A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that more than 61 percent of college students with a paid internship in the for-profit sector received job offers upon graduation. Amber Rinehard was one of those fortunate interns hired after college graduation in May 2009--at the height of the recession and even though the company was in the middle of a hiring freeze.
"They were not even making any internal promotions at the time," says Rinehard, global community manager for Text 100 Public Relations in Rochester, NY. "So the prospect of getting a job offer at the completion of my internship was not all that promising."
Those barriers didn't dissuade Rinehard. There were several things she kept in mind throughout her internship that ultimately led to a job offer a few months later.
- Work hard. Come in early, leave late, advises Rinehard. "Do whatever you need to do to make sure the tasks you're assigned are completed, on time, and to the highest quality possible."
- Ask questions. The point of an internship is to learn, and you can't learn without asking, notes Rinehard. "The fact that I was open with my questions not only helped me learn more, but also helped me gain more of a presence in my office. I learned how to vocalize my questions and concerns and was respected by my colleagues because of that."
Most importantly, if you have a passion or special skill, make it known.
"I was particularly interested in social media and by speaking up and letting a manager know that I wanted to explore that more, I was able to have my hands in more projects and gained more skills by doing so," says Rinehard.
Although her internship was supposed to last just three months, at the end of the internship, Text 100 was able to find room to extend Rinehard's internship for a new client project that involved social media. Two months later, after the hiring freeze was lifted, she was hired.
While an internship doesn't guarantee anyone a job, it certainly gives you an edge over other candidates. If you follow the below tips, you may be able to join Rinehard's ranks and convert that internship into a job offer.
Tip #1: Accept feedback
Heather Krasna, a career counselor and author of Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service, stresses the importance of asking for feedback so you can improve your work.
"Specifically ask if you are doing anything they would like you to stop doing, or anything you're doing well that you could do even better," she says. "Make sure they know that you want to do your best."
Rinehard agrees. "The point of an internship is to learn and the best way to learn is to seek this feedback as much as you can," she says.
Sometimes, the feedback isn't always the most positive, but Rinehard says that if you can accept it with your head held high and take the advice to heart, you'll be better off in the long run.
Tip #2: Stay in touch
Once you leave your internship, find reasons to write or call your internship supervisor, says Krasna.
"You want to stay on the top of their mind if a job opens up," she says. "Towards the end of the internship, tell your boss how much you've enjoyed working at the internship and ask how you can stay in touch so you can be kept under consideration if jobs open up that might be a good match for your skills. Tell them you want a job."
Tip #3: Demonstrate initiative
If you want to turn an internship at a nonprofit into a job, you have to move fast, says Nicole Feldhues, director of Career Services at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Internships run for a short period of time, so put your best on the line, starting with Day 1. One way to do this is to show initiative.
"Many employers tell us this is the way to stand out from the crowd--do the work assigned, but don't be afraid to express interest in other projects going on," says Feldhues. "Let them know what kind of skills you want to build; express your interest and enthusiasm in the work going on around you. Tactful sharing of ideas is one of the benefits employers want from their interns."
Always look for opportunities to learn; the whole experience of an internship is a great learning opportunity.
"Go into it thinking of the kind of career skills you'd like to build and ask to shadow the person with those skills or work on that project," adds Feldhues. "Set your learning objectives ahead of time. You might not achieve all of them, but think of building your critical skills. Be gracious enough to learn from the pros."
Tip #4: Build your professional network
To pick a mentor, identify someone in the organization that you might be paired with on a project, someone who might supervise your work or someone who is doing what you ultimately want to do.
"You have the opportunity to ask for brief meetings and informational interviews across the team--even with those who might not be working with directly--to learn more about the career paths and the organization," says Feldhues. "By using these types of networking opportunities, you gain a great inside track beyond doing your work."
Network with as many people as you can while you're interning. Generally, people like to help interns and want the experience to be a benefit to you.
"If you're quiet, push yourself to be more outgoing, sharing your personality and building relationships," says Feldhues.
Tip #5: Be your best.
Finally, Feldhues says to think of the internship as an extended hands-on interview.
"They're going to see you in action, and in every situation you've got to be putting your best foot forward in every occasion, from how you work and your communication skills to how you dress," she says. "You have to be at your absolute in best in terms of professionalism and your work."
Nothing less than the best is going to do, especially if you want to make this not just an internship, but an eventual full-time job. Your internship employer needs to see you as a potential full-time worker--not just as an intern.