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MEMO to Interns: Internship Secrets You Need to Know

Many college students have caught on that internships are critical to a successful job hunt after college. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that many interns misjudge or misuse this powerful tool, usually by working harder instead of smarter.

Here are some secrets for maximizing your internship to make sure it really pays off for you in the future.

1. It’s about experience, not longevity. Employers often ask their most valued interns to extend their stay through the following semester or season.  For the intern, this request is flattering. She may feel that extending the internship will make her look more attractive as a job candidate to prospective employers. While I understand the appeal of accepting the invitation, I urge you to reconsider. You’ll find on your job hunt that employers generally don’t care how long you stayed at your internships. As someone who probably has yet to find your true purpose in the workforce, internships are an amazing excuse to jump jobs without having to explain it. The benefits of staying in a long-term internship are minimal… By jumping around you get a bigger network and varied experience, which you can use to brand your resume when you get clear on your desired path. If your schedule and wallet allow, consider a new internship with a different office or organization. You will develop more skills, be exposed to a broader segment of the workforce, and expand your network.

2. Internships are a branding tool. A chronic mistake made by so many recent graduates is listing all the internship or volunteer experience they’ve ever had on their resumes.  This is an effort to compensate for their lack of paid, real-world work experience, and employers see right through it.  Remember, your resume is a marketing document; if you’re marketing to everyone, you’re marketing to no one. Think of your internship history as a filing cabinet: when you are applying for a specific position, scan the drawer and pull out only the experiences that are relevant to the job in question. This might seem risky, especially if it means you end up with is a short list. However, bear in mind that hiring managers reach for the resume that is clearly aligned with the position, not the ones that require weeding through endless lines of text in search of one or two things that make you a good fit.

This is yet another reason why #1 is so helpful– having multiple experiences allows for a diverse filing cabinet from which you can pull options.

3. Networking is even more effective than internships will ever be. In order to be taken seriously when you graduate, you will need internships on your resume. Although some internships may lead to job offers, simply showing up and doing what’s required of you isn’t going to place you front and center when it comes to hiring time. To be honest, you’ll be “front and center” with hundreds of other past interns. That’s not to say that companies don’t appreciate your work – after all, it is free labor – but you need them to remember you after you’ve left. It can be tough to distinguish yourself as an intern, and don’t spend too much time hoping someone will notice your hard work in the copy room and offer to be your mentor. It usually doesn’t work that way.  Instead, identify someone in the office who has enough seniority to be helpful, as long as he or she isn’t the busiest person there. Ask to have coffee together, offer to help them with projects, and follow through on your commitments to him or her.

Keep in mind one last internship secret you need to know which is networking should always extend beyond the scope of your internship.  The sole fact that you’re an intern doesn’t extinguish the need to network both inside and outside the office. Internships are there for students to get experience; networks are what will land you the job.

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