5 Tips for Turning a Successful Internship into a Real Job

If you're a typical undergrad or new grad with a summer internship, you're almost to the finish line now. Chances are you don't have even a whole month left to work at that special summer opportunity in your chosen career field, unless of course, you've already got your degree and your bosses are SO THRILLED that they decide to keep you on as a full-time employee.

Yes, that happens. It happened to me when I was an intern from The Fund for American Studies at Campaigns & Elections Magazine in 1996. And I've hired wedding planning interns to stay and become account executives at my company now that I'm the one making the decisions.2015-07-22-1437591412-5517972-SandyKaylaandDevoninfallshirts.JPG

What is it that makes some interns stand out, while others are barely memorable? True life, we have an active Weddings in Vieques intern alumni club. The young women all coach and encourage the girls who come after them - probably a lot of that has to do with the fact that my current interns help choose the new interns so they have a proprietary feeling about them and a vested interest in making sure they succeed. But even with all of that, there are some interns who have literally made impressions that I will never, ever forget. Someday I'll write a blog about the funniest intern fails, but that's not today's topic.

I'm writing today to tell you to stay focused. Be memorable. In a good way, of course. Volunteer for every opportunity offered. Stay late when the boss works late. Do a little extra every time without being asked. If you do all of those things and follow the five tips I'm giving you below, you might just find yourself employed sooner than you think!

1. Now is the time to make an effort to interact more with the people you're working for, ask more questions, and express interest in areas that you've not had much exposure to thus far. If you want to be doing more contract writing, or research, or something else that you know is part of the daily grind, speak up and ask to try it. Trust me when I say that your bosses will love you demonstrating initiative. One caveat: Have your act together on all your other assignments before you put yourself out there to take on a major project. Getting permission to help with something else doesn't take the rest of your "to do" list off your plate.

2. Finish strong and don't leave any loose ends. You want to be able to use your supervisor as a reference, right? And in some cases, you want them to give you a grade for university credit. Remember when you were a high school senior with college acceptances and your parents and teachers warned you not to stop studying because a college could withdraw your acceptance if you bombed your last semester? It's the same way for intern supervisors. Much of the time we have to fill out your evaluations and give you grades before your internship is over. If you do something REALLY stupid or fail to finish your assignments, we're technically obligated to notify your university. I've never done it, but I know of colleagues who have. It's never pretty.

3. Plan ahead to make sure that every long-term project you were assigned is completed BEFORE your last week at the internship. You're going to be busy turning over any and all other responsibilities you were given that week. You will have exit interviews. You have to pack. Do not wait to finish up a dreaded research project - get it finished now and turn it in early in case your boss wants you to do more work on it. Nothing is more frustrating that receiving a half-assed job from an intern a few days before they leave. It puts your intern supervisor in a difficult position if somebody asks them for a reference. Even with the best interns, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

4. Don't screw around with your end dates. You made a commitment to a company to be there for X-number of weeks and they're counting on you. They've made an investment in you and you owe them the respect of completing the internship right up til that final day. I once had an intern tell me she needed to go back a week early for school. I didn't grill her because I had no reason to think she would lie. Turns out, she wanted to go to Europe with her family on vacation. It had NOTHING to do with school. Everybody knew about it and ratted her out. But I never said a word until her exit interview. It wasn't worth my time.

5. If you WANT A JOB with the company you are interning for, either right away or when you graduate, make an appointment with your supervisor to discuss it a few weeks before your internship ends. You might get hired! Or you may get some very good direction from them if they don't have a position for you but were sufficiently impressed with your skillset. I've seen companies place interns with their clients before and it works out well for everybody. You've been there long enough for somebody to evaluate whether you'd work out as part of their team, and if you're interning someplace that is owned by a larger company, they may have opportunities for you in other parts of the corporation. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO EXPRESS YOUR INTEREST IN BEING HIRED. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Seriously.

Remember, it's not over until it's really over. Don't treat the last weeks of your internship like "Senior Week." It's not. It's a job. If you start rolling into work late, looking less-than-stellar, your boss will know what you've been up to and, depending on how much they're counting on you, they probably won't be terribly pleased. Save the partying for the weekends - it's not school. This is real life. Even if you're not graduating and job hunting now, you don't want to burn a bridge you've been building all summer long.

They say it's important to make a good first impression, and I couldn't agree more. But the final impression is the lasting impression they'll have of your internship with their company. Don't blow it. Even if you don't think you want to have a job with them later, you never know when you may need a reference or a favor.

Good luck! And just in case you're wondering, all of my former interns who have graduated are now employed in great jobs in their chosen fields, mostly wedding and event planning. And I'm very proud of them!