When it comes to acquiring hands-on work experience, learning about which professional environments suit you, and making industry contacts, there’s not much better than an internship.
Employers are keen on them as well – in fact, a recent survey of employers who hire recent college graduates conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace has found that:
- An internship is the single most important credential for recent college graduates to have on their resume in their job search among all industry segments.
- All industries and hiring levels place slightly more weight on student work or internship experiences than on academic credentials.
- Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credential when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.
It can be daunting to begin an internship, especially if it’s your first one. Here are a few tips to make it the rewarding experience that it should be!
1. Develop a professional persona. Create a professional image, dress appropriately, and avoid “office gossip”. Be respectful, genuine, helpful, and always show gratitude. Respond to constructive feedback in a positive manner by reflecting, learning and growing.
2. Set personal goals. Think about what it is you want to have on your resume or to be able to talk about in future interviews with employers. Discuss these goals with your site supervisor, mentor(s), and your faculty supervisor. The more your supervisors know about your goals, the more they will be able to support you in reaching them.
Think of your internship as a long interview.
3. Maintain open and continuous communication. Ask your supervisors how they prefer to maintain communication with you. Try to set regular meetings, and spend them discussing and reviewing your goals, strengths, and areas of opportunity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Supervisors prefer that you ask rather than guess or assume. This willingness to learn typically leads to more hands-on experiences and projects, leading to even more tangible accomplishments. Show your curiosity!
4. Have a positive and flexible attitude. Employers appreciate an enthusiastic, can-do attitude because it really impacts the office moral and environment. Keep in mind that things don’t always go as planned. Every experience is a learning experience. See unexpected situations and new projects as an avenue for developing more of your skills and adding to your professional experience.
5. Take initiative. As a student, it is easy to think of yourself as “just the intern.” Yes, you are the intern, but that doesn’t mean you should sit back and wait for projects to be handed to you. Your internship is technically a long-term interview, and your supervisors and colleagues are paying close attention to see if you have what it takes to be hired on permanently after the internship. Ask to take on big projects, or come up with your own project! As a student, you can offer new innovative ideas that may greatly impact the organization. By taking this type of initiative, you will make yourself known and will be remembered.
Treat your internship as though this is your career and think of yourself as part of the team.
6. Network network network. Studies have found that 80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking. This internship is your opportunity to develop and strengthen lasting professional connections that will give you that “edge” to your future career. If you leave a lasting impression with your supervisors and colleagues, these professionals will be more than willing to speak on behalf of your strengths and competencies to others. Leave your colleagues on a humble, thankful note, and give them a genuine goodbye, keeping the relationship open for your network. Send them a thank you card in the mail, expressing your appreciation and your interest in keeping in touch. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and request to connect with your supervisors, colleagues, and anyone else you networked with during your internship. Most importantly, keep in touch, especially with those who will help you get to where you want to be!
Crystal Vietmeier is Assistant Director of Career Development, Internships, and Experiential Learning at Chatham University, where internships are a vital (and required) part of a larger approach to professional preparation (learn more at chatham.edu/chathamplan). This summer, Chatham students are interning at companies including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The League of Women Voters, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, UPMC, Forbes Regional Hospital, Pittsburgh Pirates, The Carnegie Museum of Art, Quantico Marine Corps Base, Ketchum Inc., The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, Table Magazine, GNC Inc, Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse, Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center, the Borough of Swissvale, the Musuneggi Financial Group, Drew Designs, Ltd, Mariani Landscape, and the University of Pittsburgh.