Internships are the new entry-level jobs. The job market is strong, but competition is fierce with more employers understanding the key role internships play in finding top full-time entry-level talent. If you hope to turn your internship into a full-time job, here are five ways you can impress your employer.
Picture this: you arrive on-site for your first day as an intern. You sit through a one-hour long meeting about policies, procedures, and payroll. Then someone hands you a list of 16 coffee orders and a detailed print order. These are your Monday morning duties. Off you go, juggling hot drinks and ink.
Erase that image, and let’s generate a new one. Today’s internships are more about contributing to real projects and less about delivering coffee. That’s not to say you won’t be asked to make copies, file paperwork, or take minutes during meetings. Some of your time may be spent on administrative tasks. But you can expect, as an intern in today’s workplace, to spend the majority of your time learning about what it takes to succeed as a full-time employee by contributing in significant ways.
This means you need to be prepared to contribute to your company in significant ways. You need to dispel myths you might have about what your internship will be like and strategically plan ways to brand yourself, professionally network, onboard successfully, and work diligently.
1. Make a great first impression during onboarding.
Ever heard of the primacy effect or negativity bias? Your first impressions stick with you, and anything negative you detect when you first meet someone sticks with you more than the positive things you detect.
It’s your job as an intern (new employee) to ensure that your fellow interns, other employees, and supervisors pick up a positive vibe when they meet you. This really starts during the interview process, but since you won’t meet most people until the onboarding process, focus on that. During onboarding meetings—which may require lots of sitting, listening, and learning—pay attention. Do your best to appear interested and engaged (even during meetings discussing company policies and accounting procedures… you might learn something!). Ask questions (but not too many questions).
Do not make the fatal egotistical error of believing your new employer is dying to know everything you know and believe. Trust me, they’re not. Employers hire interns to contribute to projects and to offer a new perspective, certainly, but they also hire interns to train, groom, and teach them to potentially join the company as full-time employees. If you brand yourself as a narcissistic know-it-all during onboarding, you’ll be off to a negative start.
2. Listen more than you speak.
This goes along with number one. Listening, a valuable soft skill, falls under the umbrella of communication skills. Employers repeatedly rank communication skills at the top of their preferred soft skill list for employees.
Showcase your own communication skills by listening more than you speak during meetings, at lunch, on the elevator, and while walking down the hall with your supervisor. Don’t interrupt. If you’re a chatty person by nature, how can you make this switch? By asking great questions. Plan ahead—write out a few key questions each night after you leave work.
When you listen to others, you give them the chance to teach you things you don’t already know and to disclose information you may otherwise never hear. In addition, when others listen to us, we feel important. If you foster a feeling of importance in your coworkers and supervisors, you’re on your way to branding yourself as a considerate, thoughtful team-player. Who doesn’t want to work with someone like that?
3. First things first—seek a mentor.
Within your first few weeks of your new internship, seek a workplace mentor. A workplace mentor is someone on-site, working within the company, who can serve as a reference point when you have questions or needs. Your mentor might also be willing to discuss growth opportunities within the company, give you pointers on professional and career development, and share her own secrets of success.
Look for a mentor who emulates qualities you admire. Does the mentor listen well and seem interested when you’re speaking? If not, ask someone else. Ultimately, your workplace mentor doesn’t need to be perfect, though. A workplace mentor isn’t necessarily a lifelong career mentor but can still provide plenty of valuable guidance temporarily.
4. View every conversation as a networking and branding opportunity.
Focus on doing your job well every day. While doing your job well, remember that you’re potentially conducting a semester or summer-long interview for a full-time job while completing your internship. This means you better view every conversation and interaction as a networking and branding opportunity. How you treat others, groom yourself, and speak on a daily basis can make or break your long-term employment potential.
Create business cards before you begin your internship. Carry them with you to work daily; you never know when the conversation will turn to talk of employment. Go to lunch with coworkers and supervisors when given the opportunity. Don’t hide out in your car, listening to music or playing on your iPhone. Prepare a genuine elevator pitch prior to being hired; don’t just ramble when people ask you why you’re working and what you plan to do with your life.
5. Let your work speak for itself.
Finally, do a great job every day at work during your internship. Don’t give half your energy to tasks. As we say in the dance and gym world, do it “full out.” Don’t hold back when you’re creating a document, designing a project, or even picking up or delivering lunch. Something as simple as returning earlier than expected demonstrates your ability to accomplish a task in a short period of time, and this impresses employers.
Let your work speak for itself—mouth closed, actions screaming. Don’t brag on yourself. There’s nothing admirable about that. Certainly document each accomplishment on your resume, and if interviewed for a full-time position, discuss these accomplishments at length. Until then, give it 100%, stay where your hands are, and you’ll be pleased with the results.
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Bethany Wallace is a career coach and adjunct English faculty member. She is passionate about helping job seekers succeed. An expert in higher education, she has worked for nine years as an English faculty member, a director of career services, and an academic adviser. Bethany also has experience in the corporate world in content management, technical writing, and non-profit management. Bethany earned her Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature at Arkansas Tech University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Lyon College. Bethany provides various career coaching packages and services for job seekers. Contact Bethany for a free consultation, or connect with her on LinkedIn.