Flora Q.

@folalaflora

What It Takes to Become an Intern at Tesla — Interview with Three Interns

Photo courtesy of Tesla

What could be more uplifting and exciting than watching rising souls pursue their dream career?!

Tesla, the famous electric car company headquartered in Fremont, CA, may be an example of where this is taking place. They currently hire interns from universities all around the country throughout the year. But they do have high standards!

In order to find out more about what they are looking for in a new intern, I was able to speak directly with three current interns about their college experiences and what they think allowed them to become an intern at Tesla. These three interns are Jennifer, Chad, and Dillon.

Jennifer

Jennifer is a mechanical engineering student at the University of North Dakota, who currently interns in the manufacturing side at Tesla. This is already her second internship, after interning at Rockwell Automation.

Jennifer explained that she received both of her internships through the national Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conference. SWE is a large gathering for female engineering students, and a great way for them to connect with both the industry and alumni through professional development workshops, networking opportunities, and outreaching activities.

During this conference, Jennifer was able to speak with recruiters face to face about her individual experience. Since Tesla did not come to her campus for recruiting, she felt this opportunity was more effective than submitting her resume online.

When she applied for her first internship she was only a college freshmen without much hands-on experience. Because of this she recommended to start with a lower ranking company that was easier to receive an internship at, and build strong experience there. This first location was Rockwell, where she took part in many continuous improvement projects and automations, which were skills Tesla is looking for.

I asked Jennifer how getting into this first internship itself was possible without the experience in her desired field.

She told me that being very involved in campus activities was a big plus for her. She is an officer in SWE, which gives her many opportunities to organize events and outreach to other student organizations. All these she can talk at her interviews.

Overall, Jennifer explained that she made sure to research what Tesla was looking for in an intern. Two of these things were automation and PLC programming, so she focused on improving these skills before applying. Jennifer shared that she “made sure to hit the bullet points,” of what they were looking for as well as be involved in her school and keep a good GPA. “Just add up the little things and you stand out,” she shared.

Chad and Dillon

Chad and Dillon are both engineering students of Georgia Tech. They are friends at school, and after learning that they were both accepted to be interns at Tesla, they decided to drive from Atlanta to California together. These two energetic guys now bike to work almost everyday.

Currently, they both work in the re-manufacturing department at Tesla. Chad is major in Electrical Engineering, and he will be a junior this upcoming year. He mentioned two things that were important in getting approved for an internship at Tesla: previous experiences and involvement in student organizations.

Chad expressed that it is very important to focus more on career related clubs in college. “You want to narrow [it] down to what you really want to do,” he said.

“One of the biggest things is that I am part of the electric racing team at Georgia Tech, where we built an electric car 95% from ground up in the shop,” Chad said, “…and that probably lead to my first internship at Crown Castle after my freshman year.”

Chad also has a very strong technical background. He learned Python in high school, and this helped him substantially in getting his first internship at Crown Castle, which builds telecommunication infrastructure.

Right after his internship during his first summer in college, he began an internship at Georgia Tech Research Institute, where he applied a large amount of his knowledge of python, and worked on digital signal processing (DSP).

Chad suggested that companies are looking at extracurricular activities when choosing interns. So at school he is the Lead Circuits Engineer at the Hytech racing team, which is also how he became aware of the opportunity at Tesla.

A Tesla recruiting member met with all the project teams at Georgia Tech, which included his HyTech racing team, GT motorsports team, and more. After he met with the recruiters, he went through the hiring process of two interviews. He shared that the interviews were mostly regarding the student’s behavior but they also provided some technical challenges.

According to his observation, he rarely saw any intern who didn’t have any work experience. “You really need to push your own experience as much as you can,” he suggested.

Dillon is a Mechanical Engineer at Georgia Tech, in his third year by now. He also had two internships before starting at Tesla.

His work at Tesla focus on mechanical design, automation, and testing. He said a huge factor of getting an internship at Tesla is being able to “show that you can take and apply knowledge very quickly.”

Dillon also expressed that rather than stressing a particular skill set, or very strong technical background, a growth mindset is what will set a candidate apart.

“I know a lot of people feel intimidated about applying to Tesla, oh you need to be this big bad engineer who has done a lot of this even in high school. I’d like to debunk that. I think it is a lot about the time and effort you put into things. I entered my university with only 18 credits, I know there are people who enter college with 80 credits but I have still gotten here now.”

Prior to Tesla, Dillon had two internships, one was as an equipment engineer, which included a lot of validation of equipment. The second one focused more on machinery analysis, where he did a lot of vibration analysis. Both of these experiences are not directly related to what he does now at Tesla, but by demonstrating that he is able to learn new skills and apply them quickly he was able to gets the internship.

I asked Dillon that among a strong GPA, extracurricular activities, technical background, or previous internship experiences, what is the most important to focus on to land the internship. Dillon said the most important thing is still a candidate’s mindset. However, besides the growth mindset, Tesla is also looking for people who really understand the reason behind any action.

For example, during the interview for Tesla, a recruiter may ask what you did in your previous job and more importantly, if you really understand what you did, such as why you designed the system in a certain way.

To sum up my findings in all three interviews, there are a few points that stood out about getting an internship at Tesla:

  • Previous internships
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Having a Growth Mindset
  • Being able to learn new skills and apply them fast
  • A clear career direction
  • A decent GPA

Other than these, I found out that each intern had very good reading habits. Jennifer, while working long hours in Tesla, still read around one book each week. And Dillon said his interviewer suggested he read four books before his internship: The Toyota Way, SCRUM, Elon Musk’s biography, and Understanding Variation. He said reading helped him set his mindset for not just the internship, but for life in general.

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