Thursday, June 7, 2012

7 Ways to Make the Most of an Internship

By now, many college interns have started their summer gigs.

Eager, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, they're ready to tackle the problems of the world, to impress their employers so much that job offers are tendered before the third week of their programs.

Unfortunately, many interns, bored with the mundane tasks they've been assigned or disillusioned that higher-ups consider them too young and inexperienced, begin to lose that optimism around Week 2.

Maureen Dumas, vice president of experiential education and career services at Johnson & Wales University, says that more students than ever want internships, in part because their parents push for it. 
Parents often see an internship as a way for their child to get in the door and see if the industry the student has chosen is a good fit.

Still, if a student isn't well prepared, both the employer and student can end up disappointed. She says Johnson & Wales, which has campuses in Providence, R.I.; Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; and North Miami, Fla., works closely with students to make sure that they have mentors and that administrative staff and faculty advisers monitor them before and during their internships.

"The first thing anyone doing an internship should ask is what he or she wants to get out of the experience," Dumas says. "They need to think about what areas they want to be exposed to and what skill sets they need to learn."

To get that internship, a student should begin looking one or two terms ahead of time, working with a school's career center to make contacts with prospective employers.

Once an internship is secured, a student can make the most out of the experience:
1. Dress appropriately. Many college students live in jeans and sweat pants, inappropriate for most offices.
Look for photos online of company meetings that show employee dress, or check with the human resources office beforehand about what to wear. The first days provide the most opportunities to be introduced to others throughout the company, and you want to make a good impression.
2. Check out LinkedIn. Search alumni groups to see if someone from your school works at the company.
If so, invite that person for lunch or coffee and see if the alum would be interested in mentoring you during your internship.
3. Get personal business cards. These cards should provide your contact information so you can give them to people you meet at the company.
If you give a presentation, you'll want to leave with attendees' business cards or contact information.
"This is a good way to follow up later if you're still looking for a job," Dumas says.
4. Be on your toes. "You never know when you might run into the CEO," Dumas says.
"Always be ready to tell him or her about why you want to work there," she says. "Do your homework so you know about the company."
5. Monitor the company intranet. Jobs may be posted internally before being sent to job boards.
Make sure you read those offerings weekly so you can jump on them immediately.
6. Stay positive. Every job has tasks that are not fun.
The same is true of internships. Older workers often think interns need to pay their dues, so they'll give you menial tasks.
Don't whine. Embrace each task with a positive attitude. They could be tests of your attitude to see if you would be a good hire.
7. Volunteer. Employers like eager attitudes, so be willing to offer your services as long as you've got the OK from your boss.

Maybe you're a whiz at online graphics and could help a team meet its deadline by staying late and pitching in. This can serve to not only give others a positive impression of you but also provide valuable experience of working with a team under deadline pressures.

Finally, never leave an internship empty-handed, Dumas says.

"Always make sure you leave an internship with names of contacts so you can continue networking while you look for a job," she says.

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