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The First Contact

A student internship, or a summer job, is a powerful way to build some professional experience, to discover what jobs are really like, to define career goals, to learn about corporate culture, and to add "real world" experience to a resume. Interest in internships in the United States is high among students at Arts et Métiers, and every year, the members of AFAM receive numerous requests for summer positions. Finding a position in the US is different in many ways from  finding a "stage" in a French company. This article is intended to give you a few tips about how to approach your search for a position.

First, let's look at the hiring manager's perspective. Imagine the following scenario:

It is 9:00 pm on a cold February evening. Bob is sitting down in his study and starting his laptop. Bob came home late from work but made it just in time to have dinner with his family, as he tries to do every evening. The children are now in bed; his wife is reading the newspaper in the living room; this is the perfect time for Bob to finish some office work.

Bob is the head of design engineering at BigCo, Inc., a 30 year old company manufacturing high precision parts for the computer industry. He has decided to hire an engineering intern for the summer, and placed an add on Craigslist. The response has been good and tonight he wants to go through 62 emails from potential candidates. To make his job easier, and to help him sort through the responses quickly, Bob has created three sub-folders in his inbox: "Interesting","Maybe", No". He is hoping to find 5 or 6 promising resumes of candidates he will call for a phone interview later in the week. And he wants to be done no later than 10:15 because he has an early meeting with his boss tomorrow.

So our hiring manager, Bob, is going to spend an average of 1 minute per candidate and make a first decision. Your challenge as a prospective intern is to end up in the "Interesting" folder. Your first communication is probably going to be an email, and the impression you create in the first minute has to be positive, different, and engaging enough that your reader will want to take a second look and read your resume.

While there is no standard recipe to write the perfect email, there are some fundamental ideas that should be followed.

Establish why you are targeting this company: A friend works there and recommended you explore a position; you recently read an industry blog about their new technology; you used their product in a lab; you met their distributor at a trade show; their CEO was interviewed on  television, etc. It can be anything, yet the idea is to establish how you became aware of the company, that you know what they are doing, and that you find this domain interesting. You should also explain how you've got your contact's email.

Explain what you know and what you can do: You are studying electrical engineering ("at Arts et Métiers, a Top 10 French engineering school"), majoring in structural engineering, built a small swimming pool cleaning business while in school, designing a robot for your graduation thesis, etc. Obviously your capabilities and field of study have to relate in some way to what the company does and the work you want to do.

Be specific about what you want: Be as specific as possible about the type of work you want: "Join an engineering team where I can bring my system design skills"; "Work in the purchasing department on a supply chain-related project"; "Be part of a manufacturing shift that can use my production engineering experience". Many students are vague about what they are looking for, often hoping not to exclude themselves from consideration for a position they did not know existed. This is almost certainly a one-way ticket to the "No" folder. By contrast, if the hiring manager has a position that looks like what you are describing, your email will very likely end up in the "Interesting" folder.

Describe why the company would want you as an intern: This is important because interns have disadvantages for the company. They cost money, they are a management distraction, they don't accomplish much and you never hear from them again. There are, however, at least two things many companies care about: getting a project done, and evaluating a potential future full time employee; so mention these things. For example: "Through an internship this summer, I want to be able to complete a project of value to your organization, to learn first hand about your company's culture, and to give you a chance to evaluate my capabilities as a potential full time employee after I graduate at the end of the 201x school year."

Set a time for follow-up: Now that your reader has made it this far and has not deleted your email, ask for the order. Say you will follow-up by email in a week after he has had time to review your resume. Ask to set up a short phone conversation to explain in more detail what you can do. If you wrote to someone who is not hiring, ask for a referral. Be specific about what the follow-up item is, and when it will happen.

And all of the above has to fit in one page.

Dos

  • Do research your target to learn as much as possible about them. Use the Internet, call a company salesperson, talk to professors, go to the library, attend a tradeshow, etc...
  • Do think about the company's perspective and why they would want to hire you.
  • Do highlight your competences and offer your services. Managers like solutions to problems.
  • Do know what you want and ask for it.
  • Do offer to work for a minimum of 2 months. 3 months or more is even better. Most meaningful projects take that long to complete, and your competitors (American students) generally have 3 to 6 months internships.
  • Do write an American-style resume (look for resources on the Internet), and attach it in .doc or .pdf format.

Don'ts

  • Don't write in French. Your recipient may want to forward your email to a colleague who does not read French.
  • Don’t say you want to improve your English. No company wants to pay for that, and you are expected to be able to communicate with your American colleagues.
  • Don't offer to work for free. You create the impression your work has no value, and you will have expenses (housing, food, car, airplane, entertainment). Some companies may offer to cover all your expenses instead of paying you. That is a point of negotiation for later.
  • Don’t bother attaching a "Lettre de motivation". Anything important has to be in your email to maximize the chance of reaching the "Interesting" folder.
  • Don't say the school requires that you find an internship. It makes it sound like you are forced to do this, rather than truly excited about the opportunity.
  • Don't expect Americans to understand the French school system. Put things in context.

Examples

Which of these two emails do you think has the highest probability of getting a positive response?

Candidate A

"Dear Mr. X,

I  am a second-year student in Arts et Métiers Paristech (ENSAM), a top engineering graduate school  located in France. I aim to complete an internship in an engineering company abroad from July 2009 to January 2010  in order to work on any research plan dealing with energy. I have found your e-mail address on the website gadz.org. I am taking the liberty to attach a résumé as well as a cover letter to this message.

Thank you for your time and consideration with regards to this matter.

Yours sincerely,"

 

Candidate B

"Dear Mr. X,

BigCo had a big presence at the recent Intersolar show in Frankfurt, Germany. I had a chance to visit your booth and see first hand your latest high  efficiency solar panels. The demonstration was very impressive and motivated me to investigate more thoroughly your company as a potential employer. I found your email address on gadz.org and this is why I am writing.

I am currently completing the 4th year of a five year engineering program  at Arts et Métiers Paristech, in France. I will graduate in June of 201x with the equivalent of a Masters Degree in  Electrical Engineering. In my studies, I have specialized in the design of energy production, storage and transportation systems. In my spare time, I have built several websites that use the latest Web 2.0 programming tools. Last summer I had a production engineering job at Total, a multi-national oil  company, and became intrigued with renewable energies as a career path.

It  occurred to me that BigCo may have projects where I could contribute my design knowledge and production engineering experience during a 3 months internship this summer. I understand that BigCo offers installation design services for  its clients. My goal is to participate with a team in the design of a large-scale solar installation, or the creation of an application-specific system design. Such an internship would give me a chance to contribute to a project meaningful to your organization, and would let you evaluate my capabilities and performance as a possible future full-time employee.

I  have attached a copy of my resume for your review, and will follow-up with an email in a week to set up a convenient time for a brief phone conversation.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Best Regards,

Conclusion

Finding a job, temporary or permanent, in the United States is difficult. It requires dedication and effort as well as an understanding of the thought process of companies and hiring managers. Many of the members of  AFAM have done it and enjoyed very successful careers, or career stints, in the  US. For those who are committed, the reward is worth the effort.

This document was contributed by
Claude Leglise, An74

cleglise

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