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How to Turn Your Internship Into a Job Offer

Summer’s ending, and so are summer internships. As you trade in your office-appropriate heels for campus-friendly flats, it’s time to start thinking about the next step in your career. Whether you’re a recent grad finishing up your summer internship and looking for a more permanent position or you’re still years away from graduation but in love with your workplace this summer, a job offer is the ultimate goal for many starry-eyed interns. HC talked to career experts to find out how you can turn your internship into a job offer in three key steps.

Step One: Leave a Lasting Impression
-Stand Out-
First and foremost, the key to presenting yourself as a potential future employee is being a superstar intern. “Think of interning as an audition or extended job interview,” says Mo Krochmal, social media expert and former journalism professor at Hofstra University.

What stands out about interns in employers’ minds? “They remember your enthusiasm,” says Debra Shigley, author of The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide: Get What You Want in Work and Life (and Look Great While You’re at It). Motivate your colleagues by bringing energy and excitement to work. Let your personality shine and don’t complain about menial tasks, forgo extra work to socialize, or overextend yourself where your help is unwanted.

Think Long-Term-
Interns are in a great position to learn about what it takes to get hired long-term.Set up a series of ‘inside’ informational interviews with people from all levels and departments of the company or organization,” says Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course in Finding, Landing and Keeping Your First Real Job. Applying what you’ve learned, fine-tune your behavior to exhibit your potential as a future job candidate and assemble a portfolio of achievements to refer to when you apply for the job. If you’re a recent grad in need of long-term employment, completing the above steps in a timely manner is crucial. 

When it comes to networking, go for depth instead of breadth, says Shigley. “You want to make a few meaningful connections with possible mentors,” she says. Instead of aiming to connect with every single coworker, focus on forming natural relationships with a few key people such as your boss, a supervisor who acted as your mentor on the job and a peer with whom you interacted daily. Make sure that at least one of these people is involved in recruitment or contributes to hiring decisions. (As a bonus, focused networking will help recent grads save time in building a solid job application.) “All relationships have to be organic,” Reeves says. Show interest in these key people and get to know them, so that contacting them weeks, months or years down the road will feel comfortable for both of you.

-Say Thank You-
After three months of hard work, it all comes down to your final impression. Work as diligently in the last week of your internship as you did in your first. Network with coworkers and fellow interns on LinkedIn. As the internship winds down, craft intelligent thank-you notes for your boss and key colleagues. In the note, ask to stay in touch, and subtly express your interest in a long-term job if it feels appropriate. The thank-you letter is also a great exercise in introspection. “In my experience, it has forced me to sit down and really think about why I appreciate the experience of the internship,” says Madeleine Frank, HC campus correspondent and junior at Harvard University. Later, you can draw upon these reflections in your job application.
Step Two: Remain on the Radar
-Stay Involved-
Look into working remotely for the company after your internship ends. Ask to work on projects or freelance for them throughout the year, and pitch ideas for long-term initiatives you could carry out. This will keep you directly involved and in contact with your colleagues, benefiting you when you apply for a job later. 

Consider serving as an unofficial PR rep for the company to show your dedication. “Be an ambassador for the [organization’s] program,” Reeves says. Offer to speak and/or blog about your internship experience on campus and in your community. You can also contact the Human Resources department to let them know you would like to become a point of contact for prospective interns and help with recruiting on your campus. As a note of caution, be sure to respect confidentiality, adds Reeves. 

-Keep in Touch-
It’s important to maintain the key relationships you initiated as an intern. Those in immediate need of a job should start discussing full-time employment with bosses or supervisors several weeks before the internship ends, says Krochmal, and stay in close contact after the summer if no opportunities open up by then. How often should you reach out to your most important contacts if you won’t be job-hunting in the near future? Three to four times a year is usually enough; Reeves suggests sending a short email on birthdays and holidays.

If you aren’t pressed for time, demonstrate your long-term enthusiasm for the company. “Set a Google alert for the company and for your boss” to keep up with the latest news, says Reeves. In your three or four yearly messages, thoughtfully comment on the organization’s latest project, corporate deal or organizational change or send a link to a relevant article your boss will appreciate.
Keep in mind that communication should never be insincere or contrived. “The goal is to cultivate a relationship,” says Shigley. Maintain a genuine, social tone in your messages. At this point, you should know your boss or coworker well enough that a mutual sense of caring exists. Reflect the kind of relationship you developed over the summer; if your boss never talked to you about her family, don’t ask questions about her kids. Similarly, do not Tweet, blog, or otherwise publish praise for the organization just to flatter them.
In addition to communicating a sustained interest in the company, briefly talk about yourself to stay on the potential-job-candidate radar. Only share info that’s relevant to your former boss. This means leaving out details about classes unrelated to your career interest, extraneous extracurriculars and your personal life unless you share a close relationship with her, says Reeves.
Last but not least, be consistent. Remember that employers are busy, and it’s your responsibility to reach out at regular intervals, even when your last three emails have gone unanswered. “Even if there’s no response from your mentor, keep trying,” Shigley says. At the same time, remember to temper persistence by keeping your messages concise and limited to a few times a year.

