Career Center Blog

November 5, 2012

Four actions every employer wants to see from an intern


For college students expecting to graduate next year, the job market shows little sign of improving fast enough to help them find entry-level jobs — regardless of which candidate wins the presidential job interview tomorrow. As a result, an increasing number of grads and undergrads are postponing traditional job search activities and aiming instead for internships to help them land their dream jobs.

Last Thursday, the monthly PR for People networking event, hosted by PR maven Patricia Vaccarino, focused on the growing trend of using internships to ensure that companies find the right workers. In a panel discussion called "How to Choose an Intern," two recruiters and a local business owner discussed how an internship can be mutually beneficial for grads and employers.

"Internships are a great way to test the waters," said panelist Anisha Vinjamuri, president of recruiting firm Innovations IQ. "They're good for those who don't have much experience but have the technical knowledge to do the job... By six to nine months you'll usually know whether you'll fit into the company culture."

As one attendee at the event summed it up, "Internships are becoming the new entry-level position."

While the event was geared mostly for entrepreneurs looking to take on an intern, the information discussed also provided a glimpse into the minds of recruiters and employers. According to the panel, here are four actions that internship candidates should take if they want to secure these valuable real-life-experience opportunities:

1) Show your work. Employers want to see potential interns who have made a strong effort to read the job description, know the company and understand the needs of the employers. "It's really an insult not to read up on a company you're applying to," said panelist Annie Searle, principal at ASA Risk Consultants. "Do all the research you can on the company. Do a lot of reading."

Searle always requests a resume from intern candidates listing some basic web and HTML skills, but, most importantly, she wants to see a writing sample. "I need people who can read and write and think," she said. "There are few students who do well in school without having some kind of writing that applies to their studies."

2) Build a referral network. Often, the connections you make early on in school can make all the difference. Some of the most effective tools recruiters use for finding candidates are referrals from instructors in colleges and vocational schools. "We'll go right to the professors at UW and ask, 'Who's your best cost accountant?'" said panelist Tim Rinaker, market manager for the Seattle office of recruiter CampusPoint.

Also, try to develop a rapport with others who have been through the programs before. "When an internship is posted, I often look first to recommendations from former interns," Searle said.

3) Identify your transferable skills. Obviously a lot of intern candidates are either still in school or have just graduated, so very few can boast real-world experience. Those who stand out, however, know how to connect their classroom knowledge with the needs of the employer. "Look closely at the job description," Vinjamuri said. "Show that you at least have had some similar experience in the past at a club or organization during your studies."

4) Be enthusiastic. This goes deeper than just a smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Intern program managers want to see candidates go the extra mile.

For example, Searle described one intern who was initially not chosen because he did not have enough knowledge of search engine optimization techniques, so he took a three-month SEO internship first and later came back and reapplied successfully. Another student candidate took an internship position even though he couldn't get course credit through his school. "He didn't care," she added. "He just wanted to get that hands-on experience."

"Candidates at the entry level need to be very proactive," Vinjamuri said. "Keep sending emails and be persistent. Make sure you send a cover letter that says something specific about you. Emphasize the passion that you have for the work."

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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People shouldn't expect their internships to roll into full-time employment. I made this mistake. I should have been networking with my co-workers so that they could recommend their former employers or other places they'd considered for employment.

In this economy, internships ARE the new entry-level position. That means that it's a test, just like the article implies. There are companies that are taking advantage of "free labor" by hiring many interns -- but I think those are the minority. Most companies inviting interns in really do have a need for extra help, and if you are terrific, then you will have a job. Those who won't take an internship that is offered are really missing the boat. I just offered one to someone 8 weeks ago, and I can tell you, if she had taken it, she would have had a job today. But she had not been hired by her last internship employer, and so she was not willing to "work for free" anymore. Although I can appreciate that, it was really short-sighted on her part. When you are without a lot of full time job experience, and you are offered the chance to work, you should do it.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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