This is an installment in a series called “Industry Insights” where we hear from a current student who is working at an internship, co-op, or full-time job and learn about their experiences. Today’s writer is Julie Meyerson who interned with Molex.
“Hi everybody! My name is Julie Meyerson and I am a (super) senior in Mechanical Engineering who interned as an inside sales engineer at an electrical components company called Molex in both Chicagoland and Germany. Not sure what an “inside sales engineer” is? Wondering how or why the heck I interned in Germany? Well then this article is for you!
Easily the best thing I’ve done at Purdue was the GEARE (Global Engineering Alliance for Research and Education) program, which allowed me to take engineering classes for a semester in Madrid, Spain followed by a summer internship near Heidelberg, Germany. The semester abroad was amazing for so many different reasons, such as making friends from all over the world, learning more about Spanish culture, and traveling all throughout Europe. It’s hard to write about without sounding ridiculously cheesy, but I swear that even though the semester was not perfect, all the sappy hyperboles are true. Tell almost any study abroad student ever that you want to hear their travel stories and you’ll be bombarded with all the giddy elaborations you ever needed and then some.
So after this amazing time in Spain I was incredibly nervous for what working in Germany would be like. For some reason I got in my head that all the things I loved about Spain and my life as a study abroad student would be magically flipped as soon as I got to Germany. Obviously my worries were uncalled for, and in the end, I had an even better time in Germany! Things did change in some ways, but for the better. In Madrid, there are thousands of study abroad students coming every year, so there is an entire subculture of international university students that’s fun but easy to get trapped in. In Germany there was literally one other American in the office, and she was already pretty established with a German husband and everything. I did meet some amazing expats (people living abroad, usually temporarily and by choice) but it was much more natural for me than in Spain to constantly hang out with Germans. This gave me the opportunity to “get under the skin” of a different culture and the freedom I had always wanted to explore on my own. I also got a much better understanding of what my life would be like in the future if I were to work abroad full time, which I now would DEFINITELY want to do!
It was very interesting to compare the business culture between Germany and the US. Although I was working at the same company and supporting the same products, I was surprised how much the German office functioned in a different world and had relatively little connection with Molex’s headquarters in Lisle, Illinois. Only the top level people made an effort to meet people in the US or know what was going on there in more detail than the company-wide communications. That being said, within Europe there was constant interaction and a higher level of comradery. My coworkers thought nothing about traveling around Europe for company meetings or sales calls. (It sounds weird but “sales call” actually means visiting the customer in person and not just making a phone call). Social events that incorporated multiple European offices were common, and I even had lunch with the Italian office when I visited Milan on vacation. (Yes, as an intern I got paid vacation. In fact, everyone in Europe got substantially more vacation than their counterparts in the states). Before I started I was worried about how formal the office would be, since most German companies are much more formal than in the US, even addressing coworkers as Mr. _ and Mrs._. However since Molex was headquartered in the US, the German office thought they should be informal to match, and ended up being way less formal than the office in Illinois!
I mentioned “inside sales engineer” at the beginning but did a lousy job of explaining that so far. I’ll try to fix that! As an inside sales engineer, I supported the sales and marketing department by fielding incoming technical calls and emails. That is to say I answered the questions for anyone calling or emailing our contact online who claimed they had a technical request or placed a sample order. As I did so I tried to learn more about their project to gain an estimate on how many parts they were looking to buy and if there was any possibility of adding more Molex parts into their products. This was part of the training program to become a full-fledged “Sales Engineer,” also commonly called a technical salesperson. This job would involve visiting customers for the majority of the working day, finding out about their problems, presenting Molex solutions, and discussing the terms of business deals. Some sales engineers work on multiple accounts (ie companies) but others have only one they focus on or even work in a large team. Still others work through distributors, are companies that specialize in selling small amounts of products to many different customer accounts.
I ended up seeking out technical sales because I wanted a position where I could interact with more people and be more directly involved with solving the customer’s problems. During a previous internship, I was put off by having to stare at a computer all day, and how long the solutions I was designing for would take to reach the customers. I saw technical sales as a much faster-paced and people-oriented environment. While it may not be a traditional route for engineers, the engineering degree will be very handy, because many customers require someone with the technical capabilities to design and incorporate complicated solutions. Like-wise the company you work for will not expect you to know everything about each product (that’s what product managers are for) but some technical knowhow is often required to understand your company’s product applications.
Technical sales internships are hard to come by, so most companies don’t expect incoming full time hires to have any previous sales engineering experience. There are a lot of companies that hire graduating seniors for their sales development program, where they will teach you both the product you will sell and methods for interacting with customers and closing deals. If you want to get a head start, you can talk to companies like Molex or Siemens who have internship programs for engineering students in their sales and marketing department. I also suggest asking companies during events like Expo (next week!!) if they have technical sales engineering internships or co-ops. This is what I did and while I got many “no’s” at first, I got a very enthusiastic “yes!” from Molex, and that’s how things got started.
Students wishing to study abroad can talk to the study abroad office in Young Hall. Finding internships or research opportunities abroad is possible for students to figure out on their own, but I found GEARE to be helpful with this. It’s very likely that Molex would not have given me the internship in Germany if I had asked them out of the blue, but since I showed them I was in GEARE they paid more attention to my inquiry and ultimately made it happen. For those interested in joining GEARE, hurry up because the applications for first year students are due this February 28th (!), although sophomores who have language experience can also apply early next year. Check out the website https://opp.purdue.edu/programs/geare/ or email Joe Tort at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
While it’s hard for me to predict what the future holds, and I always dread that “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question, I am confident that these experiences built skills and memories that will last a lifetime and help me through my career path in the future.”