how to turn your internship into a full-time job offer

usnewsIf you’re working in an internship this summer, you might be able to  parlay it into a full-time job offer when the summer is over. Or, if you do things wrong, everyone might just breathe a sigh of relief when the summer ends.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about how interns can put themselves in the first category rather than the second. You can read it here.

Feel free to share in the comments about what you’ve seen interns do really well … and really poorly.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. cheeky

    I had several internships in undergraduate and graduate school, as did my peers, and I don’t know any that turned into real job offers. It doesn’t seem to be part of most companies’ plans when they hire interns- they want cheap labor.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It can vary by field, but it’s very much a thing that can happen! There are internships that will never turn into a regular job, internships where it could happen but it’s not the norm, internships where most people do get offers at the end of them, and all kinds of variations in between.

      Reply
    2. Emilia Bedelia

      My experience is exactly the opposite: my company almost exclusively hires former interns for a lot of entry level positions, and most interns who want a full time job get an offer. It’s treated more like an extended training/test run period- the interns do actual work (short term, less in-depth, less mission critical projects, but still real experience), and when they come on board full time, the intern is expected to hit the ground running.
      Many of my friends who had internships had a similar experience- while not all of them pursued full time offers at their internships, most of them could probably call up their former supervisor and basically ask for a job, if they wanted it.

      Reply
      1. Beezus

        This is similar to my company’s intern program. We have three key hiring areas where we have a really clear pathway from intern to entry level employee to a step past entry level, and we consistently move people along that path. We don’t hire all of our interns and we hire new grads who didn’t intern too, but we definitely have a strong record of hiring and developing interns.

        Reply
    3. KTB

      My company also frequently hires our interns. In the event that we don’t hire them, we frequently help with placements, such as with clients or other agencies. We definitely appreciate what they do for us while they’re here, but we don’t have interns just for the cheap labor.

      Reply
    4. Jerry Vandesic

      I have had multiple summer interns over the years, and we are always looking to get a full time job offer (post-graduation) into the hands of the interns that impress us. To do this, I focus on hiring rising seniors for internships. Every internship has two components: 1) get some useful work out of the intern, and 2) evaluate their potential for full time employment. For me the evaluation is more important than the useful work. I think of every internship as a three month interview.

      For those that do a great job and we want to hire, a full time offer is made the last week of their internship. To help keep things warm, I often combine the full time offer with an offer to do some contracting work over the school year.

      Reply
    5. Lemon Zinger

      Absolutely. I took an internship with a government office and found out immediately that student workers were doing the exact same menial task I was expected to do all summer– except they were paid and I was not.

      I lasted a couple of weeks before realizing the field (and internship) was not for me, and when I quit my boss was not surprised.

      Reply
    6. KarenT

      We keep many of our interns. Our internship program is a 12 week program affiliated with two local colleges that takes place in the spring semester. Anyone who does well will be invited to stay the summer. Many are offered full time entry level positions in the fall.

      Reply
    7. Trout 'Waver

      Even if the company doesn’t have an opening to convert an intern role into a permanent position, if you do the things Alison describes in her article you’ll have people on your side helping you find a full time position elsewhere.

      I’m on the opposite side of this right now. My intern from last summer just graduated and is looking for a job, but I don’t have a spot to hire him. I have been active in giving him advice on who’s hiring and serving as a reference, though.

      Reply
      1. Person of Interest

        Agreed. While I would gladly hire my current intern, there’s no funding for it. But I have been very open with job advice and will gladly give her a positive reference, connect her with someone in my network if she needs a specific connection, etc.

        Reply
      2. Julianne

        I see this a lot in my field, too. In my grad school cohort (n = 5), only one person got a full-time job offer at his internship site, but three other people (including me) got our first jobs after school through connections we made during our internships. My supervisor at my internship site had previously worked for another employer in the field and was still on good terms with folks there, and she recommended me for a position (which I got), for example.

        Reply
    8. Chinook

      80% of our engineers-in-training were originally co-op students (engineering interns?). Plus, this is a small industry, so if someone was ever to be spectacularly bad, odds are good that word of misdeeds would spread like wildfire.

