Summer is coming to a close as quickly as it began, and if you’re like most students, you spent a good portion of your summer putting your skills to practice through some form of an internship. You learned a lot, had some good laughs, and hopefully got a better idea of what kind of career you’re working toward in the future–or learned some paths you don’t want to walk down. Either way, I hope your experience was filled with meaningful challenges and an enlightened idea on what’s next.
Although your internship is either over or will be shortly, the work doesn’t stop there. To maximize the opportunity, each internship should be followed up with four important to do list items:
- Ask for a Reverse Exit Interview
Whenever an employee is departing from an organization, most employers will conduct an exit interview. This is useful because you can obtain information from the employee that could improve the experience for your current and incoming employees. Follow the same practice to collect knowledge on yourself and your work performance throughout the summer. This feedback can be used to identify your blind spots, give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately help you improve.
To do this, ask your supervisor, mentor and colleagues you worked closely with to meet one-on-one for an exit interview. If you’ve already left, I’d suggest reaching back out and setting up a brief phone call with each. As far in advance of the meeting as you can, provide them with a list of questions you’d like to discuss so they can come prepared with a thoughtful answer and examples to share. Do your best to be as specific as possible with the feedback your seeking and avoid asking yes/no questions. Finally, prime the conversation as an important learning opportunity. Make sure to tell them that you welcome as much critical feedback as they can provide.
This crucial information will also play an important part in giving you direction on your skill sets and what career paths you could succeed in upon graduation. Although it is often tough to hear suggestions for improvement, having the awareness is important. Don’t fall into the trap of protecting your ego, internships are designed for learning and growing as a young professional.
- Perform an Audit of Your Experience
The primary reason I think internships are so essential in career management for students is that they allow for the opportunity to test out possible jobs and explore different career options. So with that in mind, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t take time to reflect on the summer and audit the different aspects of your experience.
What did you enjoy about your position? What did you not enjoy? Were there career paths that you were exposed to that you want to learn more about? What sort of responsibilities did you look forward to completing? What did you dread having to do?
Don’t forget to make notes not only about the work itself but also your manager and the company culture. What qualities of your manager did you like or dislike? What sort of leader would make you proud to work for? What were important values that you would want a future employer to embody? Anything about the company culture that changed the experience for the better or worse?
Spend time writing down your thoughts. Set aside the time to do this while the experience is fresh and then come back to your notes in 4-6 weeks. Use these notes to make a wants and needs list as this will be helpful in your next job search.
- Update Your Job Search Documents
One universal benefit of any internship is that it gives you a resume booster to your “work experience” section. Showcasing that you have professional experience (or at least exposure) along with an elementary understanding of a certain industry and the relevant foundational skills will give you a leg up in attracting interest in a future employer.
Set aside the time now to update your resume. Don’t just include your job title, the company you worked for and the responsibilities that were copied and pasted from the job description. Instead, highlight your major contributions, add details about comprehensive projects you worked on, and demonstrate how you added value to the company.
Also collect relevant work samples for your portfolio (of course with your employer’s approval first). This should include presentations you gave, articles you wrote, campaigns you worked on, or designs you created. Build a list of technical skills you learned, such as industry knowledge or working with any specific software. For soft skills that you developed, organize a list of examples on how you demonstrated them, as this will become handy in future behavioral based interviews.
Add a copy of your job performance review(s) to your portfolio. These will be great for you to reference and share as evidence of how you performed during the program. Finally, ask managers and other colleagues you worked closely with for a brief reference letter. These enrich your job portfolio and give future employers an insight into your skills and working style.
- Keep in Touch with the Connections You Made
The most often overlooked benefit of internships are the connections you made. You should walk away from any internship with a much broader network, including executive leaders, fellow colleagues, clients, business partners and even your fellow interns.
Make a list of individuals who impacted you and create a plan to keep in touch. These contacts are great for providing guidance, helping with future job searches, becoming mentors and hopefully even developing into friendships. Put effort into maintaining these relationships beyond just using them as references.
Obviously LinkedIn is a great platform to do this, but also grab their phone number and email. Add reminders in your calendar to check in with certain people on a regular basis. Ideas for staying in touch could include sharing an article you think they would like, letting that person know how you put something to use that they taught you, asking for an update on a big project you were working on, sending lessons from the classroom, or wishing them a happy birthday. Showing you care and making an effort to stay in touch will also keep you fresh in their mind for opportunities that become available.
Whether an internship was an amazing adventure or lackluster time, paid or unpaid, everything you had hoped for or a total let down, they should all be a valuable experience if you complete these important follow-up items.
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As always, thanks to my editor and partner Gaby Deimeke.