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Hot Tips for Prospective Interns

Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr

Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Flickr

@USNewsCareers recently hosted a Twitter chat for current and prospective interns to get their questions answered and receive tips from the industry (#internchat). We were happy to be part of the chat (@StudentsDotOrg) and were joined by countless other professionals and interns. Below is a summary of our favourite and most useful tips from the chat:

Tip #1: Use free resources provided to you when searching for an internship

With technology these days, the world is literally at your fingertips. You have access to endless job postings – so use them. However, the consensus in the chat was to not limit your search to job search engines. As a student, you’re given free access to your school’s career centre and advisors. Take advantage of them. You also have an extensive network between students in your classes, your family, your professors, and connections you’ve made on social media sites such as LinkedIn. Ask around. Attend conferences and events hosted by your school; you never know what connections you’ll make.

Tip #2: If you don’t get an internship, there are other things you can do instead

Any experience is good experience when you’re talking about your resume. @CareerCounMatt gives a couple of examples: volunteering, taking courses, or starting independent projects can all give you worthwhile experience that provides added value to your resume and to future employers. Just because internship hiring season may be over doesn’t mean you should stop networking. Many companies will give informational interviews during the summer; you could end up on a short list for the next year if you make a great impression.

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Tip #3: Develop your people skills

When we were asked what companies look for when hiring employees, not one person responded with “good grades”. Answers all centred around people skills: communication, leadership, teamwork, being proactive. There have been many discussions about how skills can be taught, but personalities can’t. Companies generally look for employees who will fit in well with their culture, and who are enthusiastic about helping take the company to the next level.

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Tip #4: Use your internship to grow yourself – not just your resume

Although the goal of every intern is to find a full-time career, remember that your internship can provide a lot more value to your own development. Determine what you want to learn/develop during your internship and find out if that can be offered. Does the company offer training or a mentorship program? Are they giving you meaningful work or sending you on coffee runs?

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Tip #5: Prove yourself before asking for more

Some interns go into their internship with guns blazing, demanding responsibility for more and more tasks to show that they are the Ideal Intern. Be wary about taking this approach – it could easily backfire. The consensus is that once you are able to prove you can handle the workload already assigned to you (handle = complete on time or early, error-free and above standard), you can ask your manager for more responsibility. Make sure to always finish what you’re assigned before looking for more. One great idea is to figure out what your manager finds the most difficult to deal with, and find ways to improve the situation. Discuss with your manager/mentor any particular interests or passions you have, and how you can apply them to your position.

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Tip #6: Unpaid internships are not pointless

Many new regulations have come into play regarding the legality of some unpaid internships. If you end up in an unpaid internship, remember that even though you are not being paid, the internship is still worth your time in experience. You’ll have months to learn, and perhaps your company will send you to events or conferences where you can develop new skills.

Tip #7: Always ask questions

During your internship or volunteer experience, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s a horrible feeling to complete a day’s worth of work only to find out you did it wrong. Asking questions will also let your manager know that you’re a thinker, not just a doer, and it’ll show them you’re interested in what you’re working on.

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Tip #8: Sorry, but you do not know more than your managers

The one thing your managers have over you is experience. They know their company, and they generally know what works and what doesn’t. This is your chance to learn from them – not to compete with them. If you’re looking to turn your internship into full-time employment, the best thing you can do is listen. Show your interest and respect, and if you do have a new suggestion or idea, make sure you don’t propose it in a way that challenges their authority. No one likes a know-it-all!

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Tip #9: Take your internship seriously

You’re not in school. You’re not hanging out with friends. Even if your internship is as short as 2-3 months, consider it to be your full-time job. Make a good impression, show up on time (early!), dress professionally, and don’t complain about the work being too hard or boring. If you receive constructive criticism, don’t mope over it. Apologize, correct any errors, and remember the advice for next time. There was a reason the company hired you over all the other applicants – show your worth.

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Tip #10: Watch your social media usage

Never forget that social media is public content. Even though you think you’ve picked a clever pseudonym for your online self, it is very likely your employers will be able to find you. Never talk badly about your company on social media. Remember the impression you’re trying to make! Find out the office culture and policy towards social media. If you love social media, ask if you’d be able to create an @ intern account to document your experience and office happenings. Some companies may be excited by this – and some may not be. Learn to be ok with whatever response you receive.

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Tip #11: Be irreplaceable

As mentioned, every intern’s goal is to turn an internship into a full-time offer. The best way to do this is to leave lasting impressions throughout your time there. Be irreplaceable. Show your worth. Make connections with other interns, managers, and coworkers. Make sure your manager is aware of your goals; you never know if they’ll be able to put in a good word for you. At the very least, ask for recommendations or referrals near the end of your program – these could provide you with the leverage you need to gain your next employment.

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US News Careers also posted a recap of the chat. You can find it here.