Securing an internship in this labor market is tough, but students able to get one should make the most out of it and seize every opportunity.
Make no mistake about it, employers want to see real work experience on grads' resumes. A recent study by Millennial Branding shows that 91% of employers think that students should have between one and two internships before graduating.
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Summer internships tend to be more competitive than opportunities during the school semester, more employers are looking to hire interns this summer. The National Associate of Colleges and Employers reported earlier this year that employers who took part in NACE’s 2012 Internship & Co-op Survey reported plans to increase internship hires by 8.5% over last year.
Landing the internship is only half the battle, once in, students needs to learn how to reap the most benefits, establish strong work connections and networks and get real-work experiences.
Do your homework. Most likely students already have a general sense about a company from the interview process, but they should revisit the company website and LinkedIn pages of the employees before setting foot in the office, recommends JP Hansen, career expert and author of The Bliss List: The Ultimate Guide to Living the Dream at Work and Beyond.
“Beyond their products and/or services, know who’s who and study backgrounds—especially if there are any alumni in key management posts,” he says.
Don’t follow set hours. Making a good first impression is important, but it's imperative to continue to show a strong work ethic and commitment to the position throughout the entire summer, says Erin Davis, director at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Set the tone from the start by arriving early and avoid bolting for the door at the end of the day.
“If you can simply show up on time, it’s one of the top indicators to a future employer that you would be a good employee,” says Davis. “It shows that you’re more interested in getting the job done right and thoroughly as opposed to leaving right on the dot at 5 p.m.”
Take good notes. Interns should never be afraid to ask questions, but avoid asking the same ones. Take notes when learning new procedures, requirements and tasks, recommends Barbara West, assistant director of Internship Programs at GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
“Organizing your thoughts when you do have questions [is important] so you make one request for additional information instead of several,” she says. “Employers appreciate interns that require little management and integrate easily into the organization.”
Don’t be intimidate. Although interns may feel more comfortable amongst themselves, the experts stress the importance of showing a real interest in getting to know co-workers and managers—don’t run and hide at lunch time, says Hansen.
“Make a point to eat with management and use the opportunity to impress by asking well thought out questions,” he says. “How an intern fits in is more important than the work.”
Build meaningful professional relationships. Establishing professional relationships during an internship can be invaluable further down a student’s career path.
“You may be reporting to one of these co-workers or working very closely with them on a team and at the very least, it may provide you with a recommendation somewhere down the line,” says Davis. “Building your network is critical at any stage of your career so you want to take every opportunity to add to that list of contacts.”
Don’t get too comfy. West says that interns should stay out of any office politics and gossip and fraternizing with coworkers. Students should also avoid using Facebook and emailing during office hours as well texting.
Even if others in the company are surfing social networks, Davis warns that any post will have a time and date stamped on it, a clear indicator that interns are not on task.
“If you want to be taken seriously, you have to [act] like a person who is taking themselves seriously--you don’t want to send the message that you’re young and immature.”
Keep in touch and follow up. Interns should send personal thank you letters to colleagues at the end of the summer and keep a running list of contact information for co-workers and managers with their permission to follow up and keep in touch about potential job openings.
“Monitor the company job board before you leave because oftentimes jobs are posted internally,” says Davis. “You may see opportunities that exist that you can discuss with your boss, and continue to check those job boards [after you leave] that you can address in your follow up.”