Don’t want to spend your sixth summer in a row lifeguarding? Need to add something to your resume besides babysitting? Anxious to start working in the field you’re passionate about? If any of these are true, or if you’re just looking to spice up your summer and maybe make a little bit of money, you might want to consider beginning your professional career through a summer internship.

Is a summer internship really that important?

Gone are the days of interns running around to grabbing coffee and dry cleaning! In the past 30 years internship programs have morphed into well-developed professional opportunities for college students.  According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the number of graduate students in the workforce who completed at least one internship has risen from 10 percent to 80 percent. Similarly, the amount of grad students who receive their first full-time job through a previous internship has risen from just 5 percent to 30 percent. Needless to say, internships are important for career development and post-grad opportunities, but there are many other reasons to consider spending your summer interning. Internships give you the opportunity to build both your resume and network, and with the prevalence and success of networking resources such as LinkedIn, building your network can be a key to future success. Not only can you build your network for future success, but an internship position alone can help you get your foot in the door at a company and give you the competitive edge against other candidates. Also, many internships today also offer hourly salaries, so you won’t always have to decide between your professional development and making some spending money for the summer. Even unpaid internships often have benefits in the form of college credits. Paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, there is no denying the long-lasting professional benefits a summer internship can provide.

How do I get a summer internship?

When you start the search for that perfect summer internship, you want to begin by updating any documents or personal websites a possible employer will see. Start with updating your resume with your latest experiences. If you lack relevant work experience, you are not alone. Instead of handing over a resume filled with high school odd-jobs, try adding some relevant experience you’ve had within your community. If you hold a leadership position in a club or organization, employers will find this experience more relevant than your little league umpire job five years ago. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, make one because networking is quickly becoming the most popular way to land a job. If you already have a LinkedIn, update it to match your resume. These are the first things a possible employer will see about you, so spend some time getting it right.

Once you have your resume and LinkedIn profile in order, it’s time to start networking. Networking can be anything from talking with your own family members, their friends, professors at your school, alumni in the area, your school’s career center, past employers or colleagues, or even your old soccer coach. You never know who will know someone with an open opportunity in your field, so keep your options open. Spend time researching and growing your network on LinkedIn, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone by messaging companies and contacts who don’t advertise internship opportunities or seem out-of-reach. There is no harm in reaching out and being denied, but getting your name out early and making connections is important. According to a new study performed by best-seller Lou Adler, 85 percent of new hires found their most recent job through networking, and as that number continues to grow, it’s important to recognize the significant impact networking can have on your career.

Once you get the opportunity, follow these tips for a successful internship:

  • Make sure to look appropriate when you show up to work, always following the dress code guidelines of your company. Click here to learn how to dress the part at work this summer. This applies to your personal hygiene, too. While you may still be a college student, you can’t roll out of bed and throw on clothes 10 minutes before you need to be in the office like you might be able to for class. Allow yourself extra time in the morning to ensure you look put together and professional.
  • Understand your duties as an intern, and make the most of your time interning. Turn in quality work and give each assignment the attention it deserves. Even if you didn’t land your dream internship, any opportunity to feel out what it’s like to be in the “real world” is beneficial experience.
  • Ask questions! As an new intern, you aren’t supposed to know everything about how your new company works. Asking questions is not only expected and encouraged, but shows you are interested and attentive.
  • Get to know your coworkers! Befriending your coworkers makes work more enjoyable, and on top of that, fitting in with the company’s culture is essential if you are hoping to be asked back for a full-time positon. Be friendly, attentive and helpful to everyone you work with, because even if you don’t see them becoming your BFF, you never know what contacts you make now will help you out later in your professional life.
  • Don’t complain. If you’re given a project so boring, difficult, or irrelevant to your position, refrain from complaining about it to your boss, coworkers, friends and family alike. Not only is it good for your mental health to consciously avoid complaining and negative conversation, but it also makes you look like a difficult worker. Keep in mind that as an intern, you’re part of a team that relies on your extra set of hands. If something seems small and meaningless at that time, it could be fitting into the bigger picture down the road, so it’s still important.
  • Learn as much as you can! Since you are only working for a few months, make sure to take advantage of every learning and networking opportunity your job gives you by spending quality time on your assignments, getting to know your co-workers, and attending any non-mandatory event you can. Summer internships should be enjoyable, tiring, and rewarding experiences leaving you with a better understanding of the “real world” and where you want to be after graduation, so make the most of it!

After the Internship

Don’t think it’s all over once you clean out your desk and head back to school.  To ensure you reap all the all the benefits of your internship, follow these guidelines to continue the success of your summer internship:

  • Send thank you notes! Even if you don’t think you’ll see your boss again, your bosses and coworkers spent a lot of their time and effort this summer to ensure your internship was successful and ran smoothly, and therefore deserve appreciation. Be generous and write thank you notes to everyone in your company who helped you by either guiding you all summer or simply fixing your computer a few times. Everyone loves knowing their efforts were appreciated, and a good thank you note can leave you with a lasting positive impression in your company.
  • Keep in touch. Just because you’ve left the office, returning to school doesn’t mean you have to cut ties for good. If you have the time, send follow up emails asking if they would like you to continue some work throughout the semester. If you’re interested in returning to the company, send an email to them before Christmas break reminding them that you will be free and ask if there is any work you can do. Even if there is no work left you need to do, it looks good to try and stay involved with the company and team.
  • Connect with your new contacts and keep up a good presence on LinkedIn. Make sure to connect with all your contacts before you leave, and continue to follow them and post on LinkedIn throughout the year to keep up contact in small ways like liking their link they shared or commenting on a new job. Doing this will keep your name relevant and there will be a better chance they think of you favorably later on.
  • Keep yourself up-to-date with what’s going on in the company. While you don’t need to know everything going on, it’s important to note any big fundraisers or milestones that may have happened while you’ve been gone. This way, if you show up hoping for a full-time position next year, you have topics you can bring up that show your company you genuinely care and are interested in their success, even when it doesn’t directly involve you.
  • Don’t ruin your relationship with your company. Even if you unfortunately hated your boss and want to tell everyone you know about your bad experiences, it’s best to keep a friendly attitude and avoid slandering your previous employers, especially if this was your first professional experience. You will want to keep up a good relationship so you can promote your experience on your resume, and on the off-chance your future interviewer calls your old company, you want them to speak highly of you. It is difficult to find a job without any previous work experience, and it can be even more difficult to find a job if your only boss would not recommend you.

Summer internships can be your best lead to your first full-time position, but without the right approach and follow-up, you could fall short of post-internship success.  Have any other tips and tricks about how to land the perfect internship or how to turn an internship into a full-time position? Let us know in the comments!