It’s summer internship season again, and, according to an article on CNN.com, companies are hiring plenty of interns this year, despite–or perhaps because of–the downtown in the economy.
During my colleges years in the mid-1990s, internships were more of a “nice-to-have” rather than a “must-have” credential. I spent two summers working as a camp counselor in Los Angeles and plenty of my friends worked as lifeguards and waitresses. I don’t think it ever hurt us in the job search department. Today, however, it’s not uncommon for college students to spend every summer in a different internship. While I hope that today’s students are still having plenty of fun in the summer sun, it’s a fact that in today’s competitive work world, internships have become essential.
One of the reasons internships are so important is because more and more companies are using their intern programs to replace on-campus recruiting. An internship is now a thinly disguised audition–for both the student and the employer–rather than a charitable learning opportunity. This makes sense: what better way for both sides to find out if a relationship is a good fit than to test it out for a few months before fully committing?
If you’re working as an intern this summer, here are some tips to ace your audition and earn a future offer if you’d like one:
Be proactive. Leadership is one of the key skills employers look for in entry-level employees, so find ways to be a leader and take on extra responsibility in your internship. Try asking your manager this smart question: “What is a good thing for me to work on when you’re busy and I have completed the work I’ve been assigned?” This question shows that you’re a go-getter who wants to contribute as much as possible. And you may get assigned a cool project that no one else was smart enough to ask for. Remember, raising an internship from the “busy work/no experience” level to the “real experience” level is in your hands.
Set up informational interviews. Networking and making a good impression are not just about who you know; they’re about who knows you. While you’re at an organization in the role of intern, you have a rare opportunity for face-time with people you otherwise might not be able to meet. Check with your internship coordinator to make sure it’s appropriate, then pinpoint a few people in the organization whose jobs interest you and ask them to meet with you. If you can, you should also set up a meeting with someone in the human resources department to talk about future full-time job opportunities. Use this opportunity to find out whether the company is looking to hire interns into permanent positions and learn exactly what they’re looking for so you can accomplish it in your internship.
Keep in touch when your internship ends. Keep yourself top-of-mind with the company, even when you return to school in the fall. Supervisors, employees, fellow interns — everyone you meet through your internship — are now relationships and should be added to your contact database. Here’s my recommended way of adding people you meet during your internship to your network: ask them! Simply say towards the end of your stint, “I’ve really enjoyed meeting you and working with you during my internship. May I keep in touch with you in the future and check in with you once in a while?” Most likely people will say yes, and they’ll appreciate the respectfulness of your asking. Then, send each person a hello note or email within a month of ending your internship (just to say hello and prove you really do want to keep in contact).