Wrapping up your summer internship: Reflect and connect the dots

Wrapping up your summer internship: Reflect and connect the dots was originally published on College Recruiter.


The summer is winding down and coming to an end, this means many students will wrap up their internships and head back to the classroom. Whether your internship was an outstanding experience or a complete disaster, there is a lot of important reflection to be done. Pam Baker, the founder of Journeous, has dedicated her career to helping young adults choreograph meaningful careers and become focused leaders. Baker accomplishes this by working with individuals to help them find the intersection between their values, interests, and strengths. Jeff Dunn, Campus Relations Manager at Intel, is passionate about helping job seekers at all levels with resumes, interviewing, career planning, and networking. Below we will dive into the most important things to do nearing the end of a summer internship.

Clarity on your career path as you finish your internship

Many students come out of their summer internships feeling thrilled. Even if you didn’t have the best day-to-day experience, you now have something new to add to your resume. Dunn adds, “Hopefully they also enjoyed a majority of their work.”

If you did enjoy the work then it’s a win-win situation. Often companies would love to have you back. Now you have something secured and your boss doesn’t have to go looking for someone to fill your spot. This doesn’t mean that it is uncommon for interns to end internships thinking, “Wow this company really isn’t for me.”

Related: How college students and grads can make the most of their summer internship

Dunn points out that if you enjoyed the work but not the company, that is still great news! Now you know what line of work you want to go into and all you have to do is find which company best suits you. Other times interns come out of a program saying, “You know, I’m really not passionate about this type of work.” This means you might need to course correct a bit. You know what you don’t want to do, and that will narrow down your search.

Chances of staying with the company in the future

At Intel, practically everyone completes the summer internship program. Dunn explains that at Intel they convert 50 to 60 percent of our interns into future hires, whether follow up internships or full-time employees.

Some interns leave with a sense of clarity, but it is also common for many interns to feel unsettled about their career plan. If the latter sounds a lot like you, Baker urges you to have conversations with coworkers. Any feedback from others will help you learn what options you have. Baker suggests going to a senior employee and saying, “I like this aspect of my work, but I’m not sure that this piece was such a great fit…”

Having this conversation will help you see if there is room for you at the company in a different area.

Retain the excitement of this internship back at school

It’s August, so many students are about to have a full course load as they head back to school. If you were motivated by your experience this summer, it is possible to retain that momentum even as you have to start spending your time in school.

If your internship is wrapping up, Dunn strongly encourages you to make a list of all the names and emails of people that might be able to help you. This list will be incredibly useful once you go back to school. Not only will you be able to reach out more easily to get advice, but also you will have someone to get your resume in the door.

Take some time right after finishing your internship to reflect on your experience. Think not only about whether it was a positive experience, but what made it that way. How did it compare to your expectations going into the program? Did you like the environment and culture? Did you enjoy the people you were working with or the size of the company? Baker says, “There are so many attributes and it can be tempting at the end of an internship to simply say, yes, this is great, or no, it wasn’t. Dig a bit deeper.”

“An internship may shift your focus,” says Dunn. It may not all be great, but anything you learn is good. If you’re learning what you don’t like, you’re narrowing down your choices and you can credibly say, ‘I know what I’m good at, I know what I like and don’t like, and this is where I want to go next.’”

“It can feel extremely frustrating if you went into the internship thinking, ‘This is going to be the job of my dreams,’ and then it turns out you don’t care for the work,” Baker points out.

In terms of networking, you’ve met many people over the course of the summer that know you and know how good of a job you have done. They will most likely be welcoming and happy to have this kind of discussion with you. Although, Baker wants you to think about how busy these folks can be. They are probably not going to be the ones reaching out, so you have to take the initiative and be clear.

How to positively gain from a bad internship experience

At large companies, sometimes interns jump around different departments a bit. Dunn explains that while an intern might like the company, they might not like the work they’re doing. He says, “They wonder if moving to the department down the hall is okay. At Intel, we actively encourage people to network, invite others for coffee, and make connections through other interns. It helps them figure out what work will suit them best.”

The best way to learn what interests you is to talk to other people about what they do. Take advantage of any networking events; ask others what they enjoy about their work, what their typical day looks like, what their potential career paths are. “You might find a home at the company, but it’s just a matter of which group are you going to fit in,” Dunn says.

Of course, you can talk to your manager about these things too, but one perspective is not enough. Baker also points out that “it’s a piece of it, but presumably you’ve had lots of interactions by the end of the summer. Get out there and listen to what other perspectives there are and what other paths are being taken.”

