You’re settling into your summer internship...ah! The glorious life of working for free or minimum wage so you can learn the ropes of the industry, build your resume, and eventually land a full-time job. Whether you’re currently in school and want to line something up for when you graduate or you’ve just graduated and are seeking more experience while you look for your big break, the not-so-hidden goal for your internship should be to secure a full-time, paid opportunity when you’re ready. The thing is, it’s not a guarantee. No one’s going to hand you an employment contract on your last day just for being you!
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to up your chances. First and foremost, you have to excel at your job. Most internships are kind of boring, and you might think it’s not actually a big deal if you’re slow getting coffee, if you staple papers a little off-kilter, or if the expense reports you file are a little bit out of order. But it is a big deal -- not because the company will go under if the boss gets pricked by a rogue staple prong, but because your internship is all about proving yourself and your ability to take direction. If you can handle the little tasks, maybe your supervisor will trust you with a bigger task -- but if you drop the ball on something simple, no one will trust you with higher level responsibilities.
The other key is to make it clear you’re excited to be at your internship. Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the company, its culture, and the different roles you might grow into either there or somewhere similar. Offer to help out on extra projects when you have some down time to showcase your investment in the company's success. The more you’re proactive about engaging with your team, the more credibility you’ll gain as someone they want to work with or help. Just keep in mind that there’s a fine line between being enthusiastic and being a pest -- don’t bother your supervisor with non-task related questions when she’s hunkered down trying to meet a deadline.
Toward the end of your internship, make your goals clear to your supervisors. If you’re really passionate about the company and you’ve developed a good relationship with your supervisor, it’s okay to ask if there’s an entry-level position opening up any time soon -- and they might even bring the opportunity up! If you don’t necessarily see yourself at that specific company (or in the industry at all), communicate your ultimate career goals to your supervisor and see if she can introduce you to contacts at other companies for an informational interview.
You probably won’t get a job offer on the last day -- and you may not even get one at the same company you interned for. But there's still hope for a full-time job! If you've put in your time wisely and built relationships with the people around you, all you need to do is stay in touch. Reach out every so often to touch base, whether or not you need anything specific. If you start getting lukewarm responses, you can ease up, but usually, if you developed a good relationship, your supervisors will be happy to hear from you. When you see a job posting you’re interested in, let your contacts know you’re applying -- they might be able to put in a good word, and at the very least, they’ll be grateful for the heads up about a reference check.
The biggest thing to remember is that you’re not entitled to anything at your internship except an opportunity. It’s up to you to make the most of that opportunity, and if you do, you’ll be set up for something bigger, no matter what it turns out to be.
An internship at a small company has certain advantages over one at a big company -- what you may sacrifice in name recognition, you’ll make up for in access to executives and potentially more interesting assignments. But there are some common pitfalls you may encounter when you intern at a small company or for a small team, and it’s important to know how to navigate them, or you’ll risk losing the otherwise valuable connections you’d make. Here are a few problems you may have to contend with:
1. You don't understand your assignments.
It’s likely that employees at a small company hired an intern because their plates are already pretty full, which means your supervisors may not have much time to dedicate to introducing you to their processes. You might get a brief orientation on your first day and a quick explanation of any new projects, but you’ll likely spend a lot of time working independently. If this is your first professional experience, it could be overwhelming -- and even if you’re more seasoned, you may still have a lot of questions about the work you’re doing. The first thing you should remember is that your supervisors hired you to make their lives easier, so they expect you to do projects correctly -- they don't want to redo your work. To that end, don’t feel bad asking questions, especially if the information you need isn’t readily available to you elsewhere -- you should never submit incomplete work or miss a deadline because you're feeling stuck. At the same time, you need to be resourceful. Don’t ask questions you could easily figure out on your own.
2. Your supervisor doesn't pay attention to you.
Sometimes it might seem like your supervisor doesn't even notice you, and that's definitely not the best feeling. Don't take it personally -- she's busy, and your happiness and wellbeing isn't always going to be her top priority. But the truth is, even if your supervisor comes across as unavailable, she knows that hiring an intern means providing a certain amount of education. Take initiative and ask if you can set a time to sit down one-on-one and ask any larger questions you have about the company and possible career trajectories. That’s the best way to build a strong relationship and secure a useful contact that will help you down the line. She’ll likely appreciate you for showing an interest and enjoy the opportunity to share her wisdom. Just make sure you're respectful of her schedule.
3. You're all alone.
At a small company, you might be the only intern, which can make fitting in hard. If there’s an assistant around your age, you can try to build a rapport and friendship with him, but it might be daunting to approach mid-level or high-level executives. Even if you’re lonely, don’t let it show. Try not to keep earbuds in at all times -- it makes you seem unapproachable and will shut out any potential office conversations you could otherwise join. Keep a professional demeanor and get your work done well, even if the social vibes of the company leave a little to be desired. You can always exercise your mojo on nights and weekends.
4. There's no one to model behavior.
If the company is so small that there are no entry-level employees, it may be hard to figure out who to take your cues from. Assistants make great role models, since they are still paying their dues and are actively focused on maintaining a professional image 100% of the time. But mid-level and high-level executives may have a more relaxed attitude that they’ve earned over the years, especially given that at a small company, they're often the ones making the rules. They have the freedom to dress casually, work remotely on occasion, or take long lunches. Sometimes, they may afford those luxuries to you as well, but even so, you should make sure to prove your professionalism. Internships are the best time to learn how to conduct yourself in an office, and there are different expectations for entry-level employees with an unproven work ethic and mid-level employees with a track record of excellent deliverables. Act one level more professional and poised than the least casual person in the office, and you’ll stand out as someone who's reliable and worthy of a recommendation down the line. Or maybe you'll even get hired as an assistant, since there’s an opening anyway!
Despite these potential pitfalls, interning at a small company can be a valuable experience -- you get to see how the entire machine works, instead of just one piece of a larger corporate puzzle. And if you spend your time wisely and dedicate yourself wholeheartedly, you’ll find yourself on a path toward success!
Today’s college students are lucky – after multiple lawsuits over the past few years, more and more companies are starting to offer paid internships. If you’re able to land one, good for you! But keep in mind that paid internships are much more competitive than the unpaid ones, and you might not always make the cut. Unless finances are a big issue, you shouldn’t completely disregard unpaid internships – many of them have added value that you may not have considered.
Paid internships are typically found at big corporations. Some of these companies have very structured internship programs, and you may wind up on a team that really knows how to manage and mentor interns. But, at a large corporation, there’s also a chance that you’ll get lost in the shuffle. You’re getting paid, so no one is going to feel guilty about making you shred papers all day.
The companies that offer unpaid internships are typically smaller, and as a result, they’re often more hands-on. If you land at a company that really needs the extra help, you’re going to have many more higher-level responsibilities thrown your way than you would at a large corporation. Plus, you’ll have more direct access to the top executives at the company, which is great for building your network (or getting hired later on!). So before you decide to focus exclusively on paid internships during your search, consider the potential benefits of an unpaid position. Do your research, and find the place that is going to help you most in the long run, regardless of whether or not it offers extra spending money.
Cindy Kaplan of Hollywood Resumes shared her tips for breaking into Hollywood in an article in Jewess: An Online Magazine for Jewish Women. Check it out here!