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Turning Your Internship into a Job:
How College Students Can Get a Job Offer After Interning
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
After Clint Pyle's summer internship with CNL Group, Inc. (now CNL Financial Group) ended, he asked if he could continue to work for the Orlando, FL, firm part-time during the school year, and the company accepted. From an internship in which Pyle engaged in relatively simple financial tasks, such as bank reconciliations and other lower-level financial projects, the finance graduate from Stetson University, DeLand, FL, he spent two full years working part-time for CNL.
Pyle's plan to use his CNL internship as a springboard paid off. "I was offered a full-time position upon graduation as a tax accountant," he says. "I started two weeks after graduation preparing various federal and state tax returns, as well as preparing work papers for public-accounting firms to prepare other tax returns."
Pyle's experience is not unusual. Surveys show that employers say they convert more than a third of their interns into full-time hires. Employers have already had the opportunity to observe the strengths of interns they convert into full-time positions. "We hired several interns to full-time jobs upon graduation, and I noticed that the interns' performance was superior to that of recent college grads just beginning with our company," observes Cory Petcoff, a business administration graduate from Stetson University.
While some interns simply luck into job offers, others, like Pyle, make a conscious effort to propel their internships into jobs.
"I was quite proactive in my efforts to turn the internship into a full-time job," recalls Pyle, who is now a senior financial analyst in the Treasury Department of The St. Joe Company, Jacksonville, FL. "At the end of the internship, I approached my manager and was very honest and open about my goals and plans. In turn, they offered me the ability to do the part-time work until graduation. As graduation neared, I again approached my manager, as well as my human resources representative, and discussed my future possibilities."
Taking a proactive approach is one of a number of strategies that can help you parlay an internship into a job. Other how-to techniques include the following:
- Be sure you want want a job with the company with which you're interning. "I really think interning is [not only] one of the best opportunities for the employer to test drive the person, but for the person to test drive the employer," says Stetson graduate Walter Ballard, who attained his full-time job with PriceWaterhousecoopers LLP as a result of an internship he did during grad school. Interning gives you a chance to see if you'd enjoy working permanently for your internship company and how well you fit into the organizational culture. Once you're convinced the employer is right for you, your enthusiasm -- based on real-world, insider knowledge -- will be a major plus in helping you land a full-time job there.
- Once you've decided you like the company culture, show you fit in. You can show your fit with with employer's culture in many ways -- from wearing attire that aligns with what your co-workers are wearing to demonstrating a work ethic that's at the same level as regular employees.
- Work hard. Putting his nose to the grindstone was the ticket for another Stetson University graduate, Cory Rhoads, who was offered a job right out of college with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) after interning there for the summer between junior and senior year. "I worked hard during the internship and completed my responsibilities," Rhoads says. "I treated it as if it were the 'real thing,' and it turned out to be a good decision, as this was enough for them to see how I would handle working as one of their consultants after school."
- Be aware that your every move may be scrutinized. "An intern must understand that an employer watches everything you do," Pyle notes. "Even if you think it is a meaningless task, there is a reason for it, and it is important to your employer. If you handle the task with professionalism -- even though you may think you are 'above' the task -- it will reflect highly on you."
- Don't just work hard. Strive to do your best, and extend your best behavior to your interactions with company stakeholders -- suppliers, vendors, distributors, and especially customers. Keep quality in the forefront of your mind for every project you undertake. And be sure you project the utmost in professionalism to those stakeholders on whom the company wants to make a good impression.
- Seek out extra work, new projects. Show your willingness to go beyond what's the the job description for your internship, especially if the employer is overusing you for low-skill tasks (such as making coffee or acting as a go-fer). Look for ways you can make your co-workers' jobs easier. You'll make a great impression while sharpening your skills so you can step into a permanent position when the time comes.
