Internships are great learning experiences. You get to dip a toe in your chosen industry, and either start working toward the future job you want, or decide that hey, maybe it’s not for you after all. (It happens.) But how do you maximize your relatively short time at your internship? What are you supposed to take from it, besides a resume point? One word: networking.
Networking, or forming relationships with people in your professional field, is one of the most important things you can do at every level of your career. And when you’re just starting out in an internship, you have the opportunity to start building that network the right way. Here are 4 strategies you can use as an intern to get that network up and running.
1. Don’t blow off company events.
Company events can be awkward and boring, sure, but they also have two things going for them: 1) free food (usually); and 2) people congregating in one place. So if your internship company advertises any kind of group event that’s open to employees, you should go, even if it’s not mandatory. Company softball game, and you can’t throw? Go and sit in the stands and make friends. Book party for that executive who wrote a super-boring treatise on project management? Go, eat some cheese cubes, and chat with people from departments other than your own. Any event can be useful for networking, as long as you’re up for it. And even if you’re an introvert, don’t let that stop you.
2, Organize your own events.
As an intern, it can feel like you’re on the low end of the power scale, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to make inroads with the people around you. You might not want to start by inviting the CEO for drinks, but you can try to organize lunches with your fellow interns, or some kind of after-work activity where you invite some of the people you work with.
3. Ask for references before you leave.
Don’t be shy! Before you wrap up your internship, ask key people if you can use them as a recommendation for future jobs. This way, you’re not only cementing your network contact, but also setting up a framework for actually asking for a reference later. Most people will likely say yes, but if you get a “no,” don’t sweat it—just move on to someone who might be more appropriate or willing to provide you a reference.
4. Stay in touch.
Before you leave the company at the end of summer or your internship period, send a thank you to everyone you’ve worked with—everyone who’s helped you in some way. Get business cards or contact information, then make an effort to stay in touch. LinkedIn is a great way to do this, but it’s also good to drop an email once in a while, ask how things are going these days at Corporate Corp., and let them know what you’re up to as well. Maintaining network relationships isn’t that hard, unless you let them lapse and have to awkwardly start from the beginning when you need something later.
Whatever on-the-job expertise you gain from your internship, the longer-term benefits are likely to come from the relationships you form while working there. Make sure you’re making the most of your time at any company, no matter how you feel about the work.
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