An internship may be the first step to finding success in the working world. University career centers often highlight a few key ways an internship can help students develop workplace-applicable skills, as well unearth special talents. Companies saw a conversion rate of 66% from internships to full-time job offers for the class of 2020, according to a recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Obviously an offer for a full-time job isn’t the only reason to take an internship, however. The experience can also help you find a mentor and give you a chance to feel out whether it’s the type of work you might want to pursue after graduation.
“Internships are an invaluable way to explore careers of interest, to build confidence and competence, and to develop professional networks,” says Jenny Watermill, a senior director at the Mount Holyoke College career development center. “Sometimes, through an internship, a student learns a career that they aspired to is actually not a great fit. Learning this early provides opportunity to make a career pivot.”
These are things you’re probably already naturally thinking about as you’re wrapping up a summer internship. But if you want to get the most out of the experience, it’s critical you do a few things before (or right after) your end date. Watermill says it’s the opportune time to “reflect on what you learned about yourself and your career options.”
Here are four things you should do during this critical period:
1. Collect references
Watermill recommends asking for an evaluation as your internship is wrapping up. And if you feel you and your supervisor have a good relationship and the internship went well, you can ask for a reference or recommendation.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to end your internship with a formal written letter of recommendation. Instead, you might ask for an introduction to a colleague for an informational interview, or a referral for an open job, assuming there’s a position you’re interested in specifically.
Speaking to your boss gives you the chance to underscore your interest—if you have the interest—in remaining at the company. Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster, advises taking it a step further. “Ask [your boss] who to speak to in recruiting to send your résumé,” she says. “Even if a job hasn’t been posted yet, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been jobs approved that [will] be posted.”
2. Put together a list of accomplishments
When your internship closes out you will likely lose access to the company servers and your temporary email address, so take time to make a list of the projects you completed successfully during your time with the company and what skills you gained. This list will be a supremely helpful resource when you do start interviewing for jobs and are ready to refresh your résumé.
3. Crystallize connections with your peers
One of the most important resources you’ll gather during an internship is a cohort of peers and connections. These people you’ve worked with for the past few months could be priceless sources of support and professional connections in the years to come.
“Maintain relationships with fellow interns,” Salemi says. “Perhaps they have an older sibling, a parent, a relative, or family friend who works in your dream company. Mention specific companies to them, ask if they know anyone . . . so you can set up an informational interview.”
Mount Holyoke’s Watermill recommmends making an effort to strike while the iron is hot with your supervisor and non-intern coworkers. “Make a plan to follow up with these people in a few months to let them know how you are applying what you learned,” she says. “Send thank-you notes to the people you worked with [and] be specific about the advice, mentorship, or support that you are grateful for.”
4. When in doubt about job offers, book informational interviews
If you have the impression that your internship may not lead to a job offer, you can still do your best to gather more information to get the most from your experience.
While you’re saying goodbye to everyone at your internship, take note of the people who have positions that interest you. Work at maintaining these relationships through thank-you notes and job-search updates.
You may want to ask if you can buy them a coffee or talk over the phone to discuss how you can further develop your career. Consider these informational interviews a chance to learn more about someone’s professional trajectory. You never know what you might gain from a simple, 20-minute chat.