For young people looking to start a career, internships during college have become a baseline requirement for many full-time opportunities. But it’s important not to equate an internship with the part-time job you had in high school or college. Think of yourself as a real employee instead of just an intern and you could be offered a permanent position.
Patty Grabiec, a public relations student at the City College of New York, was able to turn an internship at a financial advising firm into a full-time gig through persistence. “I didn’t know a thing about finance, but when I was offered the position, I was determined to learn everything I could to do my job well,” she said.
In addition to her regular intern duties at Raymond James (filing, shredding papers, managing faxes and organizing spreadsheets), Grabiec focused on expanding her skillset by being crosstrained in different departments and sitting in on weekly staff meetings. She also made her skills known to her superiors, offering to help co-workers use social media. Her dedication paid off, but it took a while–she spent almost two years working at the company, slowly gaining more responsibility while advancing toward her degree at Colorado. She was offered a full-time job in October.
“I didn’t see any reason for leaving,” she said. “I was learning so much. Everybody was very helpful as far as teaching me what I wanted to know. I was basically here to learn.”
Now Grabiec is in charge of the hiring herself. What’s she looking for in a potential employee? A strong cover letter is important for showing your ability to communicate, and your resume should offer specific descriptions of your work experience. “When hiring new employees, we always want to see a history of hard work and ‘getting your foot in the door,’” she said.
A lack of relevant experience in college is an immediate red flag. “It makes me wonder why they didn’t seize the opportunity to get involved with their future career field,” she said. “Your career is what you supposedly want to do for the rest of your life. Why not show some of that passion early on? It’s never too early to enter the world.”
When you do land that internship or first job, Grabiec said it’s important to understand what you want from the position and build towards that. “There’s nothing wrong with some filing or grabbing coffee at the very beginning of an internship, but if you’re not progressing from that, you need to take the action to progress,” she said.
Higher-ups aren’t necessarily looking to help you advance, she said. Instead, flip your perspective and think about what you can do to help them. That’s the quickest way to make yourself essential to a company.
If you find an organization you like, you shouldn’t be afraid to take something that seems beneath your college degree. “A lot of college grads are expecting to get their corner office right away,” Grabiec said. “You have to start at the bottom. I think a lot of people don’t get that.”