Unless you’ve made a concerted effort to filter out all careers related info, it can’t have escaped your notice that an internship (or it’s less glamorous cousin, the ‘work placement’) is undeniably A.Good.Thing. The benefits are well documented and graduate recruiters – of all stripes – agree that work experience is close to essential. But the big question is HOW do you convert an internship into a graduate offer?
Finding the fit
There has been very little research into the ‘conversion’ process, so the recent report ‘Converting interns into regular employees; the role of the intern/supervisor exchange‘ by Rose, Teo & Connells is welcome indeed. One of the key findings was that ‘the intern-supervisor exchange played a strong role in influencing the intern’s performance, learning opportunities and satisfaction.’ And in the plainest of plain English, this simply means: how well you get on with your supervisor during your internship is really important. Surprisingly, the interaction between intern and workplace supervisor was found to be a stronger predictor of future outcome (job offer or not) than the intern’s performance. Now, before you take this as carte blanche to coast throughout your placement, do remind yourself that you’ll be under close scrutiny. Any indication that you are performing below par – and expectation – will certainly be noted. What this research suggests is that ‘fit’ can trump ability, all other things being equal.
This isn’t really so surprising when you think about it. Consider for a moment, the three criteria most likely to influence an employer’s hiring decision:
- Can you do the job?
- Are you motivated?
- Will you fit into the organisation.
An internship is a fairly cost-effective way for both parties to ‘try before they buy’. Organisations want to limit the time and money spent on lengthy recruitment processes, and minimise the risk of appointing the wrong candidate. Very polished individuals can ‘game’ the selection process, make all the right noises and get offered the job. A few months down the line, the cracks begin to show and the employer realises – perhaps too late – that they’ve made the wrong call. This is far less likely to happen when a company operates an internship scheme; with 6-8 weeks close supervision. This gives recruiting managers a much more complete picture of the individual, and sufficient evidence to decide whether they are the right fit for the role – and the company. Here’s what Harpavan Khaira, a graduate recruitment specialist at RWE nPower has to say:
The advice I always give to our interns is to make the most of the time they have with us. Interns are in a fantastic position being on the ‘inside’ and should take every opportunity and network with as many people as they can. I always encourage interns to book meetings with someone in graduate recruitment and also the heads of departments in the areas of the business they may want to work in. It shows the right attitude, a pro-active nature and a confidence which all companies look for in a graduate. It will also greatly enhance your future prospects of employment with the company
How to convince a recruiter
- Prepare for your internship. If you’ve thoroughly researched and understood the company ethos, brand and culture, you will be able to anticipate and understand what’s expected of you. And here’s where you can really stand out: don’t just meet expectations, exceed them!
- Build and maintain rapport with colleagues, clients and above all, your supervisor. Your attitude and behaviour are strongly correlated with future success, so hit the right notes.
- Ask questions…be a sponge. Your commercial awareness will increase as you absorb insider info about clients, stakeholders and business practices. Attend any – and every – meeting you can, as this will give you exposure and help you develop a 360 degree understanding of the organisation.
- Enthusiasm is infectious. Nobody wants to work with a doom and gloom merchant. Say ‘yes’ – even if you don’t always feel like it. I’m not suggesting you become a lap-dog, but a keen interest and upbeat approach will go a long, long way. A positive outlook and initiative will make an impression, highlight your value to the company and help you to develop a network of useful contacts.
- Act like a graduate recruit – arrogance is not endearing but confidence is compelling. if you project a ‘can do’ approach, your senior colleagues may decide to give you more challenging, and worthwhile projects – this adds up to a more fulfilling internship experience. For Dan Wickens, success on his placement at the defence company DSTL was “as simple as doing any task you are given to the best of your ability and by the date it is due, in order to avoid delaying the bigger project as a whole.” Be professional from day one – arriving late for lectures may be a rite of passage for (some) students but poor timekeeping during a placement sends out all the wrong messages. That first impression tends to last.
- Dear diary…keep a daily record of your achievements and progress. This record of ‘distance travelled’ will help you to reflect on your progress, enhance your CV and help you prepare some knock-out answers to those dreaded competency questions at graduate interviews.
- Maintain your network. Schedule a meeting with your manager to reflect on your achievements and the contribution you have made during your placement. Thank the employer for the opportunity, and be sure to register your interest if you know this is a role and sector you want to consider. Ask about the intended recruitment and see if there’s anything you can do to enhance your prospects – are there future networking events you could attend, or LinkedIn groups to join.
- Keep in touch. Connect with your contacts through LinkedIn (see above!) and follow companies on Twitter and Facebook. Make sure your online profile reflects your professional aspirations.
The benefits of an internship are clear – increased confidence and self-esteem, an enhanced skill set and evidence of your ability to build working relationships with both colleagues and clients. For Paul Harfield, Associate Consultant with Microsoft and Warwick Computer Science graduate, a placement can set you apart from other applicants, “When I asked why I was shortlisted, employers said if you can get an internship at a leading edge company there must be something about you! “