UIC Career Services
Student Services Building
1200 West Harrison
Chicago, IL 60607
M-F: 8:30am - 5:00pm
An internship or cooperative education experience is your opportunity to put your best foot forward and build a respectable reputation for yourself. It is your chance to get face to face with multiple contacts at an organization. Think of your internship as an elongated interview. Many companies use interns as their main recruiting tool. A person who is already familiar with an organization, their methods and their mission is more likely to get picked for a full time role. Use your short time wisely and efficiently, and make a positive and impactful impression on your future employers. Here are some key tips:
Take your assignments seriously and build a reputation for being dependable. One technique to do this is by meeting (or beating) deadlines, and producing consistent solid work. Ask questions about your projects (the nature of it, the due date, etc.). Descriptions can be vague, or someone may forget you are interning and assume you know more than you do. Asking for clarification is a sign of maturity, not weakness, and ensures you complete your work correctly the first time. Be mindful of your small habits – be careful of your in–office cell phone. Dress similarly to the full–time employees. Other interns may wear t–shirts, shorts or sandals, but you can mirror the company culture. Avoid calling in sick or taking time off for vacations. Do not use your position as student or intern to act casually.
Get to know people at the organization. An easy way to start is to take part in casual conversations. Make an effort to meet others outside of your department or your team. Becoming socially comfortable and building relations with people at the organization will help you to ask tougher questions later (referral, reference, etc.). Use your lunch breaks or train rides as an opportunity to interact with others, even if that means stepping out of your comfort zone. But don't overdo it – you don't want to be seen as someone who focuses on socializing. Your own internship class will also be a future networking tool, so strengthen those friendships as well.
Look for a mentor at the company, and find one early. Locate someone who is personally interested in helping you grow and succeed. Begin by setting up a meeting with the internship coordinator, supervisor or person who hired you to discuss goals. Once you have clear and attainable benchmarks, ask them to recommend a person you can talk to for guidance. You can ask the mentor to let you shadow on appointments, sit–in on meetings or learn in–depth the projects they are working on. If you cannot find a mentor, ask various department contacts for informational interviews. This will let you to get face–to–face in short meetings and obtain answers to questions and inside information. Be proactive.
Show up early and leave late. Demonstrate flexibility with tasks. Your willingness to help out showcases your ability to be a team player and work toward a common goal. Take on the extra project or work the weekend event – do what others may not want to do. Your actions will show that you are passionate and committed. Ask for additional tasks, but make sure to prioritize and manage your time efficiently. You do not want to over–commit as it can harm your image to over–promise and under–deliver.
Ask plenty of questions to demonstrate that you are loyal and thoughtful. Ask for clarification on projects if you are lacking in confidence – an employer would rather have you understand the project completely before beginning. Inquire about projects and how they play into the full scope of the quarter, client relationship, business model, etc. Ask for work when you have completed yours.
Keep busy and do not wait for someone to bring tasks to you. Another great question to ask your new co–workers is where they go for industry news. Is there a blog you should know about? What trade magazines should you read? These can help you to understand what's happening from an insider point of view. Get comfortable with the language of your field (its buzzwords), which can help you around the office in meetings, elevator rides, lunches or outside of the internship during interviews and future networking. Finally, ask the appropriate contacts about future hiring or entry–level position openings. This may bring attention to yourself while still inside an organization, and communicate to those higher up that you are interested in staying for the long haul. If you do not ask, how will someone at the company know you are interested?
Stay positive and energized. Some intern work might be menial. Do not complain about small tasks; remain enthusiastic from start to finish – each day, each week and throughout the entirety of the internship. As an intern, you are at the bottom of the totem pole and need to not take this opportunity for granted. Show that you want to make the effort, starting from the ground floor.
Follow a company's webpage and associated social media outlets. In addition, a place for extra work may come from starting or updating an intern blog or social media page. With previous familiarity, you have a jump–start, and it's another way to showcase your passion for an organization. You can offset what you lack in experience with appetite and enthusiasm. Internships are a great way to add to your LinkedIn contact list, but make sure your relationships are solid before you add the entire office as connections. If you ran into this person outside of the office, would you say hello? If the answer is no, be cautious before connecting. Watch your Facebook profile as well – think of the entire interview as one long interview. Do not air out your personal grievances about the internship or the company; do not speak badly about fellow interns or people at the organization. Keep your Facebook page professional all summer or semester long.
Make notes of what you are working on throughout the course of your semester or summer. Updating your resume will be easier as will quantifying your achievements for cover letters and behavioral interviews. It will serve as proof when the time comes to ask about entry–level positions.
Remember to say thank you often and sincerely. The internship is an opportunity, and one you must work hard to acquire and keep. Write thank you notes after your internship, reflecting on your experience. Keep in contact with a few people you have built solid relationships; employers enjoy hearing how their interns have learned and grown. This will also keep fresh in their minds when full–time recruiting occurs.
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