The Importance of Networking for Interns

by Rich DeMatteo on November 16, 2009 · 23 comments

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Last week I read a post from one of my favorite bloggers, Ryan Stephens, who wrote a piece called “How to be an Awesome Intern”.   My long ass response to his post suggested that networking is critical for the intern.  This long comment I shared with Ryan and his readers inspired me to turn it into a full blown post on COTJ.   Do yourself a favor and stop by Ryan’s blog, not only is he a good guy but he also loves Dexter and LOST as much as I do.

What is the true purpose of an internship? Money? Online college credits?  Securing a job before graduation?  Strong arguments can be made for each, but I think internships are meant for building up your resume and experience.  Most organizations fail hard in running an internship program, and have trouble identifying/keeping their top interns.  Ryan agrees with this and says, “Don’t limit yourself to the company you’re interning with. Keep building your brand and exploring other options.”  Well put.

Maybe you won’t rack up 15 internships like Lauren Berger AKA “The Intern Queen” was able to do in her college career (yes, she seriously took on 15 internships), but your experience will prove invaluable to you in the future, and the contacts you make are critical to your future.  In her post, “Why students should take unpaid internships”, Lauren says that she’s kept in contact with all of her fellow interns and program coordinators through the years (from all 15 internships), and those contacts have helped her land jobs and interviews.  So, she will agree with me when I say that networking is absolutely critical for your success as an intern.

So, how does an intern use networking to effectively boost their career?

Step 1: Create a LinkedIn account immediately

Given that the company probably won’t hire you on, you’ll need a professional way to stay connected.  Add co-workers, other interns, program coordinators, even clients/vendors to your LinkedIn contacts.  I’ve read that 80% of organizations use LinkedIn for hiring, so you can imagine how important it is to begin building your contacts ASAP.  If you feel particularly brave, ask a few people for recommendations of your work.  Most people are happy to oblige, and this will make you look like a rock star to future employers.  Avoid Facebook/Myspace if possible.

Step 2: Get involved

You don’t need to be the most skilled to get noticed.  Get involved in projects, ask questions, and find an influential employee of the company that may offer guidance.  Bust your ass and volunteer to be on as many projects as possible.  Not only will you increase your learning, but you’ll meet more people to add to your LinkedIn account!  

Step 3: Happy Hour!

Hang out with your co-workers and fellow interns when possible.  A friendship to back up your professional relationship is always helpful.  I realize some interns may not be of age to enjoy happy hour drinks, so look for other ways to hang out.  Go to dinner with a group of other interns, or maybe go to a baseball game.  Make it a point to at least build a friendship with at least one other person.

 

How have internships helped you in your career?  Have you kept in touch with any former co-workers or fellow interns?

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21 comments
Karla Porter
Karla Porter

I'm really glad I came across this post Rich, it is 100% in line with one of my 2010 work objectives... to create an internship program in my community with 5 local colleges and universities that is robust, easy to navigate, meaningful and valuable with real world experiential learning 'mini full-cycle career" for the Intern and an introduction to a possible employer. Employers also need assistance not just an Intern dropped on them, many times they do not participate in offering internships because they are unsure of how to manage them the "right" way. There is a lot involved in the process to make it work the way it should, to the benefit of the Intern, college, industry and community. Your post provoked some very interesting comments as well... thanks for providing me additional perspective I shall take with me to work...

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Paul - great thoughts here! I agree, the number of connections is not important, it really is the quality. Not just interns, but all of us need to be working with our contacts on LinkedIn to make the most of that relationship. I do think that interns should add as many people as possible in the beginning. The more people they build to their online network, the higher chance they have at building some quality contacts. Great point about asking questions. Pretty critical here, and I'm glad you pointed that out.

Paul Smith
Paul Smith

Rich, this is some good advice for interns. Here are some additional thoughts. First the number of contacts one has on LinkIn is not that impressive. LinkIn could be going the way of Facebook very quickly: it is easy to get folks on your network that you really don't know. It is not the quantity of connections, it is the quality. Networking is collaborative communications that can sometimes border on altruism. If someone is turning out to not be such a great connection, move on & find another. Don't take this personally. Your connections are busy, and maybe just too busy right now. Secondly, interns should not be afraid to ask questions in an interview, find out as much as possible about the internship before accepting an offer. Your internship needs to be a learning experience. Find out if you are going to be doing real work or are you fetching coffee & making copies.

Royce
Royce

Oh, and NEVER be a complainer. Ever. Nobody likes whining.

