Landing your dream internship is only the first step to becoming a dream intern, so hopefully you’ve gotten the hang of it by now. But whether you figured out that problematic coffee machine from day one and you’ve been kicking butt all summer, or you’ve finally found your comfort zone and only recently begun to shine, the end of your internship is an especially important time to keep up your momentum and finish strong. Here’s how to leave a lasting impression on your supervisors and make the most of your internship before it ends.
1. Keep your energy up. You may have listened to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” for a confidence boost on the morning of your first day, but by now you’ve probably reached a comfort level that doesn’t elicit quite the same adrenaline rush. It’s good to be relaxed, but don’t be too chill, bro—your performance shouldn’t be waning, and neither should your liveliness. “Walk in everyday thinking, ‘how can I make the most of this opportunity?’” says Lauren Berger, the “Intern Queen” and founder of InternQueen.com, a site focused on connecting qualified candidates to internships and providing advice to applicants. Whether improving your demeanor means finding little ways to get energy beyond that billionth cup of coffee or improving your methods of dealing with frustrating workplace obstacles, maintaining a high level of enthusiasm and vigor is sure to get you noticed—as well as deter your own boredom and make those last few weeks all the more enjoyable. And remember that your boss isn’t the only person to impress: “To leave a lasting impression, remember that everyone in that office needs to think you are a reliable job candidate,” adds Berger. So be sure to stay positive in front of the whole office.
2. Attend networking events. If you haven’t already done so, now is an excellent time to whiten your teeth, firm your handshake, and start networking—both in and outside the office. “I was an intern at MIAMI magazine, and we hosted a ton of events with successful people in attendance,” says Jaime Ritter, a recent grad of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “I liked to network with the guests as much as possible, and on a good night I might've walked out with 10 business cards.” Networking may seem daunting at first, but your summer internship is a perfect chance to brush up on your skills and establish connections that are sure to pay off in the long run—even if those benefits seem distant right now. In Jaime’s words, “you never know when you might need those people for a job, or just to have lunch and pick their brain.”
So who exactly should you network with? Developing a relationship with your supervisor is an obvious move, but don’t shy away from any chance to talk to someone in your field. Even junior members of the company can provide valuable information; those fresh out of undergrad can share their recent success stories with you, not to mention give you the inside scoop on the goings on of the office. As Berger says, “interns should introduce themselves to as many people as possible.” Ask around about upcoming events where you can make more contacts, and be open to indirect connections as well: take advantage of your summer location by contacting your school or company’s alumni in the area. Even if you find a scarcity of alumni from your school in particular, there’s a good chance your college is part of a larger networking organization. The Selective Liberal Arts Consortium (SLAC), for example, hosts events for many small colleges, as do other collaborations between colleges of similar size and location. Don’t forget to take advantage of the web through general networking sites like LinkedIn or XING, as well as your company’s Facebook page to see what your colleagues are up to. Finally, make sure to keep track of the cards you collect and the people you meet: “[Interns] should keep an organized record of who they meet so they can send them a thank you note at the end of the internship!” adds Berger.
3. Ask for advice. Believe it or not, even Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada had to start somewhere before achieving a high-up position like editor-in-chief. Remember that your supervisor was once college-aged, too, and take advantage of her ability to give you excellent career advice—whether in a specific field or otherwise. Shaye, a collegiette from the Fashion Institute of Technology, shares an anecdote from a previous internship experience: “Last semester, I really admired my editor, and I asked if we could sit down to chat about her life and how she got to where she was,” says Shaye. But don’t wait until the last minute—supervisors can have super busy schedules, and you don’t want to miss your chance to speak face-to-face. “I asked with about six weeks left and it took her two weeks to fit it in, since it wasn’t super important,” adds Shaye. Be sure to give your supervisor plenty of time to schedule you in—both to show initiative and to ensure that you won’t miss a valuable learning opportunity.
4. …and for feedback. Your boss isn’t only useful for Yoda-like wisdom; she’s also a big help when it comes to your development as a student and an up-and-coming member of the workplace. Show that you’re open to constructive criticism—and compliments, of course—by requesting feedback before your internship is over. Not only will you better understand your strengths and the areas where you need improvement, but you’ll also demonstrate an admirable amount of dedication to the company.
