I know a fair number of college students read this blog. If you’re one of them, I’m guessing by now that your final exams are behind you. Some of you packed up your things and moved back home with mom and dad for the summer. Some of you have taken summer jobs to earn money to help you get through another year of college expenses. And some of you, the group I’m writing this post for, have accepted a summer internship positions to gain valuable work experience prior to graduation. By now, those of you in this last group should be adjusting to your new surroundings and getting a feel for what you’ll be doing over the course of your internship.
I’ve seen too many college students over the years approach internships like they would a required course – something they had to do or something they needed to have on their resume in order to get that first job after college. Don’t get me wrong, that is true – you should have 2-3 internships under your belt by the time you graduate to improve your chances of getting a job after graduation. I also want you to understand there is more opportunity on the table than you might realize.
For starters, think of an internship like a new relationship. Your employer has swiped right on you for this internship because they believe you are qualified for the position. Even if you got your internship through an introduction from your professors or relatives, you got the internship because you were the best candidate for the position (at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work). With this in mind, you need to realize you are on your first date right now. Like any first date, this is your chance to make a good first impression, to be on your best behavior, and show the other parties involved why they should continue to invest in the relationship.
Don’t approach your internship like a summer fling. You’re not in this to have a little fun over the summer, but then forget about the relationship when the summer ends and you return to school. If you play your cards right – that is, do great work over the course of your internship and demonstrate why you would be a good addition to the team – you can complete your internship as a viable candidate for future entry-level positions your employer is looking to fill.
When I began my last summer internship in the summer before my final year of college, I approached the opportunity like it was my first full-time position. I volunteered to work on assignments outside of my core internship responsibilities – and I got to the office early and stayed late, trying to help any team members who would give me a chance. At the end of the internship, I was surprised to get offered a full-time position – they actually wanted me to skip my final semester and start work immediately. I decided to return to school, but only after securing a contract position – working remotely from school while I finished my studies. I also agreed to come back and start work full-time after graduation, making me the first person in my graduating class to have a job lined up for after school.
This certainly isn’t the norm as far as internships go, but it could be – which is why I’m sharing this story with you. When you go back to your internship this week, keep this in mind. You could already be working in your first job, you just need to demonstrate to your employer that you’ve got what it takes to be a productive member of the team beyond your internship experience.
What if your internship sucks? That’s part of the value you get from working as an intern in the first place. It’s an opportunity to test drive working for an organization ahead of the bigger commitment of working full-time. If you don’t enjoy the organization, team, or type of work, you should still do your best work possible this summer – because this will be the first work experience you put on your resume, and you’ll probably need those people you’re working with to serve as references for you.
You should take notes on what you enjoy and don’t enjoy about your internship this summer as well. This information can be valuable in helping you look for different internships to pursue before graduation, or help you think through what type of organization might be a better option for you as you start to look for your first full-time job after school.
Some other general tips to make the most out of your summer internship experience:
- Many would-be employers want to hear about and see examples of your work during the interview process. Try to work on a variety of assignments in your internship that give you different types of work to talk about – but also give you tangible examples of work to show (e.g. portfolio pieces).
- Remember that networking is something you’ll need to do over the course of your career – get to know everyone you can through your internship, including employees, fellow interns, clients, and anyone else you meet through the work assignments you’re given. Every new contact you meet is going to continue advancing in their career, and you’ll be surprised how many end up working for places you’ll end up working with (or want to work for). Build your network from day one – and don’t forget to connect via LinkedIn as soon after meeting them as you can.
- As an additional point on LinkedIn, ask your manager or other people you work with over the course of your internship to write a recommendation for you via LinkedIn. This can be incredibly valuable for you as you start to look for full-time work after college.
- And on the networking front, don’t limit your new connections to the people you’re meeting through your internship. Seek out networking events in your city – most organizations like PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the American Marketing Association (AMA), and others have events for young professionals. Not only are these great experiences to learn about other organizations and meet other professionals in your area, but they are often great opportunities to learn more about your craft, or pass the time with social experiences to complement your internship experience overall.
- Learn as much as you can from the people you are working with. Ask a lot of questions and listen intently to their answers. Remember, your internship is not simply to gain work experience through doing work, but also through learning from people who have been working longer than you have.
- As an extension of this last point, don’t be afraid to ask how you can improve or what skills you should develop further to make you a stronger candidate for full-time employment after graduation. Most professionals will happily provide you with this feedback – it’s then up to you what you decide to do with that feedback.
And the last piece of advice I’ll offer is to have fun. Things will get more serious and the stakes will be much higher once you start working full-time after college. While you want to get the most out of your internship experience in a professional sense, don’t miss out on opportunities to make new social connections, to experience a new city you might be living in for the first time, or to simply do the stuff you can still get away with in college. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what the right balance is between work and play this summer.
I hope this post inspires some of you to think of your summer internship as a long-term relationship versus a summer fling. I hope you have a great experience this summer, and that you move one step closer to beginning your career after graduation.
What do you think? Are you currently working as an intern this summer? How’s it going? Did this post help you think about the approach and inspire you? Or were you already taking this approach? Please share your thoughts or provide us with some insight into how your internship is going below. Thanks for reading!
(Image Credit: “Internship Orientation,” by Dreamfish / Flickr Creative Commons)