The husband of a friend of mine recently finished college for the second time. Hoping to make a career change, he quit his job a few years ago to go back to school full-time. In the meantime, the economy tanked and when he graduated this past spring, the job market was much grimmer than it was a few years ago when he went back to college. With two young children at home, the family was ready for him to be back in the full-time workforce.
While 2010 college graduates have generally had a tough time finding gainful employment, my friend’s husband was all set; he went straight to work after graduation at a job he loved. His secret? He worked as an intern during his last year of school and made connections and a good impression while he was there. Upon graduating, his internship turned into a full-time job.
If you have an internship, don’t just think of it as a nice addition to your resume. Consider it an audition for a real job.
“An internship is an amazing opportunity,” says Peter Handal, Chairman, CEO and President of Dale Carnegie Training, an internationally recognized leader in performance-based workforce development, assessment, training and solutions. “It enables the fortunate participant to live and breathe the firm while developing an insider status, with an outsider’s perspective. While obtaining an internship is often a challenge, leveraging that internship into a full-time job requires discipline, finesse and determination.”
If you want to turn your internship into a full-time job, Handal offers these tips, adapted from Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People:
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. Keep your head down, your eyes up and your ears open. An ideal intern is a sponge who is able to absorb information quickly and efficiently while performing tasks that benefit the firm. Even if your assignment doesn’t seem compelling, look for the silver lining. Your employers will respect your humility and as you continue to prove yourself, your work will increase in difficulty and accomplishment.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation. With great opportunity comes great gratitude. No matter how small or large an opportunity, always thank your employer for his or her guidance. The thank-you should fit the event. If a superior wishes you “a job well-done” in a discussion or in an email, follow-up with a kind phrase like, “I couldn’t have done it without your assistance, thank you.” For a larger opportunity, your gesture must correspond accordingly. For instance, if your boss invites you to attend a client meeting, brings you to a meal or goes out of his or her way to assist you, a hand-written note shows that you recognize the importance of the experience and value the company’s investment in you.
- Arouse in the other person an eager want. A good executive is a great mentor. It is up to you, however, to motivate him or her to begin this vital relationship. A mentor can help align you with the right people to go from an intern to an employee while also giving you key insights into yourself and into the firm. Show genuine enthusiasm for your work and for the company. Whether it’s on the elevator, at the water cooler or at the end of the meeting, feel comfortable seeking out upper management to make a good impression and to appear on their radar for future promotions and opportunities.
If you’re interning at a company that isn’t hiring, “make yourself indispensable by aligning yourself with essential work,” Handal says. “For instance, take ownership of a part of the office and in doing so you can become an integral part of the firm. Offer to handle social networking and develop your own voice for the firm online. When your time has run out, they will need you on the team to continue the brand’s viral message. On a smaller scale, offer to help your boss with his/her schedule, expense reports and creative brainstorming. If your boss relies on you, your departure would hurt the firm. Finally, if a firm truly has a hiring freeze, leverage your experience at competing firms. If a competitor makes you an offer, your firm might feel compelled to match it, or else lose top talent.”