5. Make a long-term plan. It’s overwhelming enough to think about tomorrow’s lunch and next week’s haircut, but try to think ahead about how you want this internship to fit into your career trajectory: do you have time to continue working during the school year? Would you like to return next summer? Have you had enough? Planning for the future can help you clear your head, as well as avoid confusing your supervisors: “Most internships shouldn’t continue past one semester unless you are interning in a different department at that company,” cautions Berger. “If you stay at one internship too long you start to blur the lines between intern and employee.” If you are interested in sticking with the company long-term, express that politely to your employer. Your internship will have lasting value no matter what you choose, but it’s up to you to turn it into a job or move on to a new venture.
6. Help transition your tasks to a new intern. No need to take the new intern out for drinks, pinch her cheeks or call her “squirt.” Just remember that your tasks as an intern—from making copies to meeting important clients—are essential to the everyday functioning of the office, whether or not you’re available to tend to them. Sympathize with your boss, who will have to train the next intern who absorbs your responsibilities, and reach out. More specifically, Berger suggests to “make yourself available, offer to train the new student, and make an intern packet of things new interns need to know.” Try to remember your intimidating first week, and that new interns will be expected to pick up the same amount of information in very little time. Use those memories to guide your conversations with a new intern; now that you’re well-versed in the ways of the office, you may have forgotten the basics. For example, give her the lowdown on:
- Best ways to commute
- How to dress appropriately
- Which materials to bring (laptop, notebook, phone, ID, etc)
- Effective ways to make use of downtime
- Who to contact about questions or in case of emergency
- How to make the most of networking events
- Nearby places to get coffee or lunch
- Daily tasks and longer-term projects
7. List your accomplishments and update your resume. Congratulations on making significant contributions to the company. To celebrate, feel free to check yourself out in the morning, give yourself the wink and the gun Carlton Banks-style every time you pass a mirror, and high five your apartment-mates at the end of each day. Or be a serious intern and record of all your hard work while it’s still relevant to your life and fresh in your mind, which means touching up your resume before you go back to school. Your strategy should be to show your accomplishments, not tell them: “Always think, how can I connect the dots for the employer [reading my resume]?” says Berger. “Don’t just list things. Show how a task at your internship positively affected that business.” Not sure how to get started? This is yet another chance to consult your supervisor! “Last summer, my boss sat me and the other interns down and talked about what we should put on our CV,” says recent Bucknell graduate Sarah . “It was great to be able to go over what we were doing but an even better experience to see how she rephrased it to make it sound professional."
8. Build your portfolio. Your resume summarizes your achievements and displays them neatly on an 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper, but it doesn’t provide any tangible evidence of your work. Keep copies of your best finished products on top of basic application materials like resumes, cover letters, and references. Don’t have any artsy photography skills to show off? Don’t make the mistake of thinking portfolios can only comprise supposedly meaningful black-and-white photos of an Arby’s at 5 a.m.! An effective compilation can include anything from creative projects and published articles to statistical reports and analytical presentations, depending on your field.
9. Grab a letter of recommendation. Now that you’ve done everything possible to be a stellar intern, don’t be too shy to ask for a reference or letter of recommendation. Even if you’ve already figured out number 5 and you’ve decided you don’t want to pursue the same field long-term, your supervisor can speak to all your impressive assets that apply generally, like intelligence, dedication, creativity and work ethic. “Ask for the letter to be a general recommendation based on your performance, rather than a letter tailored specifically for a future job or internship, and be sure to get the okay from your boss to potentially use it for multiple future endeavors,” suggests Maddy, a recent graduate of Kenyon College. “This way, you can compile a mini-file of awesome rec letters to have ready to go at all times.”
10. Follow up and say “thank you.” Following up sounds like a task to be postponed for after you leave your internship, but it’s easier to show sincere gratitude while you’re still immersed in the work environment. So why not write up a draft of your thank you notes now—or better yet, send them in? “Before I left my magazine internship, I wrote a handwritten note to each the editor-in-chief, the internship coordinator, and an editor I worked with closely,” says Grace, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. “I then wrote short thank you emails to others I worked with less frequently.” Subtleties like Grace’s emails may seem trivial, but even the smallest of kind gestures will get you noticed: “A few weeks later, I received a personalized note in the mail from the magazine’s editor-in-chief thanking me for my thank you note!” adds Grace.
There you have it—the essential 10 tasks to complete before the end of your internship. Got any ideas of your own to tack on? Share in the comments section below!