Royce
Royce

I think this is a great post and has lots of great advice. But let's get right to the most important thing - LOST rocks. I mean it is freaking awesome. I tremble in anticipation for season 6. Now that that's out of the way, I completely agree about networking. I think the bulk of networking actually happens naturally for an intern as you work with your bosses and coworkers and prove to them your worth on various projects. Letting them get to see how you work and think is by far your biggest goal as an intern, so work your ass off and be extremely professional. One sad note about my job - for some reason there is zero outside-of-work socializing, which makes me sad because I have very limited relationships with most of my coworkers. I do feel I'd have stronger professional prospects if this were not the case. I think this is in large part because my office is small and most of the employees are much older with families, to whom they immediately go home after work. But for a job where you can go to happy hour and socialize, have at it. One last piece of advice I have found useful - do not reveal too much about your personal life as an intern (or really ever). It's not cool to talk about how much drinking you got up to over the weekend. Or what club you were at. Or whatever. Some basic info is good color - I went to the football game, or I went camping, etc. - but then leave some mystery. Ultimately I think it's much better.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Lindsey, great point. It is surely important for anyone at any stage of their career. I do agree with you to an extent. Getting the job will always be easy with a strong network, but without the skill sets required, one may fail once they get to that position. It does happen a lot obviously when someone less qualified gets the job, but I've also seen those people fail in the job when they don't have the qualifications necessary. Thanks for the comment!

Lindsey
Lindsey

Networking is beyond important regardless of whether you are an employee or an intern. Everyday I find myself in situations where I'm meeting people that could either be useful contacts for future professional endeavors or collaborations with the company I'm working for. It really hit me over the last year just HOW crucial this is. In a way it's sad because who you know can often mean more than how qualified you are, but those who can't manage to adapt to this system will ultimately be at a loss.

Beth
Beth

Great post. I remember being an intern..and I really have to say that it was the best experience I ever had. Sure, sometimes I had internships that required a lot of envelope stuffing - but my paid jobs have all required that also. I think one of the best things to remember about your interning experience is to have courage - to develop relationships, to ask questions, to help people as much as they are helping you. This may be your only chance to do this, as with paid work you may be less likely to "say what you really think," etc. One particularly memorable experience I had as an intern was attending meetings with very high level people. This was something that stuck with me throughout my experience, meeting people, and being a witness to get my feel for the industry or position. Awesome post!

Ryan Stephens
Ryan Stephens

LinkedIn - Critical, especially for the work that many of us do. Companies want to hire people with valuable networks. If you have 500 legitimate connections one year out of school, let's face it, that's pretty impressive. That means you've demonstrated you're good at networking and have a wide base of people you can call on to help you achieve your goals (and potentially your company's goals). As for Happy Hour. SO MANY people undermine the potency of this time. Not only can a friendship emerge from a professional relationship, but some of my best ideas have come from brainstorming over a beer. Some people would rather use this time to not talk about work, but it's usually inevitable since that's the one thing you all have common. Might as well leverage the experience to explore some cool ideas you might not have thought of or had the nerve to bring up without being under the influence.

Sam Diener
Sam Diener

And why do I look like a corn stalk!

Sam Diener
Sam Diener

And LEARN as much as possible!!!!!!!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Karla - glad you commented. I'd love to chat with you offline one day and see how this project unfolds. Many people don't understand the work involved in setting up and planning for a strategic internship program. The entire process needs buy in from all levels of the organization to be successful, and it really is an on-going commitment. Would really be very interested to see how your internship program develops. In the next couple weeks we should chat on the phone and I'd love to hear what you are planning.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Leave whining at the door, unless its job related and then come to HR and talk to me! I agree, leave the drinking stories for close friends, and give minor details to fellow interns and co-workers. Great advice here, Royce. Glad you stopped by with your comments. Maybe your next company (if you ever make a move) will provide a chance for more socialization with coworkers.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Beth, thanks for the comment and bringing up your experience and great points. Helping people as much as they help you certainly helps to make an intern stick out. Taking part in as many meetings can prove to be so very beneficial, in making connections, seeing how meetings actually work, and possibly adding value to that meeting!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Very good point about Happy Hour, Ryan. Its true that work does come out eventually. A great idea can stem out of a slightly buzzed convo, and then the intern can bring it up to management and look like a star. Thanks for the inspiration for this as well!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Great point, Sammy D! interns should act as sponges and pick up as much as possible. PS - anyone without a picture automatically becomes Corn. Good thing I like Corn.

Ryan Lobb
Ryan Lobb

I actually drank with the CEO of QVC (where I work). Granted I am not an intern, but I am always trying to move up the corporate ladder. I guarantee he will never forget the night I drank with him watching the World Series. Good things happen when you go for it.

Ryan Stephens
Ryan Stephens

Who said anything about slightly buzzed? I go for full on blitzed. Oh wait. We're talking about interns. Yeah, they should probably follow good Happy Hour etiquette and stick to a couple of beers.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Thanks for the comment, Ryan. Networking is important at any level, and I'm sure that it was as fun for the CEO as it was for you. Nice story.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

You ARE talking to an HR guy here, I must keep my comments somewhat reserved! But, I can let you speak for me... PS - Dexter last night? Holy shitzengiggle

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