Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Making the most of a Summer Internship


Tips to Make the Most
Of Summer Internships


Whether it's to test their interest in a certain industry or to gain a leg up on the competition come job-hunting season, internships are more popular than ever among college students. And landing the perfect one is just the beginning. Here's how to make the most of your summer internship:

Be Early. Arrive early the first day and keep it up. Be early to the office, to meetings and on conference calls. Chris Duggan, president of internship placement firm University of Dreams and summerinternships.com, recommends students practice their commute before starting and test alternate routes in case of traffic delays. "Wait outside the building if you have to," says Mr. Duggan. "But always be early."

[90 Days]
Espie Santiago advises Stanford students to keep good notes on their summer internships -- it will help make that important recommendation letter easier for a summer boss to write later.

Get real. "For students new to the work world, they might expect 'Wow, I'm going to have this glorious internship with fabulous assignments,'" says Espie Santiago, career counselor for internships at Stanford University. "But many of them don't actually have a realistic idea of what's expected of them." If you didn't have a formal one-on-one with a manager during orientation, ask for one. That's also the time to request and review a set of guidelines and expectations.

Drink coffee. Find out where the water cooler, break room or coffee station is, and make a point of stopping by. You never know when the boss or the head of human resources might be taking a break. "Students are often too intimidated to go up to their managers and say hello," says Mr. Duggan. But internships are as much about building interpersonal relationships as they are job training. And experts agree you often learn more about the business from casual conversations in the break room than formal meetings.

Don't get discouraged. If it's been a few weeks, and you're still just making photocopies, don't fret -- or complain. Request a meeting with your supervisor to ask about new projects. Ms. Santiago says managers are often open to expanding on their list of intern tasks, but "you won't know unless you ask."

Resist the urge to stand out. Ms. Santiago says many students view an internship as a chance to show off their skills but, "employers are really looking for someone who [fits] the corporate culture." When you are reliable and consistent, your work will speak for itself, she says. Mr. Duggan warns against being too competitive with other interns. "You want to get along with everyone."

Take notes. Keep a log, notebook or some record of everything you do. Not only will it come in handy when it's time to update your resume, but it will also help your supervisor pull together a letter of recommendation down the road.

Play softball. Think carefully before turning down any offers to get involved. Asked to join the company softball team? Go for it. Invited to go along on a Starbucks run? Say yes, even if you don't drink coffee. Asked to tag along on a client meeting? Accept graciously. Employers "want someone to take whatever is thrown at them, do it well and then come back for more," says Mr. Duggan.

Write to Erin Chambers at cjeditor@dowjones.com

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