For college students that study business, summer internships are expected, almost mandatory, of anyone entering the industry (of course, there are some exceptions, like entrepreneurs and self-starters). Many students use summer internships to secure their first jobs after graduating from college.
The university I attended, Northeastern University, differentiates itself by offering 6-month internships, called co-ops, that are built into the curriculum. Students studying business can potentially graduate having completed 3 co-ops, totaling for 18 months of work experience and, if they are successful, a post-graduate job offer. Northeastern University attempts to replace the status quo summer internship system with an internal program and providing students with a network of potential internships to choose from. But after you’ve secured an internship or co-op, how do you get the post-graduate offer? How do you make your internship or co-op successful? How do you make your internship or co-op a great investment in yourself?
According to Harvard Business Review, making the most out of your internship includes being punctual, completing tasks with excellence, taking on more work, being resourceful, asking good questions, and building professional relationships. According to PwC, staying focused, being professional, among other things are their tips for making the most of your internship. However, these goals vague and aren’t very actionable. The goals are general and don’t provide a proper action plan. In most student’s cases, they do not have 6 months (a Northeastern co-op length) to make a good impression with their quality of work; they only have 10 weeks to “build a professional relationship” or “ask good questions”. Even more so, these goals are now the bare minimum of what an intern should be doing, almost a given. All employees are expected to be professional and stay focused at their jobs. What can interns do to get the most from their internships and the most out of themselves?
In order to properly make the most of your internship, you need to invest in yourself. Investing in yourself means cultivating your personal, social, and professional capital. That includes creating actionable goals for your 10-week or 6-month period. Instead of “building strong relationships”, grab a coffee with a new person at your company every Tuesday. Instead of “taking on more work”, check in with your managers daily, when you come in and when you leave, so you both know how much is on your plate.
Investing in your personal capital means understanding your strengths and weaknesses, as well as what you can bring to the table. I think the best way to understand how to invest in your personal capital is through an example.
For example, as an intern for a consulting firm, some of the skills I brought to the table included Excel modeling, reporting writing, and basic graphic design. At my last internship at a consulting firm, I immediately made it known that I can do basic graphic design. I was tasked with not only regular intern duties, but was now given control of the design of certain advertising flyers and client PowerPoint presentations (and I was a finance intern, very far from marketing!). With these projects, I became better at graphic design and gained the trust of my managers and managers that I never worked with on marketing and graphic design (something I never thought I would or could be doing before I started).
I was able to invest in my personal capital by presenting my strengths and showcasing them through projects with my managers, and did not stick just to ‘finance’, even if that was what my internship was centered around. If you have an internship in New York City, and you know the best activities, ask managers if you are able to organize a teambuilding event for your team. If you are good at soccer, organize a work soccer team for your summer internship to showcase your soccer skills. Maybe your manager’s boss is a huge soccer fan, allowing you to make this connection.
Investing in your social capital at an internship might be the most important aspect of the actual internship. It’s incredibly hard to prove in 10 weeks time that you can handle the work that would be representative of the job you are interning for (not to say, it’s very easy to show that you are unable to handle the work). However, “building relationships” and “making connections” and “keeping in touch” are not effective goals or actions to set for you internship. Developing your professional network through multiple internships during your college tenure is an effective way to secure a post-graduate job opportunity, or know someone who can help you with that. At my personal internships and co-ops, I made sure that I grabbed coffee with someone I never met at least once per week. There is no reason to stay in your lane during an internship. Limiting your connections to those you work with immediately limits yourself and your future. I also made sure to keep in contact with previous managers at least 2 times a year. This way, if I ever needed a reference or a recommendation, I can easily pick the conversation from when we last spoke or emailed, rather than the last day of the internship.
Finally, your professional capital is incredibly important. You need to generate value at your firm. Cultivating your professional capital can mean making your team rely on you becoming a valuable member of the team. For example, I was able to author and create a report that updates on a quarterly basis at my last internship. I’ve had future interns and current employees reach out to me to see if I can help them with updating the report for a future quarter, if an issue arises. Of course, I am willing to help, but it goes to show that even being 1 year removed an internship, your old job is reaching out to you. Try to make a project or a process that is dependent on YOU. The harder it is for a company to part with you leaving will make them realize that they need YOU.
About the Author:
George is a recent graduate of Northeastern University’s Class of 2020, studying mathematics and finance. He completed 3 co-ops for a total of 20 months work experience, working at a tax firm, a bank, and a consulting firm.
For personal reasons, George asked to stay anonymous, but he was glad to share his takeaways with students who can be smart in using their internship and co-op experience as a triple investment in their edge for today’s job market.