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4 ways to make your summer internship work for you

June 27, 2011 - Education, Professional Development

Summer internships are worth more than a few extra bucks in the bank.  With the annual number of bachelor’s degrees awarded outpacing the annual increase in population in the U.S., that degree with a flashy GPA alone is starting to not be enough to make it in the job market anymore.

The trick: Employers are looking for candidates who have on-the-job experience already.

I know, I know, you’re “just” an undergrad student.  What kind of nerve do employers have, demanding work experience even before you graduate?  But if you take internships seriously, you’ll view your undergraduate summers as the vehicle to set you apart from your peers.  That means you have up to three unique, 12-week opportunities to beef up your resume before you enter the full-time job market.

But flipping burgers from June to August isn’t enough.  To really make your summer internship work for you, follow these four guidelines.

mini golf1. Gain meaningful experience

If you’re looking to get a job in IT (anything from application development to project management), a summer of being the ball cleaner at the local putt-putt isn’t going to decorate your resume any more than being jobless (though it still serves the purpose of putting a few extra bucks in the bank).  Even if you haven’t decided on a major or career yet, use your internship as a way to explore potential interests or majors you’re considering.  Nothing like taking a full-time job for a 3-month test run.

If summer jobs are elusive in the industry you’re searching, be sure to look for specific experience opportunities in unexpected places.  The local coffee shop that needs a summer barista may also need their web site redesigned or point-of-sale system upgraded.  Taking the lead on a special project will get you both experience and leadership points.

2. Get your foot in the door

Are you nearing graduation and have your employment eye on a specific company or two?  Apply for a summer internship there.  Working at a company you’re interested in from a full-time perspective will serve two purposes:

1.) You’ll have the opportunity to determine if the company’s culture and work practices fit what you’re looking for, and

2.) If you like it there, you’ll already have your foot in the door.

3. Expand your network

While it’s fantastic to be able to put the chair of your school’s IT department as a reference on your resume, it’s even better to also have leaders from companies you interned with vouch for your performance.  This tells future employers that, everywhere you go, you leave people happy with your results.  (But don’t forget to ask her permission before you put the CIO of a Fortune 500 on your resume as a reference.)

In addition to resume building, networking in general is a good career move.  If peers, supervisors, and leaders remember you and the extraordinary work you did that one summer, the connection could very well pay off down the road.  (Don’t forget to use LinkedIn to stay in touch!)

4. Test out a location

Did you leave your heart in San Francisco after that one family vacation?  Have you sworn to yourself that you’ll move from Michigan to a hot, snow-free climate someday?  If you have the freedom, use your summer internship as an opportunity to live in a location you have your sights set on.  You may realize that Texas is a bigger culture shock than you expected.  Better to come to that realization during a 3-month gig than your first full-time job out of school.

on the road

What experience during your summer internship turned out to be the most valuable?

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