- Strong academic performance can be influential with some employers. Some firms value good grades highly. If you can maintain strong academics while also performing in your internship, you may gain a leg up. "I think performance in school is important for being selected for one of these opportunities," Rhoads says. "It was for Andersen's criteria. Work hard in school to get past the interviews so you can get locked in with an internship."
- Maintain a positive, eager-to-learn attitude. Ask questions. Show that you want to learn the job and learn the company. Strike a balance between asking enough questions to show your desire to learn and pestering people with so many queries that you become annoying. Ask if there are any training programs, seminars, or workshops you could attend to increase your learning, and hence, your value to the employer. Look for opportunities to attend trade shows and industry meetings.
- Develop your skills. Learn unfamiliar software programs. Try projects that help you to hone skills you've never used or don't use often. Observe the skills used by people in the kinds of positions in which you envision yourself working, and polish those skills. The wider your range of skills, the more valuable you will be to the employer. On the other hand, Allyson Quibell, writing for WetFeet.com, suggests that you choose just a couple of skills to focus on so that you develop those skills to their fullest.
- Feel free to be creative and bring your ideas to the table. "If you have an idea and you feel there is something that could be done differently, you need to have the courage to put forward your argument," write Ann Berry on the Securities Institute Website. "Nine times out of 10, people are receptive. It's good to show that you can learn, but also that you can add value."
- Track your contributions and accomplishments. Be sure to keep a record of all the ways you've contributed during your internship. be prepared to present this list when you make your pitch to the employer for a permanent job. For more about tracking accomplishments, see our article, For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments and our Accomplishments Worksheet.
- Be a team player. Berry points out that some employers, such as investment banking firms, host many interns simultaneously. Those numbers, she says, should not inspire competition because there are usually plenty of full-time opportunities to go around for successful interns. Instead, teamwork should be among an intern's major strategies since most employers value their workers' ability to perform in collaborative relationships.
- Seek input and feedback from supervisors and co-workers during your internship so you know how to improve as you go along. Show those you work with that you want to be the best you can be.
- Don't be shy about asking about permanent job opportunities. Your employer won't know that you're interested in a job unless you ask. Also be vigilant for opportunities to create a position. Look for employer needs that aren't currently being met and consider proposing a job to meet those needs.
- Network with co-workers at your internship -- both during and outside of working hours. Get to know as many of the people you work with as you can, and socialize with them outside work, as well. Join the company softball team. Attend the company picnic or party. Everyone you meet is a prospective member of your network, and the more people who know you and your work, the more champions you will have when it comes to turning your internship into a job.
- Find a mentor. Parlay at least one of your network contacts within your internship into more than just a contact. Cultivate a mentor who can guide you in developing a strategy for obtaining permanent employment. For more about finding and working with a mentor, see our article, The Value of a Mentor.
- If the internship doesn't segue immediately into a job, keep in contact and be persistent. Maybe you're not a position to take a full-time when the internship ends. Perhaps you have coursework to complete before graduation. If that's the case, be sure to leave on the best possible terms. Write to your supervisor to thank him or her for the internship opportunity. Keep in touch periodically and ask about openings, especially as graduation approaches. In addition to touching base with your immediate supervisor determine what other company contacts might be valuable in your quest to join the company -- such as human resources folks and hiring managers in the departments that most interest you -- and remain in contact with them.
Working hard also means not turning up your nose at distasteful assignments that come your way, no matter how menial they seem. Be willing to do what's needed. Don't assume that your education equips you with so much knowledge that executing low-level projects is beneath you. Remember the guy in the FedEx commercial who thought he was too good to prepare packages for shipping because he had an MBA? Don't be that guy.
"Relationships are keys to any business setting," Pyle notes. "Make sure you make an effort to build relationships with not only your co-workers but also your manager. Having a cordial relationship with your manager makes it much easier for you to approach your manager when you might otherwise be hesitant to do so."
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
See all of our internship resources by going to this section of Quintessential Careers: Internship Resources for College Students.
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