despite these hurdles, a handful of companies still accepted my application, and I was fortunate enough to secure interviews with half of them.

The prevailing belief that obtaining a summer internship as an international student is nearly impossible may discourage many. However, through this blog, I aim to share the steps that can significantly increase your chances of becoming a strong candidate for internships, even as an international student.

I assure you that although the journey may be challenging, it is not impossible. By following the strategies and tips I will be discussing, you can position yourself as a competitive candidate and enhance your chances of securing valuable internship opportunities.

General Background

First and foremost, as an international student, it’s essential to be aware of the work restrictions imposed by the F1 visa regulations. Typically, international students can work up to 20 hours per week on campus during the academic year and up to 40 hours per week during summer and spring breaks, both on and off campus. However, obtaining an approved work authorization, such as Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT), is essential to work off campus.
To provide a better understanding, let me explain OPT and CPT for F1 students. OPT is a period of temporary employment directly related to an international student’s field of study, typically undertaken after completing a degree program. On the other hand, CPT is an employment authorization that allows F1 students to gain practical training experience before graduation. You must have been in the United States for at least one academic year to be eligible for CPT. In my case, I arrived in the United States in the fall of 2022, which allowed me to meet the requirement for applying for CPT in the summer of 2023.

Know more about OPT and CPT here.

In the following sections, I will outline the steps I took to secure my first internship and provide valuable tips to help you navigate the internship application process successfully.

Requirements

6. Strong Resume

The job resume plays a vital role in securing an internship, and with the abundance of information available online, there are countless ways to approach resume writing. However, it’s crucial to find a format that suits you. For your convenience, I have provided you with my resume.

When preparing your resume, aligning it with the specific job description is essential. Please avoid using the same resume for different positions; instead, customize it accordingly. As an international student, likely, you won’t have previous work experience in the United States, which can make securing an internship challenging. Additionally, some companies may hesitate to proceed since you will require visa sponsorship. Therefore, making your resume descriptive and highlighting your qualifications as a best-fit candidate becomes even more critical.


One effective strategy is to describe your experiences, including quantifiable achievements and numbers, wherever possible. By doing so, your resume paints a vivid picture of your capabilities and potential contributions. For instance, if you worked on a project, mention specific accomplishments such as cost savings, time efficiency, or improved processes that resulted from your involvement. Including numbers and concrete examples helps demonstrate your value as a candidate.

Remember, securing your first internship can be challenging. However, a well-crafted, descriptive resume tailored to the job description can significantly enhance your chances of success.

5. Update your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is a widely used platform for job searching and networking, particularly when seeking internships in the USA. Suppose you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile. In that case, I highly recommend creating one and optimizing it to enhance your job prospects. Update your profile by adding your past job experiences, your current position, and compelling descriptions that capture the attention of HR professionals in your target companies.


Another helpful strategy is to connect with senior alumni from your university who work in your desired industry or at companies of interest. Additionally, connecting with HR professionals from companies relevant to your desired job is important. Adding them to your network allows you to send personalized messages regarding your studies and internship aspirations. This approach significantly boosts your chances of securing an internship by establishing valuable connections and increasing your visibility to relevant professionals.

My LinkedIn profile : Nirav Khanal

4. Visa Sponsorship – “NO”

When filling out job applications, being truthful and transparent is essential. However, as an international student, you may be compelled to check “No” for visa sponsorship in job applications because many companies have specific hiring policies and prefer candidates who do not require visa sponsorship.


So, I recommend you check “No” for visa sponsorship to boost your chances to review by the Hiring Managers. However, suppose you are fortunate enough to secure an interview for a position. In that case, being honest about your visa requirements is crucial. During the interview process, you can openly discuss your international student status, including your expected graduation date and eligibility for work authorization; this allows the company to assess whether they can accommodate your visa needs.

It’s worth noting that companies may not need to sponsor you immediately for students like myself, who still have a year remaining to complete their degree. You can indicate “No” for visa sponsorship at the current or future stage, as the company may not be required to provide sponsorship for internships or short-term positions. However, it’s important to be aware that companies typically seek long-term employees after investing in internships, so they may prioritize candidates who can fulfill long-term commitments.

3. Apply Early

When it comes to securing an internship, it’s often a numbers game. The more applications you submit, the higher your chances of finding an internship that suits you. Therefore, applying early and being proactive in your search is important.


Many internship opportunities for the summer season open up as early as November and December of the previous year. By starting your search early, you give yourself a competitive advantage and increase your chances of finding relevant openings. Stay updated with internship postings on job portals, company websites, and professional networks to ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities.


In addition to applying early, following the steps mentioned earlier in this blog is crucial to enhance your candidacy. Develop a strong resume, tailor it to each job description, and highlight your relevant skills and experiences. Connect with senior alumni and HR professionals on platforms like LinkedIn to expand your network and increase your visibility to potential employers.

2. Confident Interviews

After receiving acceptance from the company, the first phase of the interview process typically involves a phone screening interview. The HR department usually conducts this interview, which is non-technical. It typically lasts around 10 to 15 minutes and aims to determine if you are a good fit for the position.

The second phase of the interview process is usually an in-person interview that involves HR, an engineer, and a supervisor. This interview is more technical than the first, emphasizing assessing your skills and qualifications. The quality of your responses and your ability to demonstrate your expertise will be key factors in this stage.

Your number of interviews can vary depending on the company and the position. However, reaching this stage indicates that you are being seriously considered for the job.

To succeed in these interviews,

  1. Prepare thoroughly by researching the company and understanding its values, products/services, and recent news.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the specific duties and responsibilities of the position you are interviewing for. This will enable you to effectively articulate how your skills and experience align with the role’s requirements.
  3. Practice your interview responses to common questions and technical questions related to civil engineering. This will help you feel more prepared and confident during the actual interview.

Remember, being confident, conducting thorough research, understanding the position requirements, and practicing your interview skills are essential for a successful interview experience.

1. Follow Back – Phone Call

Maintaining an organized approach is essential to increase your chances of securing an internship. One effective method is to create an Excel sheet or a similar tracking system to keep a record of the companies you have applied to. Include columns for the company name, website, phone number, position applied for, and their response status.


By creating this organized list, you can easily track your progress and follow up with companies that have yet to respond. It is important to remember that not receiving a response from a company does not necessarily mean rejection. In many cases, applications may get lost or overlooked in the process.


To proactively address this, consider reaching out to companies that have not responded after a reasonable amount of time. A simple phone call can make a significant difference. Express your interest in the position and inquire about the status of your application. Sharing your enthusiasm and dedication can leave a positive impression on the hiring team.


I want to share my personal experience as an example. After applying for an internship, I called the HR department to inquire about my application. Surprisingly, I discovered that they had not received my application. However, thanks to the phone call, I was able to speak directly with the HR representative, resend my application, and ultimately secure the internship opportunity. This demonstrates the importance of proactive communication in ensuring your application receives the attention it deserves.


It is important to note that many companies may not respond to your application initially. By taking the initiative to make follow-up phone calls, you increase the likelihood of receiving a response and securing the internship you desire. Remember, persistence and proactive communication can make a remarkable difference in your internship search.
By applying early and diligently following the steps outlined, you maximize your chances of securing an internship that aligns with your goals and aspirations. Remember! Persistence, preparation, and proactive effort are key in the competitive internship landscape.

Thank You! and All the very Best!!!!

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