If you want to land an entry-level job at a specific company after graduation, the best way to do it is to first prove yourself at that company through an internship or co-op. But you can't expect to turn an internship into a full-time job just by showing up for your assignment with a pulse and a clock to watch the time go by.
"As an intern, you are in competition with other interns for full-time openings," says Christi Lehner, director of college relations for Abbott Laboratories. "You need to set yourself apart and show your value to the organization."
Take Your Role as an Intern or Co-Op Student Seriously
"Treat your internship as if it was a real job," says Megan Elias, a public relations graduate from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Elias interned with Animal Friends, an animal shelter in Pittsburgh, before landing a full-time job there last summer.
"Whether it's a full or part-time internship -- paid, unpaid or for college credits -- take it seriously," Elias advises. "Work hard. Just because you're an intern doesn't mean you shouldn't take your duties seriously."
Elias knows whereof she speaks. During her special-events planning internship at Animal Friends, she coordinated a "Bark ‘n' Brew" social event, handling everything from making contacts and developing a budget to publicizing the event and even working with the participating dogs.
"Be proactive," says Jessica Eichner, special events coordinator for Animal Friends, and the person who closely observed Elias during her internship. "If you see something that needs to be started or can be improved, ask your supervisor if you can take on the job -- and then start working."
Go Above and Beyond the Minimum
Anne Bennett, a chemistry graduate from the University of Colorado at Denver, is now in a full-time psychiatric research position at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. But she says she wouldn't have gotten the job without first demonstrating her commitment to the Center's work through her internship there.
"First and foremost, I showed interest in the subject matter and offered all of my spare time to doing projects around the office," she says. "I tried to get involved in everything, and I was here as much as I could be. I was only scheduled to work 20 hours a week, but I worked, on average, approximately 30 hours per week."
Build Strong Relationships by Listening and Learning
It's critical for you to understand that, as an intern, you don't know everything, says Cory Otto, a 2004 industrial engineering graduate from the University of Minnesota at Duluth who interned at the Fridley, Minnesota, site of weapons manufacturer United Defense.
"Listening ties in to the ability to comprehend the tasks assigned to you," says Otto, who is now an associate operations engineer for the company. "It's important that you never assume you know what your boss wants. If you have any questions, ask."
Adds Kate Marzinske, an accountant with McGladrey & Pullen in Minneapolis who interned with the firm before landing a permanent position there after graduation: "Interns need to be willing to learn something new every day. If someone asks you to do something, don't be afraid to say, ‘I've never done that before, but I'm certainly willing to give it a try.'"
Tell Colleagues You Want to Stick Around
If you want a full-time job at the organization where you're interning, make sure the people there are aware of it. Never assume, stresses Bennett.
"When I knew I was graduating, I approached one of my superiors -- specifically, the administrative person who handles the money -- and asked if there was extra money to hire me as a full-time employee," Bennett says. "She made the balls roll and talked to my boss -- and I was hired."
Now it's your turn.