A student of mine was applying for a job in the ultra-competitive film industry. He made it through the initial phases and was thrilled to finally sit down with the decision-maker, his potential supervisor. This interviewer looked at his resume and asked whom he worked for at his internship last summer. Upon hearing the name, she responded, "I know him well," and proceeded to pick up the phone, call the person and ask for an on-the-spot reference. It was a nerve-wracking moment for my student, but he needn't have worried because he had laid the groundwork for just this type of situation when he completed his internship.
Many students spend months working on getting internships. They spend days deciding what to wear to make the right first impression, but the reality is that your last impression counts for as much as your first one. When you finish your internship, you are just beginning to build your network.
Every year my organization helps hundreds of students make the most of their internships. As students wrap up their summer jobs and prepare for the first day of school, here are some tips for how to leave your internship like a professional, and how to maintain your network after you have left.
- Do your best work until the very end. It's professional, it's considerate, and it will make people want to work with you in the future. Even if you decide halfway through the season that you never want to work in this field again, keep doing your best. One of your colleagues just might know someone who could offer you a dream job.
- Ask for feedback. Sit down with your supervisor and ask for an appraisal of your strengths and ways you can improve. Tell her that you appreciated the opportunity and want to know how you can improve. That person will remember your maturity and commitment to excellence, and you may learn something useful in the process.
- Send a well-considered, well-written thank you note. Tell your supervisor and colleagues what you appreciated about the experience and what you learned from working with them. This will go a long way toward cementing relationships.
- Add your colleagues to your LinkedIn network. Don't have LinkedIn? Go online and create a profile right now. It is a great way to stay in touch with your professional contacts. You can use LinkedIn to check in with them a couple of times during the year to update them on your schooling and your plans.
- Lay the groundwork for next summer's internship or for a full-time job. If you would like to return to the same company, let them know. Ask what the procedure is. Talk to the human resources department about it as well as to your supervisor. If you would like to explore a different company or field, ask your colleagues for suggestions. They may know someone you could reach out to for an informational interview or even a job opportunity.
- Set a goal to maintain your connections throughout the year. Plan to have coffee with a different person each month. You can use these coffees to update your contacts on your progress and to ask for career advice. When you send emails to set up these coffees, take care to double check for grammar and spelling.
- Keep in touch with your fellow interns. These people aren't just your summer lunch buddies, they are the foundation of your future professional network.