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Seize the summer: Making the most of summer internships

Thursday, June 8, 2017


MANHATTAN — Landing a summer internship is just the beginning. Get the most out of it by developing new skills, networking like a pro and making a lasting impression, suggests a career specialist at Kansas State University.

Since companies often use internships to assess potential employees, Kerri Day Keller, executive director of the university's Career Center, said it's important learn the company culture, find mentors, take initiative, to be punctual, approach new tasks with positivity and follow up after the internship.

Before day one, interns can seek potential mentors through LinkedIn or the company's website. Potential mentors may have attended the intern's university, be from the same hometown or work in the same division. After making initial contact, Keller recommends asking mentors how they reached their position, what their aspirations are and how they are preparing to reach them. She cautions, though, that eager interns ask an experienced colleague before approaching the organization's highest leaders.

"Interns ought not assume they can go straight to the top and ask the president or CEO out to lunch," she said. "It's valuable to learn the formal and informal protocols so interns can put their best foot forward."

Keller advises meeting early with the internship supervisor to ask about goals and expectations and share what the intern hopes to learn, which may help the supervisor assign the most mutually beneficial duties. If the supervisor does not provide written expectations, Keller suggests writing down what was agreed upon after the meeting and giving the supervisor a copy. If interns find themselves doing perpetual coffee runs and trips to the copy machine, Keller says to revisit the original agreement with the supervisor.

"Interns ought to indicate their willingness to help with any tasks, large or small, but if they're not involved in any meaningful projects where they're applying classroom knowledge and developing new skills, it's time to sit down with the supervisor and ask how they could contribute more," Keller said.

Students should learn the company expectations about workplace attire. Keller advises dressing a notch above most employees. For example, if they wear khakis and collared shirts, an intern ought to wear slacks and a jacket or sweater, Keller said.

"Students don't have to spend a ton of money on their wardrobe, but they need to meet the expectations of the organizational culture," Keller said. "Clothing choices may be especially important for interacting with company clients."

For many interns, social media is part of the fabric of life, but Keller said it may be inappropriate in the workplace. Keller advised against using social media at work unless it is part of the intern's job description and to refrain from posting about pending deals or unannounced decisions.

"Interns might be excited to tweet about their projects or take a selfie at their desks, but they need to be careful to not post any proprietary information," she said. "When in doubt, don't put it on social media."

Regardless of the challenges an intern may face, a positive attitude is essential and can help demonstrate perseverance, dedication and resilience, which Keller said are sometimes even more in demand than technical knowledge and skills.

Throughout the internship, Keller advises keeping a journal about lessons learned and archiving work samples. However, she cautions interns against assuming any product they worked on is fair game to include in a portfolio.

"Interns who are compiling samples of their work may need to inquire about what's appropriate to keep and consider theirs versus what belongs to the company," Keller said. "Some things might be trademarked or be intellectual property, so interns should be clear on whether and how they can display and share those products."

As the end of the internship nears, Keller advises asking for an evaluation, which can provide a final learning opportunity and serve as documentation to help the intern describe the experience for future opportunities. If the intern would like to pursue other opportunities with the company, the intern should ask about entry-level positions and how to be considered for those roles, Keller said.

Whether the intern hopes for a career in that company or elsewhere, the final week is also a good time to ask those the intern worked with closely if they would be willing to serve as references. After the internship, Keller recommends following up with thank-you notes to maintain those connections.

"People there may know other potential contacts, so you want to make a good impression," she said. "In almost every instance, the experience you've gained will be applicable to other roles, so give a consistent effort in your work and finish strong."


Kerri Day Keller


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Kerri Day Keller

Kerri Day Keller, executive director of Kansas State University's Career Center.

Written by

Tiffany Roney