How to use your internship to find your first real job
In this series, college career counselors share advice on pivoting your internship into full-time work.
This is part of an ongoing series of advice for new grads from career counselors.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your job search started and stopped with the company you’re already interning for? Sometimes, it happens. If there’s a role available, and the position and company are a good fit, you could find yourself sitting behind the same desk you’re at now after graduation.
But while the internship-to-job track is no guarantee, those hours spent getting professional experience can help you find gainful employment. In fact, a recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 51.7% of students who’d had an internship received at least one job offer compared with 33.8% of those with no internship experience.
In the second installment of our series for college seniors, career service professionals share advice for making the most of your internship—whether you hope to continue working at that company, or want to use it to springboard into another post-college full-time job.
If you think you might want to work at the company where you’re interning…
Pick the right time to express your interest
Turns out, there’s a sweet spot when it comes to talking with internship supervisors about future work at the company.
“Seniors should probably request a meeting with their supervisor toward the end of the semester,” says Thomas Ward from Adelphi University in New York. “Even if you are a star, students sometimes jump the gun by approaching their supervisor prematurely or too early into their tenure.”
He agrees that it’s a balance, because you don’t want to wait too long before expressing interest. But, “in most instances, there is a lead time that organizations need to transition interns into full-time employees.”
Immerse yourself in the company
As an intern, you’ve got a foot in the door and a leg up on the competition. So use it to get exposure to decision-makers and show what you can do for the company.
“Attend as many professional gatherings and staff-type meetings as possible,” suggests Lisa Gavigan of Wheaton College in Massachusetts, “and speak with the organization’s clients when appropriate.”
“Not only will you learn a great deal about the organization, which will serve you well when drafting a cover letter and participating in interviews,” she says, “but you’ll also be better able to determine if this is, in fact, the best next step for your career development.”
Find out everything you can from your co-workers
Interns have another advantage over other job seekers because they can get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work for the company, as well as what kind of candidate the company is looking to hire. All you have to do is ask.
“Interns should reach out to both entry-level staff and supervisors for informational interviews,” says Vickie Cox-Lanyon from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“You should come to the meeting prepared with specific questions about the individual’s background, career choices, and goals that go beyond what you can read on a social media profile,” says Cox-Lanyon. “At some point in the conversation, the interviewer will likely ask about your interests. That is the time to give your elevator pitch and express your interests and goals, which can include future employment within the company.”
It also pays to check out job review sites like kununu to see what a company’s current employees think about the leadership, salary, benefits and more.
If you don’t anticipate full-time work with your internship…
Learn how your colleagues got to where they are today
Whether or not you land a job at your current internship, soak up as much knowledge as you can from your colleagues. It will only benefit you to learn from these pros—plus your enthusiasm could make an impression and they might think of you for a job in the future.
“Learn from people working at the company about the types of professional organizations they belong to, and ask to accompany them as a guest to one of the organization’s meetings,” suggests Kristen McMullen of the Charleston School of Business, in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Also find out what certifications or professional development they recommend,” she says. “Excelling in any profession is about continually developing yourself.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for job search help
Everybody you’re working with knows that you’re there to gain experience and that you’re hoping to land a full-time gig after your internship. You don’t have to be shy about asking for help finding a job.
“Ask for some advice about industry-specific job searches and perhaps even a resume review,” says Gavigan. “You could even ask co-workers to recommend open positions or provide an email introduction to someone they know that might be hiring.”
And don’t forget—one of the best things about an internship is the people you meet. “If there are no job openings in the immediate future, stay in touch with supervisors and mentors in the organization,” says Stephanie Kitt from the University of Tennessee. “Continue to network with them and make them aware of your job search.”
Want to have a solid backup plan if your internship doesn’t turn into full-time work? Check out available jobs in your target industry today.
More from this series: