Congratulations – you got the internship!
After a painful and highly competitive application and interview process, you were selected over dozens of other highly qualified students to spend the summer working at one of the coolest companies around.
As an intern, you'll gain valuable, real-world experience with an established company, new skills, a professional network, experience to add to your resume, and depending upon your college and the employer some combination of academic credit and a paycheck.
During the internship your employer will closely monitor and evaluate you, and the quality of your work is only one factor they'll consider as they decide whether to invite you back for a full-time role upon graduation. They'll also look at your work ethic, technical aptitude, interpersonal skills, behavior, learning agility, and growth potential to determine if you're a fit for their full-time workforce.
Regardless of whether your career interests lie with the company at which you're interning or at another company, you'll need to be smart in approaching your internship. The ultimate goal is to embark upon a rewarding career upon graduation. Here 8 ways you maximize the ROI – return on investment – on your internship.
- Set your own goals. Even before accepting an internship, you should very clearly understand what you plan to get out of your summer. What specific technical skills or professional experiences do you hope to gain? An internship that doesn't add to your professional toolbox may not get you any closer to your desired career path.
- Align expectations with your manager. Have a two-way discussion to agree upon what he/she expects out of you. Set goals. Work together to define what success in the internship would look like so that you can prioritize accordingly. If you see gaps in the experiences they plan to offer you versus what you were told during the interview, or if you would like to work on specific projects or technologies, respectfully make your manager aware of this and ask if it's possible to redefine the scope of the internship (it may or may not be).
- Be flexible. There's a lot of boring work out there which needs to get done, and interns usually get stuck doing it. Managers usually know how lame it is. Smile, and take it on willingly. Ask for more. You may learn valuable skills, and demonstrating a positive attitude toward tedious tasks reflects well upon your work ethic. Perhaps you'll identify a process to streamline this grunt work and can share your findings so that you'll make your manager's life easier after you leave.
- Ask for stretch assignments. Managers often give employees what they think they can handle. If you believe you have the capability to take on more complex tasks – and the bandwidth to do so without allowing your core duties to suffer – tell your manager. You might end up with elevated responsibility or a challenging assignment. There's a risk of failure here, but if you succeed in your new assignment you have the potential to truly shine.
- Track your progress. Document your progress against your goals in a quantifiable and measurable way. If you find you're falling behind, it may be time to look at how you're approaching your work and perhaps discuss the situation with your manager. Save your data for the performance appraisal at the end of the internship..
- Network aggressively. One of the most counterproductive things you can do is bury yourself in your cubicle without getting to know people in the organization. Introduce yourself to department employees and other interns. Build your brand by actively participating in corporate activities. After the internship is over, the company will usually rank all of the interns in order to prioritize to whom they'd like to make full-time, post-graduation employment offers. If nobody knows you, they can't advocate for you, regardless of the quality of your work. Also, take a long-term perspective to networking – few people stay with a single employer for the duration of their career, and the connections you make now may be useful in finding employment after graduation and beyond.
- Invest in your performance appraisal. At the end of the internship you'll sit down with your manager to go over your work – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Share your accomplishments, highlight your teamwork, and provide documentation. Ask for performance feedback – in addition to what they perceive as your successes, your manager will share information he or she believes will help you address developmental areas. Demonstrate maturity – listen actively, don't be defensive, and ask for suggestions. The information they share will usually be the aggregate of multiple individuals across the department who provided input and it will reflect the general perception of your performance. Thank your manager for the feedback, synthesize what's been shared with you, and use the data to improve your performance in the future.
- Update your resume and LinkedIn profile with your new experiences. An internship is real experience, and your work will help sell you. Highlight your accomplishments!
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.