More than ever, students and aspiring professionals use internships to go beyond their degrees and gain real-world experience.
I learned the hard way. I had the degree and the grades; I just didn’t have the chops.
Upon graduating with a bachelor’s in journalism, I went from applying for jobs in my field to seeking jobs in a related field, and then to relevant internships. I’ve been a contractor, I’ve been the intern who did nothing, and, most recently, I’ve been the intern who got the job
Making the leap from intern to employee takes hard work, but it’s not complicated. Think of it this way: Your internship is a 12-week-long interview.
This may mean reversing some bad habits, learning some new tricks, and working like never before. Just remember these essentials:
Take your internship seriously. This isn’t just another place for you to sit down, browse the Internet, and text to your heart’s desire—especially if you want to stay there. Treat it as you would any other job. Work hard, show your efforts, and dress for the job you want rather than the internship you have.
Respect company time.
With any luck, your internship will start with a comfortable workload while you learn the ropes. Once you get comfortable, don’t look for ways to slack off. If you have free time at work, take on more responsibility. You’ll be helping the team and yourself.
Show up on time.
Stick with the schedule your employer gives you—even if you’re unpaid, even if you work only 20 hours a week. If people arrive at work between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., make sure you’re there at the same time. Get up half an hour earlier if you need to; take the earlier train; do whatever you can to show how hungry you are as an intern: it says volumes about your work ethic.
If an internship is an extended job interview, make sure you treat it like one by asking questions when you can. Nothing shows that you want to improve like asking people how
you can improve. It will save you time, no matter what field you’re in, and it will save your team time.
Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and ideas.
You may just be an intern, but let’s not confuse title and talent. Good ideas are good ideas—it doesn’t matter how little you get paid. Be confident, build upon ideas you hear, and don’t take it personally if your idea isn’t used. But do ask why. It could be an easily addressed flaw, or the answer could provide insight into a solid solution for a future problem.
Show how much you can offer. If there is a certain area of the company or topic you’d like to learn more about, ask what you can do as an intern to help out. Shadow someone who might be able to offer advice. Take advantage of the available opportunities.
Don’t be shy.
Introduce yourself to people. Don’t be scared to ask someone for help. Don’t be afraid to attend a company event because of your title. Getting to know people in different areas of the company can do wonders for your pool of contacts—not to mention your pool of recommendations.
Find some former interns, and get advice.
If you’d like to turn your internship into a full-time gig, chances are good that someone working there has done just that. Schedule a chat to ask for words of wisdom and a few ideas on how to make the conversion. At the very least, this will be one more person who knows you’re serious about making your presence last longer than 12 weeks—and who would probably make a good advocate. Research the full-time opportunities available to you.
Go through the formalities.
Tell the internship supervisor that you’re interested in a full-time opportunity. He or she will probably ask the personnel director what you should do next. Emphasize that you’d like to submit your résumé, cover letter, and writing samples (if applicable) for consideration. Customize everything, polish them as much as you can, and send them in just as any other applicant would.
[Follow these tips for writing an exceptional cover letter.]
Ultimately, if the internship doesn’t turn into a full-time opportunity, don’t worry. You’ll still have lots of new professional contacts, relevant experience, and great opportunities coming your way.
Tony Valdivieso is a social media specialist at Imagination Publishing, where he was formerly an intern.