Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wrapping Up Your Summer Internships? 3 Things To Do Before You Split

Dear Summer ‘10 Intern,

The summer of 2010 is already winding down, as is your summer internship. You may have done a lot this summer - or maybe not much at all - (hopefully the former, but I realize that can be outside of your control!)

Regardless, we’re at the home stretch. And there are 3 key things I’d recommend you do before you call it a summer, split town, and get ready for the school year to start. These action items, if done right, will hopefully increase the chances of you landing the job you want after graduation (or if you’ve got some more college left beyond next year, the internship you want next summer).

Sure, the economy stinks. But there is still plenty of opportunity out there for smart young people who are willing to go the extra mile.

As I write this note of unsolicited advice to you, I’m calling upon my experience as a summer intern with Johnson & Johnson (from wayyyy back in the summer of 2002). If you’re reading this, it’s likely you were alive at the time, so I hope my advice is not THAT dated. I believe it should be at least somewhat relevant, as the economy stunk at that time too, so the virtue of “hustle” was also at a premium then.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is John Steinbeck’s line from East of Eden - he writes that “advice is a giver’s gift.” So here is my advice to you - which I recommend you read with a skeptical eye, and adapt to your personal situation if appropriate.

1. Have a Heart-to-Heart With Your Boss

Most bosses will schedule an exit interview with you. If they don’t take the initiative, you should. And if your immediate boss is too busy, or lazy, or whatever, to be open and/or responsive to this, try his or her boss. Keep going up the ladder until someone cares enough to grant you some time.

Use this sit down session to gather as much feedback and insights as you can. Accept any criticisms or critiques with an open mind. I would not recommend contesting any points - just gather it all in.

You’ll never go wrong asking your boss for his or her advice. Remember, it truly is a “giver’s gift” - people love to be asked for advice, and they love even more to give it. Of course you don’t need to act on all the advice you receive - but you’re likely to gain some great insights. It may pertain to company politics, or how you should go about landing a full-time position, or why you should run and not pursue a career with that company!

You’ll be amazed at what people will share if you ask for their advice and insights. Also, they’ll love you for asking.

Finally if you have a good relationship with your boss, make sure to stay in touch with them when you get back to school. Just drop an occasional note to let them know how you’re doing. Trust me - I’ve been in the “real world” for 7 years now - it’s usually not as exciting as college is! I personally get a kick out of hearing from our former interns who are back at school. And I’ll bet that your boss has similar sentiments.

2. Schedule as Many One-on-Ones (With Colleagues You Like) as You Can

While the exit interview with your boss is a given at most companies, a final sit down with other colleagues and managers is not. You should absolutely take the initiative to schedule one-on-one sit downs with as many folks as you can. Especially those that you like and respect.

By one-on-one, it could be a formal sit down meeting in their office. Or just grabbing a cup of coffee together. You know your company’s culture best, so feel free to adapt the approach accordingly.

How do you go about scheduling this? Same way as above. In fact, here’s a quick sample email that you can fire off to a friendly manager (Susan, in this case):

Hi Susan,

I really enjoyed my time this summer at Acme Corporation. At your convenience, I’d love to setup a few minutes to sit down with you before I leave.

I’d really appreciate your advice and insights as I prepare to head back to [Your School Here].

Thanks in advance!

[Your Name Here]

Extra points for you if you schedule the one-on-one in person rather than via email.

So what are we hoping to gain from this conversation? First, we want to connect more closely with Susan here. By asking for her advice, you’ve just found yourself another close friend. And when the economy stinks, and jobs are tight, each close friend that you can find is potentially huge.

Susan may have very high regards for you. She may know of other job opportunities that you should pursue - maybe in another department. Who knows. The important thing is that by asking for her advice and insights, you are giving yourself a chance to find this out.

I should note that while you are welcome to do request a one-on-one with anyone you’d like, this will probably work far better with people you genuinely like and respect. If the thought of sitting down with a specific manager makes your stomach queasy - don’t bother. Focus on strengthening your connections with those you already like.

And as we discussed in the last section - you should definitely drop your closest connections a line when you get back to school.

3. Learn the Next Steps in the Full-Time Hiring Process

This may be a question for your boss, or for anther manager, or for human resources. It’s especially important if you are going to be looking for full-time employment soon.

Find out what opportunities are available for full-time employment. As a summer intern, you’ve got the inside track. It’s very important to take advantage of this WHILE you are still on the job! Once you’re out of sight, I’m afraid it’s far too easy to fade “out of mind” of the folks who make the hiring decisions.

So before you leave, make sure you ask: “I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Acme Corporation, and would love to pursue full-time job opportunities after I graduate. Who is the best person to talk with about this?”

Ask this to everyone you can - it never hurts - and there are multiple ways to a full-time employment offer. Many students forget that a company actually consists of individual human beings that make the hiring decisions. So what you need to do is to go find the human being(s) involved in the hiring process. Then find out next steps - and of course, ask for their advice!

***

These 3 proactive steps helped me land a full-time job offer early in my senior year from Johnson & Johnson, during a time when the economy was also pretty crappy. It wasn’t easy though - while I ended the summer with a verbal offer from the company, I had to conduct a lot of follow up back at school to make sure the offer letter came through. I think my follow ups were largely effective thanks to the ground work I was able to establish while still on-site and able to connect with people in person.

Now go out and land that job! Good luck!

Thoughts, comments, or questions? Please leave a comment below!