      Reply
    9. CR

      At my office the interns don’t get job offers right away, because as you said they’re just temporary cheap help, but there have been interns who applied to jobs further down the line (months or years later) and the fact that they did an internship worked in their favour.

      Reply
    10. hbc

      Everywhere I’ve worked (not a huge sample) had basically zero connection between internships and future full time jobs. I mean, if you did awesome and there happened to be an entry level position open at the time, you had a good shot at getting it. But there was no goal of hiring a certain percentage of interns or making sure you had an open position for them to step into.

      I think my last company primarily saw the program as a way to get their name out there, to give a little back to the community (trust me, the amount of work it took to have interns exceeded whatever they contributed), and to give a little perk when giving preference to employees’ kids. My current company only does it when there’s a small, defined, non-staffed project that could be a good learning experience and for which it would be ridiculous to pay consulting fees. Maybe that sounds like exploiting cheap labor, but it’s more like hiring the neighbor kid versus hiring a full-blown yard service when all you need is your grass cut.

      Reply
    11. De Minimis

      We’ve hired several students full-time, and some have become long term employees. Some of it is the right place at the right time, and with others we’ve reached out to them a few years after graduation when the right position has opened up.

      It definitely is a case though where we have to have an opening, we don’t have a process where interns will automatically get a job offer [some fields do operate this way.]

      Biggest things are to do good work and be interested in pitching in wherever needed.

      Reply
    12. one of the feds

      I started with my US federal government agency as a GS-1 summer intern back in 2008. (I remember when I was quickly moved up to a GS-3 because I had two years of college and I felt like hot stuff, let me tell you.) I’m currently a GS-13 on a temporary promotion to a GS-14, working for the same agency. It happens! I had a lot of good luck–I went to graduate school nearby so I could continue my internship, and they were able to hire when I graduated.

      Holy schnikes, I just realized I make 5 times what I started at. And I felt like I was queen of the world making $10/hour and then $12/hour over the summer.

      Reply
      1. De Minimis

        I have a friend who started out as an intern at a federal agency and has remained there for her entire [30+ year] career. I don’t know what grade she is at now [it’s one of the agencies where the info isn’t public] but it’s gotta be way up there.

        Reply
    13. SusanIvanova

      In software we give interns projects that are nice to have but not essential, so if need be we can scrap it with no loss. Cheap labor isn’t really a thing for us – if it’s badly done, the maintenance costs will kill you. I can’t recall any interns we didn’t make offers to, even though we didn’t get all of them.

      Reply
    14. Zinnia

      IME, larger companies and those in specific professions (e.g. accounting) that hire a “class” of new grads every year tend to hire heavily from their intern pool. With smaller companies it’s much more hit or miss, dependent on whether they have an opening.

      Reply
    15. nonegiven

      My niece interned with the same office of the same big 4 firm every summer of university and started work full time after graduation

      Reply
    16. Software Engineer

      I think it varies a lot by industry. I’m in tech where a lot of interns get return offers (an offer of FTE after graduation) and there’s a set process for deciding. Also in the tech industry interns aren’t very cheap! Ha

      Reply
      1. Insert name here

        That’s a fact. I could have easily supported myself on what my internships paid (I slummed off my parents when I was in college)

        Reply
    17. Insert name here

      It probably varies but my second internship did hire me on full time and I stayed for eight years!
      My first internship hired on former interns too, but I was still in school vs about to graduate like the people they hired on.

      Reply
  2. Anonymous Poster

    Both of these were at different places I’ve worked.

    Best: Intern kicked off converting an old, hacked together internal webpage that wasn’t really maintainable into a sharepoint. A full time employee ended up taking it over, and it was much more functional than what we had before. It was a bit of drudgery, but absolutely fantastic at helping everyone’s workflow, once we got used to the new intranet site setup.

    Worst: Intern found a quiet stairwell in a corner of the building, and would sneak off for 1-3 hour naps during the day. This place didn’t start any disciplinary activity because “they’re only here for 3 months.”

    Reply
  3. Ramona Flowers

    I got my first journalism job from an internship. I observed people around me and when I needed some information I called the PR listed on the press release and said what I’d heard them saying. Apparently I was the first intern ever to make a phone call without being told to.

