How to Turn that IT Internship into an IT Job

By Deb Perelman  |  Posted 2008-04-17

How to Turn that IT Internship into an IT Job

Lifeguarding may be good for your tan, bartending may be good for your social life and working at a downtown record store may increase your hip quotient, but rarely will any of them land a college student with the Holy Grail of early adulthood success: a job after college.

However, a well-placed internship just might.

"Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door in an organization and I recommend them highly. There's often a gap between going to school and getting a job. That bridge between academic study and employment is easier to cross with an internship under your belt," said John Estes, vice president of Robert Half Technology.

The statistics back this up. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, one out of every three new hires from the 2007 graduating class landed their first job with a company they'd previously interned for.

But how does a college student with a great internship translate that into a great job after graduation? Therein lies a million and a half things that could go wrong. Fortunately, eWEEK spoke to some hiring experts who could whittle this down to a few salient do's and don'ts.

Know What You Have

DO: Know What Kind of Internship You Have

This may sound a little basic, but it is really not that simple. At some companies, the internship is their prime recruiting ground for future hires. In fact, once you're in the door, as some say, "the job offer is your's to lose." If you've got one like this, you're in good shape.

"Some organizations use internships as a form of campus recruiting where there is a direct path from internship to full-time employment. Others view it differently, more as an outreach effort to local universities," said Sean Ebner, vice president of Professional Services with a specialization in technology for Spherion Pacific Enterprises, a staffing and recruiting firm.

But at the vast majority of organizations, internships are more of a form of outreach with local universities--a way to build relationships that may have little to do with who the company wants or is able to hire.

In this second variety, it's up to the intern to win the loyalty and professional respect of the people who may--with some luck--be able to create a job opening where one was not.

DON'T: Lobby Incessantly for a Job

If you know that there are five interns but only one job opening at the end of the summer, it may be tempting to let your manager, their manager, the others in your department and the cleaning person you met in the break room that you'd really, really like to stay on, all in the name off ill-conceived networking.

"When you're in an internship, you kind of have to know your place. Lobby for a full-time position right away is almost a sure way not to be hired. You've got to walk a fine line," said Estes.

DO: Network Like Crazy

The space between a internship being unable to hire you as a full-time employee and one that magically finds budget and a headcount opening to keep their intern after the summer is over is quite often filled with nothing but who you've got rooting for you.

"Make sure you are networking within the organization and getting a feel for all of the departments. Leveraging these relationships to find out who has open headcounts,"  Ebner told eWEEK.

If an intern is really good and enough people know it, more times than not organizations will find a way not to let them leave.

"They might even create a position for you. If you show them what you're made of, people will tap you on the shoulder by the end of the summer," Estes told eWEEK.

DON'T: Network By Gossiping, Dating a Co-Worker

Dating a co-worker is one of the biggest no-nos of corporate life, and more often than not, it's the youngest employees that slip up on this. It draws the eye-rolling--not respect--of co-workers who know better than to mix business and their personal lives.

"Try to avoid dating employees. Any employee involved with an intern makes themselves an easy HR target," said Ebner.

As a third-party observer in a temporary role, people will naturally open up to you and it's easy to become gossipy to endear yourself to them. After dating a co-worker, this is one of the worst things you can do if you're looking to have a long career with the company.

"If you take a straight line approach and listen empathically but not corroborate their gossip, you'll earn respect. Otherwise, you'll end up siding with the wrong person you didn't know any better, and your work will get sidelined," said Ebner.

Dont Be a Slacker

DO: Earn Your Way to Better Tasks

The stereotypical summer intern gets assigned menial tasks--copying large stacks of documents, arranging meetings--and spends most of their time underused and overly bored. Sadly enough, the stereotype often matches the internship experience spot-on.

"Let's face it: they're not going to give you the glamorous stuff. First they want you to prove that you can listen and take direction," said Estes.

However, interns aren't given grunt work out of spite, or because nobody respects them--no matter how it may feel if you're on your fourth filing job that week--it's because other employees at the company don't know they can be relied upon for more yet. This distinction is essential.

"It's easy to say book this, set up that conference... but to get onto an interesting coding project takes trust. If you do a sub-par job on something assigned to you, you create extra work," said Ebner.

DON'T: Slack Off in Idle Time

One of the very basic tenets of holding down a full-time job is knowing how to manage your time--which includes both using downtime to get a lead on an incoming task and not complaining if you have a little more than you need one day.

"During lulls or slow periods, you should be offering your assistance to other employees. The worst thing you can do is to finish your assigned task and surf the Internet until your next project starts," said Estes.

"Be real careful about the Internet especially. You think people walk by your cube and don't look at your monitor, it's like walking by a mirror--impossible not to look. People will remember that you were on Facebook," said Ebner.


DO: Use Every Opportunity to Learn More Skills

Even if you were the company favorite intern ever and did a stellar job at every task you were assigned, an internship is in no way a guaranteed full-time job offer after college. Because of this, the smartest thing an intern can do for themselves is to gain skills that they can use whether or not they land a job at the place where they interned.

"You want to structure them in IT to give yourself as many hard skills as possible. Many times in an internship, you're just an observer. You want to volunteer and work within your internship structure to get your hands dirty as much as possible," said Ebner.

In short: the more directly applicable skills you have, the better job candidate you'll be.

DON'T: Be Full of Yourself

While your new co-workers may be interested in your accomplishments at school, they'd much prefer that you wait to talk about them until you've been asked.

"Be humble. You may be doing great in school, you may be the class president, you may have been heavily recruited by several companies but people will open up to you a lot more if you're humble. If you brag, people will build barriers to you do deal with your ego," said Ebner.

This extends to the work that is given to you as well. When you're asked to photocopy a stack of documents for the third time that week, rolling your eyes is not going to make people want to ask you to do more important things. Nobody needs you to tell them that their work isn't interesting enough.

"This is your chance to make the best-looking binders they've ever seen. You have to bring pride to your work, or the chances of you getting more involved tasks are much less," said Ebner.

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