Internships are 100 percent the No. 1 thing you’ll need on your resume to get that first job after college. The No. 2 thing you’ll need is proof you can write. Guess where you get that writing experience? Yep—internships.
To round out the list—and some will disagree with me on this—the No. 3 thing you need to land a job after college is connections. Again, if you play your cards right, you get some through internships.
If you did just put your internship to bed, or you’re about to, there are a few things I’d like you to do on your way out the door:
1. Say thank you.
Personally thank everyone you’ve worked with this summer. A handwritten note is my preference, but a sincere, verbal “thanks for the experience” is the minimum requirement. Provide specifics and leave the door open for future contact. For example: “I really wanted to thank you for the time you spent with me this summer. I know my knowledge on X, or what you taught me about Y will be useful in my career. I look forward to staying in touch as I continue my education or begin my search for my first job.”
2. Get connected.
Make sure you have people’s business cards. Make sure you’re following everyone on Twitter (or are subscribed to their blog). And for Pete’s sake, make sure you connect with them on LinkedIn. Turnover is high in PR and journalism; LinkedIn goes with people from job to job. This is how you’ll build your network over time. It’s important.
BONUS: If you did a great job in your internship (be honest, you know if you did or not), ask the highest-ranking person you worked with to recommend you on LinkedIn. Don’t be shy about this—endorsements on LinkedIn can save you time later on when you need references. Make it easier for the reference writer by giving them some starter points.
For example: “Would you please write a recommendation for me on LinkedIn based on the work I did this summer? It would be great if you could comment on the work I did on project X or your satisfaction with the writing I did on Y.”
Whatever it was that you did, having somebody comment on your work does a couple of things. It draws attention to you in their network, and it sticks with your profile for a long time.
3. Get your samples.
I hope you’ve been collecting copies of the work you did this summer. In most cases, the work you’ve done at your internship is the legal property of the agency or its clients. Make sure you ask your supervisor for permission to use those work samples in your portfolio. You’ll want electronic or hard copies of all the work you did this summer, because there’s no guarantee you can access this stuff later. Websites get replaced. Blog posts get deleted.
You might not think some of the things you worked on are relevant, but believe me, they will be. Save them all so you can customize your portfolio for each interview you do when you start your search.
4. Get coached.
You might be awesome. You might not. Regardless of what you think about yourself and your performance in this internship, ask your supervisor to suggest three areas you can improve on, based on his or her observations this summer. Tell them you want them to be brutally honest with you, because it’s the only way you’re going to improve. People would tell me how great my writing was in my internship, but when I look back a lot of it was sloppy and littered with errors (you know, like a lot of my blog posts). I wish they would have told me to keep working on my writing and editing, and that attention to detail is important.
5. Keep working?
Is there something you’ve done so well this summer that everyone is talking about it? Are people sad you’re leaving, because you don’t be able to do that thing anymore? Suggest to your boss that you keep doing it as a freelancer while you go to school. When I did my first internship in New York, I put together monthly clipping reports for clients (copies of all the press mentions for the month). They were a lot of work back then. I suggested I do the work from my dorm room in upstate New York. The company bought me a computer, leased a copier, and paid me a very good rate to do the reports each month.
This type of opportunity is not the norm, but if you do something exceptional, you might be able to gain valuable work experience (and make some money) while you finish your coursework.
6. Stay in touch.
If you don’t keep working with them, be sure to stay in touch. Keep the lines of communication open. Let people know what interesting stuff you’re learning in school. Attend local Public Relations Society of America or press club events so you can socialize with former co-workers. Interview your co-workers for class projects (or consider inviting them to speak to one of your classes). Of course, if you’re following them on Twitter or Facebook, you can interact on a regular basis through those channels as well.
7. Say only good stuff.
There’s a chance you didn’t have a good experience this summer. Don’t talk about it publicly; it will get back to the agency. I’m not suggesting you lie to anybody, just don’t go around bashing the company that gave you a shot. (It will make people wonder what you say about them when they’re not around.) It’s OK to warn future internships professionally about what to expect, but keep it professional. Along the same lines, keep proprietary information confidential. Don’t talk about the new products clients are working on or their secrets to getting coverage in The New York Times. This will strengthen your own reputation over the course of your career.
8. Don’t burn bridges.
As an extension of No. 7, I have one “don’t” for the end of your internship. Don’t burn bridges. Even if you hated working with somebody with every ounce of your soul, don’t tell that person off on your last day. Don’t decide you’re never going to talk to that person again. It’s a mistake. If you follow the suggestions early on in this post with everyone you worked with this summer, you’ll establish a firm foundation for your network to grow in the future.
9. Share your experience.
You learned a lot this summer. Don’t keep it all to yourself. Blog about it. Talk about it in class. Encourage other students to pursue the same opportunities. Use that experience to fuel you. Learn more, keep practicing, and you will succeed. Share your experience and others will succeed with you—and that’s what it’s all about.