    Reply
  4. Coming Up Milhouse

    The best advice I received so many years ago was to “be present.” Not just showing up for work, not just networking, not just going through the motions but understanding the hows and whys, treating grunt work like a top project, listening and taking notes during meetings…and it’s advice I still use today. While I didnt end up getting a job out of my internship, I did get several recommendations and references that allowed me to get a job immediately after graduation with another company.

    I think putting aside a phone for a while, acting invested and involved in a meeting and then putting your best into each task given goes a very long way.

    Reply
    1. Landshark

      I really wish I’d followed this advice when I interned. I lost a lot of good learning opportunities until I started taking it more seriously. This is great advice that I hope more people follow.

      Reply
  5. AMD

    I worked briefly at a site with someone else’s intern, and asked “So, what made you choose this industry?”
    “My friend was going into it, and the school offered me a lot of scholarship money.”
    “What area of the industry do you want to work in after you graduate?”
    “Whatever makes the most money.”

    Not impressive. Then during later downtime, same intern discovered I was religious and began to grill me – not disrespectfully but a little incredulously – about what I believed. Just weird all around – id he was my intern, he would not have been super impressive.

    Reply
  6. Bostonian

    I wish my department had an open position so we could hire our intern this year! She’s always engaged, eager to learn, and not afraid to ask questions (that last one being my favorite thing about her). And she asks the kinds of questions that show she’s thinking about the material and trying to get a more complete/clear understanding.

    Reply
    1. DB Queen

      Yup me too. My intern is fantastic and has accomplished everything and more that I had planned and hasn’t been a drain on my time – any more than expected. I think they’d fit in here really well and I’m bummed to have to say goodbye at the end of the summer :(

      Reply
  7. SL #2

    I think the only caveat is, for any hopeful summer interns reading this right now, you can do all of these things ‘right’ and wow everyone you meet… and still not get a job offer at the end. And that’s okay! Your career is the ultimate long game, so being conscientious about everything you’re assigned, from grunt work all the way to drafting a policy brief for the CEO, is really going to help you in the long run. Who knows, maybe your internship supervisor doesn’t have a job offer for you right now… but she might be looking for a new junior associate in 2 years when you’re also looking for a new job.

    Reply
    1. hayling

      My guess is that the pitch for the article was about getting hired from your internship (and that’s a very clickable headline), but it’s generally just sound advice for interns and also for young employees new to the workforce in general.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        How to Maximize the Odds That Your Internship Leads to a Permanent Job Offer, Someday, Through Some Path would be more accurate but pretty long.

        Reply
  8. Susiedoesbooks

    My daughter has an internship this summer (she is 18, just graduated from high school and received her AA from a community college at the same time). I don’t feel like they hired her for “cheap labor” – they are paying her $17.00/hr (here in WA State minimum is $11/hr)! She said that they wanted her to “love the company” and want to be a part of it when she graduated with her degree.

    Reply
  9. Andrew

    The company I am at probably hires interns for cheap labor and it pretty much lasts until you graduate (there are a few two year interns). At the same time it looks like most are hired after they graduate, though not a sure thing. Most here started off as interns from the local university.

    Hoping to finish grad I school and get a full time job out of it to finish off the career transition. But i’ve gotten a lot of this internship since I started in Jan

    Reply
  10. Leslie Knope

    A story about an intern not paying attention to office norms:

    I was an intern at a large Fortune 500 company where the culture was definitely all about face time. For example, everyone ate lunch at their desk and days were usually 12+ hours. The team would arrive around 6:30AM and stay until 6:30 – 7PM. However, an intern who sat next to me would come in slightly early and then leave promptly at 4:00PM. He thought he had put his time in and was eligible to leave. I remember watching him leave and being so surprised. Other interns would usually leave around 5:30-6PM, given that most of our projects involved people in different time zones who were then gone. People would often raise their eyebrows as he’d confidently walk out of the office.

    It was one of those things that maybe if you had been at a company for a long time and had worked out a schedule with your boss would be okay. But, as someone who’s only there for 10 weeks, definitely not a practice I’d do on a daily basis.

