With most of the nation’s colleges and universities quickly nearing the end of the spring semester, tens of thousands students and new graduates across the country are preparing to embark on summer internships, which are increasingly vital to career development. However, one workplace authority warns that many interns will fail to maximize the experience and convert it into a full-time position.
“Internships are more important than ever. We are at a point in this recovery where job gains are finally gaining momentum, but, overall, employers remain cautious when it comes to hiring. They want to ensure that they are bringing in the most talented candidates who mesh will with the company and its workers. Internships offer an ideal on-the-job testing ground that more and more employers rely on for identifying and recruiting entry-level workers,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
The problem is that many interns simply show up every day, put in their hours and never give any thought about how to get the most out of their short time with the employer and taking the extra steps necessary to turn this temporary position into a full-time one.
According to an outlook released earlier this year by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the entry-level job market has improved steadily over the last two years. However, the competition for these positions remains fierce and having internship experience is a must on any resume. The latest data shows that the number of internships being offered is on the rise.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers 2012 Internship & Co-Op survey found that employers will increase internship hires 8.5 percent over 2011. Employers also reported the highest conversion rate, the rate by which interns become full-time employees, ever tracked by NACE: 57.7 percent in 2011 versus 58.6 percent this year.
Employers view internships as a valuable hiring tool. It gives employers the chance to evaluate a potential employee’s performance for an extended period of time in real-world conditions. It also lets an employer gauge how the intern fits into the company culture, which is nearly as important as skills and experience.
As an intern, it is critical to treat each day like a job interview. You want to set yourself apart from your fellow interns. As the slowing economy potentially leads to fewer full-time positions, it is critical that interns exceed expectations. Those who merely meet expectations probably will not get the full-time job offer.
Meeting the right people during your internship is also critical. It is likely that the person supervising the interns is relatively low on the corporate totem pole. In fact, he or she may be only a year or two out of college. The intern with full-time job aspirations should make a daily effort to meet the managers and executives who make the hiring decisions. The higher up the executive you impress, the greater the odds that a permanent position will be found for you.
Students who do not receive an offer from the company where they interned can still benefit from the experience. Managers and executives in the company represent the beginning of your job-search network. Even if they cannot find a spot for you in their company, they may know executives in another company that may have openings.
John Challenger provided the following advice for this year’s crop of summer interns to improve their chances of being offered a full-time job or the opportunity to return next summer, in the case of non-graduating college students:
Treat your internship as a real job.
The best way to prove you are qualified for a permanent position is through action. Think of your internship as a trial period or extended interview for obtaining the position you desire. Always be on time and meet deadlines. Maintain a positive attitude and show that you are eager to learn and succeed by seeking out feedback to improve your performance and develop new skills.
Take initiative and exceed expectations.
By taking initiative you can show management what you are capable of. Do not be afraid to voice your own ideas, offer solutions, and ask questions. Show interest in attending meetings and seek out extra work and new projects. When you go above and beyond the minimum, you demonstrate your commitment level and gain the attention of management.
Dress according to company dress codes.
While you want to stand out from the pack, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself for the wrong reasons. By dressing professionally you reinforce the impression that you can adapt to and fit in with the company’s culture.
Keep track of your contributions and accomplishments.
Keep track of the projects you worked on, your individual contributions, and the results achieved. Having a tangible record of your achievements with the company is a helpful tool in convincing a manager why you should be hired full time.
Network, network, network.
Developing contacts inside and outside of your department is extremely important. Schedule lunches or meetings with company managers and executives to give them a better understanding of what you’re about and what you plan on accomplishing. Find a mentor to teach you the ropes of the organization and offer advice on company politics. The contacts you make through your internship could prove invaluable throughout your time at the organization and throughout your career.
Ask about available entry-level positions.
Let your employer know that you would like a job with that particular organization. Ask about what positions are available and express your interest in them. An employer will be more likely to consider you for a position if they know you are interested in it.
Stay in contact.
If you don’t get hired for a position immediately after your internship ends, stay in touch. Check-in with your contacts and provide updates on your progress. This will help to keep you in the forefront for the employer’s mind when a position opens.