campus, job search

Campus Recruiting, Part 2: Advice to students starting Summer Internships

(This is part 2 of a series on Campus Recruiting. The first post was directed at those doing the recruitment; this post is focused on students who have been hired into a Summer Internship.)

So you’ve been hired into the Summer internship you wanted? Fantastic news! Congrats. That likely means you have studied hard, have a good GPA, and have participated in a range of other activities on campus (ex: Beta Alpha Psi, campus government officer, etc).

You’re probably pretty excited to do your first internship. But do you have a sense of what an internship really is?

  • It’s a real job. This isn’t work study. For many students, an internship is your first professional job.  You will be expected to adhere to professional work norms. If you don’t? You can be fired. You don’t want to be fired. Trust me. 
  • It’s a phenomenal opportunity to learn. You can learn more in the 3 months of an internship than in a full academic year. Not just about what the team/group you joined does, but about other areas of the company and that industry as a whole. It’s a great way to dive in and apply what you’ve learned in school, but more than that you have the opportunity to learn so much more through doing. In my case, I went back to school realizing I had to drastically alter my course curriculum as what I’d been learning was not really applicable in the real world.
  • It’s effectively a 3 month interview. For many employers, hiring interns isn’t just about cheap labor; it’s a strategic way to identify potential future hires early and then have the luxury of evaluating their performance/cultural fit over a 3 month period. Never lose sight of the fact you are being evaluated for a potential full time job throughout your entire internship.
  • It’s a phenomenal way to build your professional network. The more people you interact with–and impress–the better your professional network will be. This can be a huge advantage when looking for a full time job 1-3 years later.

So what are some keys to success?

  • Treat it like a real job–not a paid summer vacation. I have hired a lot of interns. Most recognize how fortunate they were to be chosen and work hard. Only twice can I remember students who were fired mid-internship. Both students failed at the basics–reliably showing up to work on time, turning in work assignments by deadline–and, after repeated coaching, their internships ended early. Don’t do this. Not only do you miss out on a potentially awesome learning experience, you lose the potential opportunity for a full time job offer. Also, it can have cascade impacts on your future employment prospects. Employers are often very connected with academic departments/campus career centers who ask for feedback on intern performance. If an internship ends early? They’re going to ask why. Guess who won’t be getting recommended for future opportunities?
  • Ensure you fully understand the scope of your projects and deliverables–then ask for regular feedback. You need to fully understand what you’re expected to achieve/accomplish during your internship–what does success look like for each one? When do they need to be completed? What are the milestones? How will my performance be evaluated? Then set up regular 1:1’s with your hiring manager to go over your projects and your current status on each. Ask for feedback. “How am I doing?” are the 4 most important words to you here.
  • Connect with recent college hires/alumni to learn their tips for success. Many companies have hired former interns. Ask to be connected to a few, and offer to buy them coffee–then interrogate them on how they were successful in their internships. Not every tip may be applicable if you are in a different function/team, but a BIG part of intern success is adapting to professional corporate culture. Former interns will have great advice on this.
  • Work your butt off. Do everything that is asked of you better–and faster–than expected. Then ask for more opportunities to learn by taking on other projects, supporting team projects, etc. Treat your assigned work as the bare minimum.
  • Ask to get exposed to other functions/departments/people. Ask your manager/fellow team members if they can introduce you to people in different areas of the business in which you’d like to gain more exposure. Some companies will allow interns from one department to ‘shadow’ a manager/leader in another business function; ask if this might be possible. Alternately, see if it might be possible to work on a project that involves a different business function/unit.
  • Never forget you are always being evaluated. Again, at many companies a Summer internship is really a 3 month interview. Never lose sight of this. It only takes a few people noticing that you’re on Tumblr/Reddit/4Chan every time they go by your desk to get the perception you’re just holding down a chair and not really working–even if you’re really working hard.
  • That happy hour with your fellow interns/employees? One drink and then you’re done. I have seen potential careers nearly derailed by a group of interns going out to happy hour after work together–and then they keep on partying. Until something inappropriate happens. And then it gets brought into work the next day. It’s totally understandable that you want to be part of a cohort of interns and socialize outside of work. But this isn’t college; it’s a professional work environment, and your actions outside the workplace with fellow employees can have consequences at work. Big ones. My recommendation: Do lunch together. Go to the driving range after work. Do happy hour–but only with a strict ‘one and done’ rule.
  • If something isn’t right? Speak up about it–appropriately. Were you told that you’d be working on a G/L reconciliation project, but instead you’re moving file boxes? Is your manager AWOL 24/7, canceling 1:1’s and never in their office when you need to ask a question?  Don’t wait for something or someone to notice–take action early. Set a 1:1 with your manager or send them an email stating that, while you’re happy to work on the filing project, you’d also appreciate the opportunity to take on that G/L recon project as well–and here’s how you’ll do both. If you can’t get a response? Talk with the recruiter who hired you–they should be able to help course-correct your internship experience (as they know you will go back to campus and share your negative experience with other potential future hires). Don’t bitch about it on Facebook/Twitter/to your fellow interns–it’s not constructive and will be viewed as immature.

A Summer internship has the potential to bootstrap your future career; take advantage of everything it can offer you.



2 thoughts on “Campus Recruiting, Part 2: Advice to students starting Summer Internships

  1. Well written, well thought out and hits all the right dos and don’ts.

    Posted by susan murkland | May 2, 2013, 1:39 pm
  2. Hi all , I agree with that, but my case was totally different. Maybe from county to country something else …I had internship for 6 months in Germany it was really bad and the lied by the contract to me I sign something and after starting the internship I get something else ..and the university knows all about those problems that try turns to huge they didn’t even allow me to change my internship although I found other one !!
    I finished management sciences from all those 6 months I learned only to sort papers into files and searching for some lost documents from the warehouse !!! An for sure scan them and print out the documents !!
    No project no presentation! When I start to write negative about this my boss get freaked out I told them what shall I write in 30 pages to graduate I’ve done nothing in those 6 month even if I was all the time fighting for my rights !! After all they get freaked put fave me some materials to copy them and then to send them to the university to graduate …here you go my experience !!
    Now I want to study masters should I do again internship ?

    Posted by Suzanna Al-Sahel | May 21, 2013, 3:56 am

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