    Reply
    1. SL #2

      But that’s on him and his internship supervisor to talk about, so I don’t know if I’d blame the intern or if I’d blame the supervisor for not laying out clear expectations fro the get-go. How would the intern know what the face time expectations are if he’s only there for 10 weeks, and especially if it’s something as out-of-the-ordinary as “you need to stay 12 hours instead of the standard 8.”

      Reply
    2. Snark

      Honestly, his expectations were fundamentally sound – it was the workplace culture of “face time” and pointless 12 hour days that was the problem, and if he erred it was in imagining that it was a functional workplace run along logical lines. When you think about it, it’s not actually normal for people to allow themselves to be devalued by working 150% time for the same salary most places pay for 40 hour weeks.

      Reply
      1. Mouse

        Or no salary. Even if the intern was paid, there’s no way it was non-exempt. It was probably hourly. Was he approved for overtime? Or expected to work off-the-clock?

        I’m a good worker (I think). I’ve been working for a long time, and I’m pretty set on norms and behaviors. I’m also currently a paid hourly intern. I leave between 5:00 and 5:10 every day, because I have to- I’m not allowed to go into overtime. When I’m paid a salary, then I’ll work the hours I need to work to get the job done.

        Reply
        1. SL #2

          I’m a junior-level associate, working full-time and paid hourly, and I stop working every day at 5:30 pm because I’m legally required to. I cannot imagine a situation where it’d be okay for the interns to work 12 hour days every day, likely with no overtime.

          Reply
    3. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend

      Are there really places where a 12 hour day is expected of interns? How did you handle that? If those hours had been explained to me, paid or unpaid, I would have probably walked out and not returned.

      Reply
      1. SL #2

        I wanted to make this point in my comment but I couldn’t think of a way to phrase it that wasn’t snarky and mean. If a company is expecting 12 hour days out of their interns (and likely not paying overtime), I would be calling the state labor board to file a complaint.

        Reply
    4. anonymouse

      I really thought this comment was going to be about how wonderful an employee April Ludgate blossomed into after her internship, based on your name.

      Reply
  11. Orange

    My first internship was unpaid, and has turned into a paid contracting gig, even though I haven’t graduated yet! I think all the advice I absorbed by trawling through this blog’s archives definitely helped. :)

    I think one thing that really helped me was maintaining open communication… I would always email if I was going to be late, and when I was suddenly out for an extended period of time, I kept them in the loop.

    I also offered my own plan of action for something, if I had one. “This is when I’ll be out and this is how I plan to catch up with my work when I return.” Or, “This is the problem I’ve been having and this is how I plan to solve it,” though I would also ask for suggestions even if I thought I knew what to do. Being proactive and honest appealed to them, I think.

    Reply
  12. Naptime Enthusiast

    Along the lines of office culture – decide if the culture is the right fit for you, and if not, figure out what culture you’re looking for. My company is very teamwork-driven because our products and services are just too complicated for one person or a handful of people to do all of the work. That is perfect for me, and I’ve found that I prefer big-picture work rather than the detail-oriented analysis but there’s room for all types of people. Therefore, when I’m at career fairs or interviewing interns or new hires, I ask them about team projects they’ve worked on and how they’ve worked with others in the past. Some people only want to work on their own tasks, or they want a competitive environment rather than collaborative, and that’s okay! This just is not the place for them to work.

    Worst intern story: There was a group of fellow interns that took 3-hour lunches to go to the movies throughout the summer. At their end-of-summer presentations to our department directors, we are supposed to talk about our work throughout the summer. Instead, they presented their own “research”, and listed what the company didn’t do well compared to other firms their friends were interning with, like catered lunches and paid outings and free housing (this was a very well-paid internship). Their sense of entitlement was cringeworthy, though the directors hid their displeasure very well.

    Reply
  13. Falling Diphthong

    Unlike in school, other people are relying on the work you produce.

    This really struck me–doing poorly on an academic assignment (late, details sloppy, poorly thought out, etc) pretty much just harms you*. But if you do that with your assignment at a job, other people are affected. And may skip over ‘what a good learning opportunity’ and go straight to working out ways to remove you from the loop of anything that affects their job.

