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Motto for interns: Be prepared

The Baltimore Sun

This time of year, corporate offices swell with college interns. The extra help helps employers, and students gain coveted work experience.

Because an internship is a critical steppingstone to employment, students who are prepared to make the most of a summer job will come out way ahead.

Be ready to work.

During his days as an intern, Jamie Fedorko said, some companions always complained about their tasks or felt as though they were owed something. Others were too eager and "incredibly ingratiating."

You don't want to be either, said Fedorko, author of The Intern Files: How to Get, Keep, and Make the Most of Your Internship. The better approach is to work hard and be willing to put in the extra time.

"Don't worry about impressing people," he said.

Be ready to apply the same focus and energy to grunt work, such as making copies or filing.

"Those are the little things that make companies run," Fedorko said. "If you don't show you can do those tasks well, you're certainly not going to be trusted with bigger assignments."

Set specific goals.

At the same time, you won't gain anything from fetching coffee all day.

When you start the internship, sit down with your immediate supervisor and discuss what is expected of you - and what your goals are.

The career center at Florida State University encourages students to establish three measurable goals. Students also are asked to track their progress in written reports and, at the end of the internship, to write a final assessment of what they learned.

"It helps students articulate what they're learning," said Juliette McDonald, program director for FSU's Career Experience Opportunities Office. "It's something they can take with them and say, 'Yes, I've had the experience of reconciling accounts,' or other specifics."

If halfway through your internship you're not making progress, talk to your supervisor. Indicate that you're happy to do what's asked of you, but that you would like to contribute in other ways, too.

Speak up.

Employers like a worker bee, but it is also important to come up for air and make connections with co-workers and share some of your ideas.

"Some of the most successful interns are those that network themselves well, have been innovative and are not afraid to bring up new ideas," said Grace Murphy, vice president and manager of the internship program at Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago.

Not that you have to befriend everyone or offer clever ideas your first day. There will be plenty of office events at which to meet people and chances to share your thoughts. Be ready.

Get feedback.

In formal internship programs, students typically receive a performance review before leaving. Even if your job isn't as structured, ask for feedback.

"It's a huge chance," Fedorko said. "You can find out where you went wrong, what your strengths are and what you can do better."

It's also your opportunity to ask for a letter of recommendation or, if you liked the firm, to remind your supervisor of when you will be graduating. And make sure you express your gratitude for the experience. "The last impression is going to be a lasting impression," Fedorko said.

Stay in touch.

After the internship concludes, stay in touch with your managers or supervisor.

"I encourage the interns to keep an open line of communication with their immediate manager," Northern Trust's Murphy said. "We always emphasize the importance of continuing and managing those relationships."

Doing so can pay off: About 30 percent of Northern Trust's interns are hired for the firm's entry-level, full-time program.


Carolyn Bigda writes for Tribune Media Services.

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