The nation’s employers are increasingly selective in recruiting and now demand that even entry-level candidates have on-the-job experience. As a result, the once optional summer internship has become a requisite component of any young person’s resume, according to one employment expert, who advises those embarking on internship programs this summer take steps to ensure they make the most of the experience.
“Internships are more important than ever, but not all internship programs are created equal. Many employers do not have any type of strategy when it comes to utilizing and educating their interns. In these situations both the employer and the intern lose. It is critical that young people entering an internship program take a proactive approach to managing and maximizing their experience,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement and business coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
According to a recent outlook by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the entry-level job market is expected to be stronger this year. However, the competition for these positions remains fierce and having internship experience can greatly increase the odds of post-graduation job-search success. A survey of 2012 graduates conducted last August by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 60 percent of those who participated in paid internships received at least one job offer. In contrast, only 36 percent of graduates with no internship experience on their resume had received job offers.
“The classroom is great for developing critical thinking skills, writing and presentation skills, and general knowledge that provide the fundamental building blocks of any viable job candidate. However, nothing beats the hands-on practical experience that internships provide. For those who have already graduated, internships are often the stepping stone to a full-time position,” said Challenger.
“Internships give 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 by exceeding expectations. Those who merely meet expectations probably will not get the full-time job offer,” said Challenger.
“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,” he added.
“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.