    Some of the head-shaking “but I thought” pushbacks from interns could be seen as all their past experience being stuff that only affected them, and so “but I thought” was an absolutely vital piece. (I’m thinking of a rental agreement–from professors to other professors, no interns, PhDs all around–that included the requirement to mow the grass around the house deep in the country. They didn’t, because it looked so pretty changing colors in the dry fall. It is pretty, it’s also a fire hazard, which is why the people letting the house spelled it out in the rental contract.)

    *Possibly inconveniences the teacher, but in the sense that they decide not to drop everything and grade your paper right then, rather than the entire Biology Department grinds to a halt.

    Reply
  14. nnn

    The story of how I accidentally turned my internship into a full-time job:

    I was at the point in my professional development when I couldn’t tell when to stop working on something. When I was making a metaphorical teapot, I’d keep polishing it and polishing it, and I genuinely couldn’t tell when it was sufficiently polished.

    At my internship, each teapot order came with a workflow sheet with a time estimate on it. They told me that since I’m just a brand new intern I’m not expected to meet the time estimate, it just has to be on the workflow sheet for administrative purposes.

    So I decided, as an experiment, to stop polishing each teapot once I reached the amount of time indicated on the workflow sheet, and see what happens. (Everything went through quality control with direct feedback, so if this experiment was a failure I’d know right away and be able to recover.)

    Long story short, it worked! I was able to finish the vast majority of my work o expected quality standards within the time estimate, and those that I wasn’t able to finish within the time estimate were really fiddly and therefore more time-consuming than usual. (There’s a tradition of giving interns the really fiddly work that requires excessive time but not special expertise.)

    Unbeknownst to me, they were on a huge productivity push, and they were so impressed by the fact that I was able to meet productivity targets as a brand new intern that they moved mountains to hire me upon graduation.

    Reply
  15. Torrance

    Is this advice geared primarily toward paid interns? Otherwise, how do the ‘other people are relying on the work you produce’ & ‘do grunt work cheerfully’ parts align with the requirements of unpaid internships (namely the immediate advantage & displacing employees guidelines)?

    Reply
    1. hayling

      Unfortunately, I think a lot of companies are giving unpaid interns the type of work they should be paid for.

      Reply
  16. Colette

    My department once had a high school coop – she worked a few hours a week and got a high school credit + honorarium each semester. Since we liked her work, we brought her on as a (paid) summer student. She did a good job the first year, so we brought her back the next summer. A couple of weeks in, she needed a couple of days off. I don’t remember why – it was a workshop or something school related. My manager said sure, school’s important, and gave her the days off.

    A few weeks later she called in on Sunday and announced she was taking a week off for a school-related event in another city.

    She did not come back a third year.

    Reply
    1. Colette

      And my point was that, as a student, school is important – but we are also paying you because we have work that needs to get done, so if you’re off 10% of the time, that’s a problem.

      Reply
      1. SL #2

        If she’d let you know with more advance notice (say, a month or two in advance), would you have let her take that week off and would you have brought her back for a 3rd year? Because I sense that she’s going to think that she wasn’t hired for a 3rd year because the company didn’t think she should be going on the school trip at all because it interfered with her work schedule, not because she erred in not letting you know until the Sunday before.

        Reply
        1. Colette

          It wasn’t my decision, but I suspect both were a factor. She was working full time for 2 months; seven days is a lot to miss for non-critical reasons. If she’d raised it when she was hired, we could have evaluated the impact and decided whether it made sense to bring her on,

          Reply
  17. Jennifer

    In my experience, the best way to get a job after your internship is “be there when someone else quits or gets another job so there’s a slot available and you’re known.”

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      Hey, it’s how I got my first job. Someone quit outside of standard hiring season, and someone called me and asked if I was interested.

      Reply
    2. SL #2

      If I’d wanted it, I would’ve gotten a full-time offer from my fellowship because the full-time organizer (and one of my bosses!) quit during my term.

      Reply
  18. Quickbeam

    My company absolutely hires interns at the end of the summer. Key things are actually being helpful, showing up, dress code adherence and good team spirit. If they phone it in though, they are gone.