Articulating what you have learned this summer

The activity of sitting down and articulating what you’ve learned is not a simple task. To be able to express not only what you have achieved, but also what hard and soft skills you have gained can be challenging.

In general, it’s easier for people to describe their hard skills (technical or functional skills). If you’ve gone to work, you’ve increased your knowledge in that area. To articulate this growth think about what initiative you took, how you applied what you learned in school, and what more you’re capable of now.

It is often more difficult for people to describe their soft skills. “The easiest way to do this,” Dunn says, “Is to ask people: How would you describe me in a couple words or a phrase?”

Others might tell you qualities about yourself that you didn’t realize you had. Students should not feel that they’re on their own in figuring this stuff out. Rely on your network, whether it’s parents, teachers, advisors, or former supervisors. Talk to people to bounce ideas off of and get perspectives on who others think you are.

It is also important to realize where you might need to grow. Maybe while you’re reflecting you realize you were uncomfortable when public speaking. That’s a clue. You’re assessing your skill set.

Baker emphasizes that it is not only the skill that you need to share but also why it matters. She shares, “I started my career out in sales and one of the first things I learned was ‘features tell and benefits sell.’”

It is not only about whether or not you have a skill, but the impact it will have on your potential future hiring manager.

Baker recently had talked with a woman who runs a summer camp who hires many college students to be counselors. At the end of each summer, she has them come together and reflect on their skills they’ve learned. She helps them translate their experiences at the camp to how they can use them in the business world.

Many hiring managers will ask you about your previous experiences and how they have prepared you for this work, but if they don’t, take the initiative. Say, “Here’s what I did, here’s what I learned, and here’s how it will help your organization.”

Articulating your skills to a future employer

Rather than evaluating any of your skills as an “intermediate” or “advanced” level, Dunn recommends speaking in terms of capabilities. “Avoid subjective terms,” he says, and for example, if you’re describing your level of skill using Excel, say instead, “I can do macros and pivot tables.”

There is more subjectivity with soft skills, but you can give examples to demonstrate the skills you possess. If you claim that you have a skill, the next logical thing is to prove it. If you describe yourself as flexible, explain how. Give a specific example of when you used that skill to reinforce your claim.

When attempting to evaluate your own skill level, it can be extremely helpful to have a direct discussion with your manager. Baker suggests going to your manager and saying, “I’m interested in job X. Based on what I’ve observed that job requires a Y level of competency in a particular area.”

Your manager has seen what you’ve done and how you do it. It takes some humility to ask what you need to do to get to that next level of competency. Your manager won’t be telling you how wonderful you are, but instead what you need to improve upon. If you find a job description you’re interested in, show it to your manager. Ask them what you have to work on to get to the competency level required for that job.

The more you think about the skills that you have and which fields you enjoy, the more focused and goal-oriented you will be. Dunn gets many students coming to him who simply want a job, any job. This comes across desperate and unattractive to employers.

An employer wants to hire someone who knows what they want. If you show you’re desperate for any job, Baker says this tells the employer that you don’t really care about their specific job and also, you most likely won’t be around long because you’ll use that job as a way to figure out what you want. They don’t want an employee with one foot out the door.

An internship is not just about impressing the company, it’s also about figuring out your skills and interests. Connect the dots between your experience and the next step.

Many business leaders are familiar with Simon Sinek‘s “Start With Why” presentation and philosophy, but Baker has found that it’s equally powerful from an individual perspective. “Start With Why” is about understanding why a certain type of work speaks to you. It provides many with clarity as to why they connect with their work. It gives them a whole picture instead of just a list of bullet points. To watch Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” click here.

How to “connect the dots” between your internship and your next step

If you have a strong enough “why” you’ll figure out the “how.” The “why” can change too, Dunn admits. He says, “I don’t expect most new grads I hire to stay in their jobs for 10 years. Their needs and interests change. If you want variety in your work, you’re going to get that over time, but you may not get that in one job.”

Dunn pushes students to keep asking questions and exploring their interests. He says, “You can read a lot on the internet about particular jobs, but there is nothing that compares to sitting down and hearing from people you know about what their jobs are like.”

Baker adds that physically doing the job will further your insight. There’s no substitute for taking on pieces of a role and analyzing the experiences. Remember that when you can say no to some things, that’s a real positive. It will help you to get closer to finding your dream job.

By College Recruiter
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