The value of an internship in today’s competitive marketplace cannot be overstated, especially for new graduates. More and more companies require or prefer practical work experience, even for “entry level” positions. Securing the right internship for you, and making the most of this experience can set you up for a potential short or long term opportunity at that company, as well as increase your marketability in securing a position at another company in your target niche. You now have valuable work experience to leverage, as well as professional colleagues who can attest to what an asset you would be. Follow this simple advice to make your internship pay off in getting the job you want.
An internship provides you with an opportunity to start building your professional reputation and experience in your target field. You want to surface an internship opportunity that will enable you to build and utilize the skills and experience that you can best leverage in a competitive job market. Build a list of target companies, and evaluate whether the specific internship opportunities available will provide hands on experience directly related to the type of job you will be targeting post graduation. Many companies today post internship opportunities with detailed descriptions on their career page and social media sites.
Like any job interview, the impression you make begins the moment you walk in the door. This is your unique opportunity to show an employer how you can practically apply your skills, talents, and theoretical knowledge. An internship is also an opportunity to demonstrate your work style, how you think, how you work with other people, how you take direction and initiative, and how self motivated you are. You want to leave a favorable impression so you become that memorable stand out candidate for a potential job the company may need to fill. Anyone you interact with at the company could be your future boss or reference, both in the short and long term. Approach every task, project, and interaction with this in mind so everyone you encounter sees what an invaluable asset you would be.
Think of the internship opportunity as a venue for building your professional network. Connect with your colleagues and take advantage of any opportunity to get to know them, both professionally and personally. Seek them out when appropriate to ask thoughtful questions so you can learn more about the industry or field, and the different roles you could potentially fit into. Everyone you meet during your internship becomes part of your professional network going forward. Social media tools such as LinkedIn make staying connected to those we meet professionally easier than ever so make sure you “link” to anyone at the company you established a connection with.
Go the extra mile whenever the opportunity present itself. If there are additional projects or tasks to take on that will add value and not compromise the quality of what is already on your plate, offer to take them on. If working as part of a team or on a group project with other interns, volunteer to take on a leadership role or to present the data if the opportunity presents itself. Stretch yourself and don’t be afraid to take on a challenging project where you step out of your comfort zone.
Your internship provides a birds eye view and is a unique opportunity to learn from professionals who are already established in your field and target industry. Your internship is an invaluable opportunity to gain insights into your target industry and career field. Be an open book and attend any professional development, training, workshops or presentations that are open to interns.
Don’t make personal calls, text, use Facebook or engage in other personal business while you are on the clock. Focus on being completely present and immersed in the tasks and projects you have been assigned. If you find yourself with downtime ask the person you are reporting into at internship if there are additional projects and tasks that you can take on.
Remember you are there to learn, work hard and make a good impression. Don’t get tempted by “water cooler” gossip or caught up in any office politics. Don’t ever bad mouth anyone in the company and stay neutral if any employee chooses you as the person to vent to.
Many companies are not able to create a position on the spot, even if they really like you and your work. There are legal parameters around the unpaid internship to protect the intern and ensure they will have a meaningful practical work experience. The unpaid internship created is not a full time job the company is trying to fill. Keep in mind that even if you are perfect fit for the company and in a perfect world they would love to hire you, a full time position may not be available in that moment. They may have an opportunity that you could be the perfect candidate for down the road, so keep in touch with your supervisor and everyone else you interacted with.
Choosing the right internship opportunity for you and approaching your internship as an “on the job interview” will enable you to take full advantage of this unique opportunity to demonstrate how you handle yourself professionally as you practically apply your degree, gain marketable work experience and skills, and build your professional network for both the short and long term. Best case scenario your internship could lead to a job offer at your dream company before you have your diploma in hand.
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