Step 3: Get Hired!
-Do Your Homework-
Whether you’re a grad hoping to go straight from intern to employee, or it’s been years since your internship, be sure to inform former employers when you begin job hunting. Research the company’s hiring cycle: What time of year do they hire? Do they hire a number of employees at once, or fill individual positions as needed? Ask your contacts to notify you of jobs that are available but unlisted, and prepare to reach out to your former boss when a position becomes open.

Find out as much as you can about the hiring process, says Reeves. Set up another round of informational interviews with former coworkers to learn everything you can about current job openings and who you should contact to get your foot in the door. Three months before graduation, HC contributing writer Nicole Karlis approached the publication she had interned with the previous summer to talk about job opportunities. “We met and discussed my career goals and how I would fit in permanently,” she says. “I was also notified that the position I have now was open and we both discussed the possibility of me filling it.” Nicole went on to complete a formal interview — and landed the job!
-Don’t Be Afraid to Ask About Jobs-
At this point, you’re ready to make your move. The goal is to get your internship contacts to directly extend a job offer or personally recommend you as a worthy candidate to boost your application to the top of the resume pile. In a meeting, email or phone conversation, bring up your interest in the job position(s) and give reasons why you’d be a good fit.
Many of us feel uncomfortable hinting about a job, as if we’re coming off as needy or asking for a favor. Instead, think of it as maintaining a mutual relationship with the organization rather than just “taking” a permanent job, Shigley says.  “This hiring process was definitely less formal and more comfortable than the hiring process with other publications I had not previously interned with,” says Nicole. As a former intern, you’re already familiar with some of the people who may interview you and you know how the company works, which can make applying for a job less stressful.
If it’s been some time since your internship and you didn’t quite leave a flawless impression, you can get back on the organization’s radar by reestablishing contact in a tactful manner. Shigley suggests a subtle approach: open your call or email by explaining that it’s been a while since you worked for them and then talk about how they impacted you. Alternatively, be direct, mentioning that you are about to graduate and listing the positions you want to work in, Reeves says. Most importantly, remind them of you who you are and what you did for the organization, because they might not remember you. Finally, when contacting someone from your internship after a long time, don’t pretend it’s just a social call (employers obviously know you’re looking for a job).
-Use the Internship to Your Advantage-
As you present yourself as the ideal job candidate, use your former internship to your advantage, tailoring your strategy to the organization’s specific hiring process. For instance, is it a large company that only hires a handful of interns per year? If so, emphasize your insider experience to gain a competitive edge. On the other hand, if the company exclusively hires former interns, zero in on your most unique contributions to the organization in your job application.
Place your internship high on your resume and discuss meaningful internship highlights at the job interview(s). However, don’t obnoxiously reference your former intern status at every opportunity; rather, showcase plenty of other reasons why you deserve to be hired. When you do talk about the internship, give specific examples of how your achievements reflect that you’re ideal for the job and passionate about the company.
In applications and interviews, grads who recently interned should present themselves as being in touch with the current state of the organization and discuss topics that are fresh on the employer’s mind. If you’re not a recent intern, demonstrate that you’ve kept up with how the company has changed, and show that you’ve grown professionally, as well. Finally, be ready to articulate original ideas for projects that you could initiate and lead, should you be hired, Shigley says.

-Connect with the Company-
You are your own best advocate, and you know the organization where you interned like the back of your hand. Now, reconcile the two by showing that YOU are the best fit for this company. In his blog, Dean Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business lists some questions that every intern-turned-job-applicant should be able to answer:

  • Based on your summer internship, what seems to matter most to this firm? 
  • What about who you are would be most relevant to the things that matter? 
  • Is there anything in the mission statement of your employer with which you especially identify? 

Also think deeply about your own personal interpretation of the company’s mission and the unique role you envision yourself playing to help fulfill it. These qualities will set you apart from the competition, former interns and newcomers alike.
There’s no way to guarantee a job offer will come your way (sigh), so it’s important to think of interning and networking as valuable building blocks of your resume and career. Even if you don’t score a job after your internship, you’ll have gained practical experience, mentors, and friends in your career field—and that’s an offer no collegiette™ would refuse.
Debra Shigley, author of The Go-Getter Girl’s Guide: Get What You Want in Work and Life (and Look Great While You’re at It)
Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course in Finding, Landing and Keeping Your First Real Jo
Madeleine Frank, HC Campus Correspondent, Harvard University
Mo Krochmal, social media expert and former journalism professor at Hofstra University
Nicole Karlis, HC Contributing Writer
Robert Bruner, Dean of Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia

Tarina is a freshman at Harvard University, where she plans to study English. In addition to serving on the Editorial Board of the Harvard Crimson newspaper, Tarina is involved in Philips Brooks House Association, a community service organization, and Ghungroo, Harvard's annual South Asian dance extravaganza. When she's not buried in pre-med classes or Arabic homework, Tarina likes to indulge in Indian soap operas, try unusual cuisine, and speculate on the meaning of life with her partners in crime, AKA friends. She loves creative writing and administrates a fiction blog as well as an online journalism portfolio, and her highly entertaining mishaps often merit publication on Harvard FML.