Monday, July 8, 2013

How to Win Your Internship: The Importance of Networking

How is that summer internship going?

Are you learning?  Are you asking questions about the industry?  Are you taking advantage of every single opportunity you're assigned?  Are you being proactive and asking for additional duties?

You should be.

A successful internship means different things to different people.  For some it's a full-time gig at the place where you did your internship.  For others it's the realization that the career path you thought was your ultimate dream might not be the one for you. 

I have worked with and met interns who have experienced both and more.  For me, my media services internship with the Houston Rockets during the 1994-95 season was a chance to connect with media professionals.  This parlayed into my first paying job in the sports department in a local TV newsroom.  THAT was exactly what I wanted going into the experience.

My Rockets championship ring
 While you are interning, you should keep the following questions in mind:
  • Do you want to work at the place you are interning?
  • Are you using this internship to gain experience in the industry you are interested in entering? 
  • Are you realizing that this industry isn't all it's cracked up to be and is the exact OPPOSITE of what you want to do? 
To help you answer those questions, you need to be cultivating relationships with the professionals you meet.  Be nice, friendly and genuinely curious about the industry.  DON'T be the aloof, arrogant intern!  Ask for an email address of a professional you admire.  Take it a step further and ask to chat on the phone or go for coffee to discuss the industry.  Ask if you can keep in touch after you have completed your internship.  This is important.


Because you will need to work these connections down the road.  Whether it's for a reference, advice on choosing another industry or simply a question about a particular job, you cannot have enough names in your virtual Rolodex.

Take two examples I recently encountered:
  • One former intern asked me for reference.  We have kept in touch since she left the internship at my station.  Not so much lunch or phone calls, just simple emails to keep me posted on how she's doing and how my family is doing.  She did a solid job while interning and I am happy to help any way I can.  When she asked for the reference, I knew who she was and could offer an honest account of her skill set.
  • Another former intern asked me for reference more than a year after the internship was completed.  I appreciate the solicitation because, again, I am happy to help but I couldn't remember the intern to save my life.  This person wasn't memorable.  That's not a good thing.  It's also not smart to contact someone a year or so after an internship asking for help.  I don't know who you are.  I don't know what you have been doing.  I don't know if you're someone I should recommend.   This person should have sent an email or two "just to keep in touch" or provide a school/work update prior to asking for assistance in getting a job.
This is common sense advice but it's easily forgotten in the always-busy digital age.  Remember the importance of networking while you're an intern by doing these three simple things:
  • Be a nice, outgoing professional. 
  • Keep in touch with people during and after your internship. 
  • Be grateful for your experience.  If someone helps you get an interview or a job - send a thank you note.  Heck, send a thank you note simply for the internship experience or to someone who helps you.  Trust me, these go a LONG way. 
If you like this post, check my entire internship series: How to Win Your Internship and Parlay It Into a Successful Career.  It features advice from years of working with interns who want a dream job, specific things you should AND shouldn't do as well as interviews from former interns who won their internships and parlayed them into successful careers.


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