    Reply
  19. GT

    I supervised interns in a natural history museum. Two interns made friends with a grad student, and in an effort to impress the interns, he told them outlandish stories, including that he would make and eat “turtle soup” with baby turtles that had been brought in (invasive species). There is no way this would happen, but they apparently did not know that.
    The soup story distressed the two interns (who were a bit…gullible) and they set about figuring out how to free the turtles, without asking anyone else in the museum. They emailed agencies outside the museum, pleading with them to take the turtles to save them from being soup. Cue angry email from great-boss, demanding I explain why my interns have attempted to “free the turtles,” and what I was doing about it.

    Reply
  20. Planner Lady

    That last point is so important! I don’t manage interns in my company, but have assisted various interns in their work and worked with them on various projects. I’m pretty generous with my time with interns and people who are interested in my line of work because I know I struggled to get that level of information in my own career, but I’m yet to have someone thank me for taking time out of my day to help them. Rather, the assumption is that I am there to help them, and have nothing better to do with my time.
    I think this is an adjustment from university, where your lecturers and tutors are there to ensure you succeed (amongst their other work) whereas at work you need to respect your co-workers have competing priorities.

    Reply
  21. Mab

    In my experience, interns are unpaid menial labor that disappears when the class is over. The notion of a paid internship that leads to a job is open to business majors who want to work in a big corporation. Boring.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Actually there are quite a lot of paid internships that don’t confine themselves to business majors. It sounds like you’ve only been exposed to a very small sliver of the internships out there!

      Reply
  22. Mab

    I have been in my industry (communications) for 20 years and have yet to see an organized internship program that’s not bent on exploiting the eagerness of youth with minimal long term benefit other than to the company.

    Reply
  23. Sila

    I work in bleeding edge tech, and our interns are paid very well, between $20-35 an hour. Honestly, I was a little jealous, because I wasn’t making that much when I started full time with work experience! (It’s fair- I have benefits and I’m not a software person.) We always like to talk about how we hire interns and it’s true – several of our senior folks and more than one Vice President of an entire division started out as interns, 15-20 years ago. We have lots of interns who return for two or three summers in a row. And the “top intern” (not sure by what metric) is guaranteed a full time job offer, but I’d say about 25-30% of them end up receiving job offers at some point and even starting on part time in their last semester. This is because they’re working on state of the art stuff that requires very specialized skill sets. Even a summer intern, if they’ve been able to catch on and contribute to the project, acquires very valuable institutional knowledge that is hard to hire for.
    But I can tell you who tend not to get hired, and maybe this will be helpful for brilliant interns heading into a sought after, competitive tech job. Of course, it’s the overconfident ones who don’t accept feedback well. I’m dead serious when I say it’s more common for highly qualified students from state or technical schools (like RPI) to get a full time job offer than Harvard students, simply because a lot of the Harvard students don’t work as hard and don’t make as much of the opportunity. Not always true across the board, but since our industry is so stereotypically full of “brilliant jerks” we are especially wary of entitled types who think they’re so smart they don’t have to play well with others or do entry level work — there are no entry level full time staff here except just-hired interns, so it’s not like anyone else is better suited to do the boring stuff. Being adaptable and hard working has proven to be much more important than raw talent as a predictor of future intern success. And quite honestly, they all have plenty of raw talent so it’s just the threshold to get your foot in the door, not a differentiator that gets you hired.

    Internships really vary but I think the sought after high tech internships often hire with exactly those considerations in mind and a little humility goes a long way. I’m far from being an intern and I’m still learning.

    Reply
  24. marley

    I work in higher-ed in a rural area, so local internships are few and sought after heavily by students. I recently helped start an internship program in IT, and it’s been great. It’s hard to find people with good IT skills in the middle of no-where, so it seemed silly not to recruit students, and hope they want to stick around after graduation for full-time positions. It’s a win-win for everyone.
    Of the three interns I’ve had so far, they’ve all been offered and accepted full-time positions.
    The things that helped them receive offers were their time management, their willingness and ability to learn new things quickly, and communication.

    Reply

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