You’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, with all due respect to the originator of this exaggeration, it’s actually both! These days, it matters greatly whether you have an inside contact and advocate when you apply for a job. (A person dear to us just landed a phenomenal position that began with an internship!) But, if you don’t bring a good skill set, especially those valuable soft skills, you likely won’t land it… or keep it for very long if you manage to fool the recruiter.
So, what’s the best way to cover both bases and set yourself up for career success while you’re still in high school or college? The answer is to pursue an internship. Yes, even those requesting your services for free! Hear me out…
The Value of Internships
There is tremendous value in obtaining, and excelling in, an internship. When you do, you’ll:
- Gain valuable experience. Even if the job isn’t in your dream career zone, you’ll develop skills and perspective on how the “real world” operates. Often, our academics focus more on theory than practice, so this helps fill the gap.
- Sharpen your soft skills. In addition to learning the tasks of the position, you’ll build key soft skills like organization, work ethic, dependability, positivity, integrity, and team mindedness.
- Build your network. If you take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, you’ll expand your personal and professional “sales force!” They may prove invaluable as future references, too.
- Pilot test career possibilities. Whether or not the position is exactly what you would be looking for in a future career, it will give you a helpful firsthand assessment of the fit for you. Many discover that an internship will either confirm or reject their initial career leanings. The earlier you learn this the better.
- Get a feel for the organization, its culture, and the industry. Hands on experience with the employer will provide you an excellent sense of the culture and industry. This will help you assess whether you’d want to work for them full time.
- Gain an inside advantage. IF you do well AND it’s a company you’re interested in, you’ve just gained the inside track for a full-time position. That’s gold!
- Enhance your resume and credentials. Employers love to see work experience rather than just academic accomplishments. With your internship, you’ve just improved your competitive edge to land a great position.
Maximizing the Opportunity
So, now that you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most out of it? Here are some strategies to maximize your experience:
- Remember, attitude is (almost) everything. It’s important to arrive with the right frame of mind. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to meet people, contribute to the effort, and acquire as many skills as possible. A positive attitude and strong work ethic are vital. Internships generally involve more basic tasks and responsibilities rather than key decision-making and a corner office. So, keep your expectations under control and deliver excellent work no matter what they have you do.
- Exceed their expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the specs of the position and do high quality work that’s on time, every time. Then, seek opportunities to showcase your creativity and initiative by going above and beyond the job description. Think, “How can I add value?”
- Remember, you’re each testing the waters. They are observing whether you are full-time material, so rise to the occasion. But, also evaluate whether this is a fit for you. Be sure to consider whether: 1) the organization and culture appeals to you and 2) the position confirms or rejects your career interests. Internships offer a powerful way to sample what it would be like to work in that field and with that employer. They also provide excellent opportunities to meet people in the full-time position(s) you’d likely be seeking. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable. If you find it’s not a fit after all, you’ll still have time to change your plans.
- Meet as many people as possible. Don’t stay planted in your cubicle. Use your internship as an opportunity to meet leaders and people in positions of interest. Have coffee with some of their most respected people and pick their brains. What success secrets and advice can they offer? It’s a great way to build your network and fast track your career by learning from the pros.
If your schedule allows, we strongly encourage you to seek out an internship. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments because this a top priority. It’s a foolproof way of learning the ropes and landing your dream career.