Companies & Industries

Taking the Internship Up a Notch


It could be the ticket to the job you've always wanted. Once you land your summer gig, here are some ways to make it count

Congratulations, you've landed a summer internship with the company for which you've always wanted to work. You may think the hard part is over, now that you've gotten in the door. But don't start patting yourself on the back just yet. Over the next few months, your every move will be scrutinized to see if you've got what it takes to be a full-timer.

These days, more companies are treating internship programs (BusinessWeek.com, 11/29/07) as extended job interviews for permanent positions. An internship is a way to assess a job candidate's skills, professionalism, fit with company culture, and ability to learn new tasks. The idea is that those who meet expectations will have a permanent gig waiting for them. However the leap from intern to full-time employee can be daunting if you're new to the work world and you don't approach your internship with the right expectations and assumptions.

The moment you set foot over the threshold you should think of yourself as a new employee. "When an intern comes on board we give them the same experience as we would a first-year associate," says Amy Thompson, director of campus recruiting for global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. "All of the things that we would assess a first-year associate on, that's how we assess our interns."

Seeking Feedback From Mentors

For Joshua Zelkind, an intern with the company in 2005 and 2006, acting like an employee meant poking his head into the offices of managers and partners to introduce himself and say hello. That helped him feel more comfortable and confident at the end of the internship when he had to give a presentation in front of the higher-ups. The following year, he took a job as an associate in the firm's advisory services practice.

Most internship programs have some type of periodic assessment to give interns feedback and help them adjust and improve their performance. But beyond that, you should make every effort to find out exactly how you're doing. "Always seek feedback from your mentors and from your supervisors," suggests Paul Bae, vice-president of human resources for St. Jude Medical (STJ). "Unless you're constantly seeking feedback, you're not going to be able to improve."

At IBM (IBM), interns are encouraged to build a strong relationship with their manager, as that's the person they would most likely work for if they were to be hired. "If the intern has done well, and if their manager has an opening for a full-time hire, they will try to hire them," says Vera Chota, manager of recruiting and internships at the company. A good relationship can also pay off even if that manager isn't hiring: "If they don't have an opening they will determine if that intern should be hired by someone else in IBM, and help them," says Chota.

Bowling for Brownie Points

Of course, you should network beyond your direct superior whenever you get the opportunity. Joining in intern social events—in and outside of work—is a great way for an intern to build a rapport with potential future coworkers, and to prove that he or she is a team player. David Krivonak, an intern with Sprint Nextel (S) during the summers of 2004, 2005, and 2006, thinks one of the reasons the company hired him as a radio-frequency engineer in 2006 was that he organized activities for fellow interns, including a bowling tournament.

Frequently, it's not just the intern coordinator or manager who makes the final decisions about hiring interns. At hotel operator Hyatt the human resources manager and the general manager typically have to sign off on any new hires, according to Kristy Seidel, the manager of staffing—so making a good impression with these people and their ":reports": can make a big difference.

As in any job, interns should make some effort to go above and beyond what they're asked to do. "When [interns] get excited and start asking 'why' questions, it really makes a statement," says Kenneth Charles, chief staffing officer for General Mills (GIS). One of the most impressive performances he's seen: When a summer intern took a new product from concept stage to the store shelves at Wal-Mart (WMT) in less than three months.

Did that intern get offered a job at the end of the summer? "You bet," Charles says.

Douglas MacMillan is a staff writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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