How to Make the Most of your Internship or Co-op Experience

Over the course of a year, large companies will bring in hundreds of co-op and summer interns. Many will have successful internships, which will lead to full-time jobs, while others will go home wondering why a job offer was not received. This article is based on observations from 21 years of serving as a recruiting focal point for Virginia Tech.

By Steve Choquette

Steve Choquette Oct 2017.jpg

 If you’re currently a co-op or intern, congratulations! At campus job fairs, large employers typically will get a 2-inch stack of resumes from students who would love to work for their company. Recruiting managers may interview 15-20 students, onlya subset of whom will get internships or co-op positions. You did it – you already made the first cut! So now, how do you now make the most of an internship opportunity?

Tip #1: Get to know your co-workers.

This is called “networking” and it will play an important role throughout your career. Get to know other employees, co-op students and interns, even those from other teams. Your peers can tell you about their work experiences with your employer, so you could potentially avoid the career mistakes they made. That person sitting next to you may one day work with you. That person sitting across from you may one day be a hiring manager for a job you want.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to work hard or to request for more work.

The best students demonstrate drive and passion. Your employer has no shortage of work that needs to be done. You want to “shine” when your resume and your work experience are compared to other students that we will interview on campus.

Tip #3: Practice your communication skills.

Volunteer to give a presentation or document a process. Read a book on communicating in the workplace. When you send e-mails, think about who the audience is and what message you want them to get out of your e-mail. Keep on practicing how to communicate in a professional setting.

Tip #4: Pay attention to the “conditions of employment”.

Come to work on time, dress nicely, and focus on your work. This may seem basic, but the adage “you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression” makes sense.

We had one student who was not invited back because whenever his manager stopped by his office, he was surfing the web. Don’t forget that your internship is a long-term job interview!

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

If there is something you do not understand – ask.  If you still don’t understand it – ask again. And if you forget, ask again and this time write it down. You will find your co-workers will be glad to work with someone who asks to make sure instead of doing guesswork.

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 1.11.03 PM.pngTip #6: Keep in touch with your manager.

Reach out to your former manager regularly, even when you’re back in school. Ask for feedback, or maybe even invite him or her to be your career mentor. Make sure he or she knows that you’re interested in coming back full-time or for a second internship.

Tip #7: Figure out what is most important for your job decision.

What are the most important criteria you will use when selecting the first company you work for after graduation?  Company size? Salary? Benefits? Fun work environment? Job flexibility?

Determine how you will answer the criteria questions for the company you currently work for.  Company size and benefits are typically available online, but how will you determine whether the company satisfies your “job flexibility” requirement?  In most cases, your answers will come from talking to coworkers about their careers and career choices.

Steve is an IBM recruiter based in the US with 20+ years of college recruiting experience.

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