Don't Leave An Internship Before Doing These 4 Things
There’s plenty of advice out there about how to get an internship and how to make a good impression in the first days of your internship—but the impression you make in the last days of your internship is just as important, if not more so. As the summer comes to an end, many students are struggling with how to leave on the best possible note. It may seem overwhelming, but in fact, there are only four things that are absolutely necessary in order to be remembered as a great intern.
1. Finish The Entire Internship
If it seems to you that this goes without saying, great, now there are only three things to think about. However, as someone that works with a lot of high-achieving, often over-scheduled students, I see a lot of students struggle to fit a decent-length internship into their summer. I would say that most formal summer internship programs are 8-12 weeks long, although those geared towards high school students may be more like 6-10 weeks. Many of my students don’t take part in formal internship programs because they’re the only intern where they’re working, but generally, companies prefer interns to be available for at least six weeks in a row, since it takes at least a week or so to get an intern trained and at a point where they’re doing more meaningful and useful tasks and projects. However, with many schools shortening their summer breaks, sports teams starting their training programs before school starts, and other commitments like trips to visit family, many students aren’t able to complete the entire formal program or spend at least six weeks at an informal internship. This can leave a negative impression that can overshadow your positive attributes and accomplishments. It’s best to make sure that everyone knows your schedule before you begin the internship, preferably with enough time for both of you to find other options if it’s a dealbreaker. Still, if you unexpectedly need to leave early, there are ways to handle it—the best advice is to be honest with the person you’re closest to and ask for their advice about what to do. Then, following that advice, speak in-person with the person or people who would need to approve you leaving, and don’t tell them you’re leaving early: ask to leave early. If you handle the conversation in a mature and respectful way, they’ll likely remember you fondly.
2. Write Physical Thank-You Notes
This is commonly-given advice, and there’s been plenty written about what to include in the note that I won’t get into here. But what’s often lost is that the note should be hand-written or at least on paper. This advice is often creatively reinterpreted as “write thank-you emails/LinkedIn connection requests.” That’s not what it means. I see this all the time with my students—they know, in theory, that they should write a thank-you note. They may have heard that it should be a physical note. They will invariably ignore this advice and send an email. Do not send an email. (Or do, but in addition to a physical note.) I have a feeling that this reluctance stems from self-consciousness about handwriting—most (all but twelve) states no longer require cursive, and few students these days are comfortable writing a page-long letter by hand. But it’s the thought that counts—and if you’re absolutely positive that your handwriting would be illegible or reflect worse on you than not writing a note, type something up, print it out, and sign it. Leave it on their desk or mail it to the office. Your supervisor gets plenty of emails—but a physical letter or card is something tangible they’ll have to remember you and your contributions.
3. Leave Projects Finished (Or At Least Tie Up Loose Ends)
An internship is a perfect time to internalize the advice that ‘done is better than perfect.’ Your supervisors will be much more impressed by a complete, simple project than a perfect, complex, half-finished project. Try to time it out so you finish your big projects a week, or at least a few days, early so you have time to get feedback and have some wiggle room for unexpected complications. The last few days of an internship are often hectic and full of networking opportunities, so don’t count on getting a lot of deep work done. That being said, some projects aren’t possible for even the best intern to finish in the time available to them. If your company asks you to digitize and reorganize their entire contract archive and you only get up to 2006, you probably won’t be able to get through another decade-plus in the last few days—and they hopefully knew that when they asked you to get started on it. Spend the last few days creating a detailed guide on what you’ve done so far, how you did it, and how to continue the project. Then make sure that guide is easy to find and kept with the rest of the unfinished project. When the company looks back on you as an intern, they won’t remember the exact amount of work you got done, but they will notice how easily the next intern is able to pick up where you left off.
4. Get Coffee With As Many People As Possible
Although thank-you notes are a crucial part of leaving an internship on a high note, they’re not the be-all-end-all—there are a lot of other ways to create and maintain connections. The most important one is often intimidatingly labeled the ‘informational interview’ — but it’s literally just getting coffee or lunch and talking to that person about their career path and getting any advice they may have for you. Unlike a job interview, it shouldn’t focus too much on you and your accomplishments. I encourage my students to read up on Dale Carnegie’s advice about how to get people to like you—use their names, ask for advice and get genuinely interested in learning more about them. You shouldn’t just do this with people you directly worked with—ask people in other departments as well. If you interned in marketing, this is your chance to learn more about sales, production, etc. and make connections across the company. You may think this type of conversation won’t lead to them remembering you (since you spent most of the time learning about them) but in fact, it’s the best way to stand out from the pack and get quality advice and guidance. The end of your internship is also a good time to connect in other ways, like LinkedIn and email, but that’s less important than face-to-face meetings and physical thank-you notes.
There’s a lot to be said about the power of first impressions, but your last impression is equally if not more important. If you follow the above steps, you’ll be remembered as one of the best interns, no matter how rocky the beginning or middle of your internship was.
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