Win friends and influence people: getting the most out of your internship

Fernanda Fain-Binda of KCL's Internships Office explains why work placements can be so valuable

Second term at uni drifts away like an England World Cup dream, and suddenly you're faced with a long and glorious summer - and that internship to which you've committed yourself. You might be excited but nervous, eager but not sure exactly what you've let yourself in for, or just raring to go and not wanting to miss out on a single opportunity.

Those of you who read up on March's budget will know that, post-recession, pressure is back on the private sector to make UK plc buoyant again, and so get British citizens back to Ugg-buying prosperity. While research firm High Fliers' report The Graduate Market in 2011 forecasts a predictable dip in graduate recruitment in the public sector, it looks healthy at the 100 most popular private companies to which UK graduates apply. High Fliers shows that the largest graduate recruiters are keen to take on a large number of graduates, for example, major professional services firms like PwC (1,200 graduate vacancies), Deloitte (1,000), KPMG (900) and Ernst & Young (740). However, their research shows those with little or no relevant work experience would be "unlikely" to secure a place. So, if you've got an internship: congratulations! - you're one step closer to the career you want after graduation.

Learn on the job

A place on a summer internship programme puts you ahead of other applicants for that programme, but on a par with other interns. Your manager or mentor on the internship will see you as having potential, but also room to grow. Be sensible about your situation, and show humility. Remember also that being a newbie means that you're not expected to know everything, so you can ask questions and request guidance at appropriate times.

Make sure you get a record of everything you've learnt. Angela Fagan's Brilliant Job Hunting recommends keeping lists of what you enjoy during each of your jobs or periods of work experience. The idea is that doing so gives you a record of what you want to continue to do in future, and helps you list accomplishments on your CV. Keep a log of your tasks, your responsibilities and achievements, and also maintain a running list of what you've learnt and areas in which you've developed an interest. Financial regulation may have seemed thrilling when you applied but if Sales becomes more appealing, write down why. At the end of your internship you can edit this list and discuss it with your manager. They can improve certain points, and perhaps add other accomplishments. Then suggest that you provide a list of the responsibilities and achievements on which you both agree, which could be a useful memory-jogger if you ever ask them for a reference.

Open your eyes

Once you're into an organisation as an intern, it's the real deal. All company websites will promise you that: "It's the people that make us who we are". Only working there will show you whether it's true. Pay attention to the people around you: how do they get things done? How do they convince people that their urgent task is the most important? How do they communicate via email? Look at how your company treats its clients or investors - what makes the difference between them and their competitors, and what is their strategy to keep ahead of the game? With so much of business being about relationships, and so much recruitment being about the relationships you can bring to a company, analyse how the people you meet on your internship deal with others to understand what kind of professional you want to be and what kind of company you want to work for.

But remember that you're being evaluated too. As internships are linked to graduate recruitment at an organisation, your manager will be analysing you for the qualities they look for in their staff, as well as the generic transferables: team work, communication, problem solving. Don't treat other interns as your competitors, but as your colleagues. Help them out when needed and give them credit when they've done something well. Doing so shows that you can behave in a professional way, and marks you as someone who can recognise talent and hard work in others.

Develop your personal brand

If you're the person who offered to help out at an important event, or who found an article about the company online that Press had missed and then circulated it - you've just upped your value as someone People Will Want Back.

However, if the internship showed you that the field you were trying out wasn't what you were after, congratulations: you followed your interest and can display to a future employer that your behaviour reflects your ambitions. Not bad qualities at all...

Keep that relationship going

Don't feel that you can't ask to keep in contact with people. Facebook probably wouldn't be appropriate, but LinkedIn might help you keep in touch if your colleagues move jobs. Think ahead to what you could send to them: a congratulatory email on a project going live, or winning some important work. Offer to feed back to their internship programme by representing them on campus or writing a piece for their website. If you've wanted to approach someone all summer to ask their advice, do it before it's too late. Be sensitive to how you say goodbye to your colleagues - suggest a breakfast if they're not the team to hit the pub after work. Finish your time with personal emails that thank the people who've helped you, and if they have a PA or assistant that's been friendly, thank them as well. In taking on summer work experience, you've had the chance to demonstrate the skills and competencies employers are looking for: make sure it'll count in the future.

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