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How to Make a Good Impression at Your Summer Internship

By Paige Kassalen

Throughout my time studying engineering, I had three technical internships. I was so excited to get real-world experience and ready to show the company I would be a great future employee.

After transitioning from school and into a full-time job, it was very interesting to see the internship process from the other side. Instead of being the intern, I was now the person assisting the intern and helping them get up to speed for their summer projects.

From this experience, I learned a lot about what employers really look for, and I want to share some do’s and don’ts to help you leave a strong impression.

Do – Remember your company is looking for cultural fit        

During your internship, you want to showcase all of the value you can bring to the organization as a prospective employee. One mistake I’ve noticed some students make during their internship is forgetting that they are also being evaluated for cultural fit.

Most companies will have different types of events for interns. It might be a picnic, volunteer day, or weekly intern lunches. You might think that staying back at your desk and working hard on your projects will make you look like a stronger future employee, but I found that it has the opposite effect.

The work you are given as an intern is real work that the company wants completed, but it is not so urgent that you should be missing the internship events they invested time and money into planning.

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You were selected for the internship for a reason. As long as you continue to deliver solid work, the way to set yourself up for creating a great lasting impression is to showcase that you are a great fit and someone they want on their team.

Don’t – Cut corners when it comes to professionalism

There were definitely days in my previous internships when I realized I had nothing else to work on and it was only mid-afternoon. It is easy to think “no one is really paying attention to me, so why not leave early?”

This is a big “don’t” when it comes to leaving a good impression in your internship because someone is always paying attention.

When your team is providing feedback to hiring managers, you do not want your feedback to be “they were very strong technically, but they always left at 2pm.”

The level of professionalism you bring to the job is 100% within your control, so remember all of the time you spent applying and interviewing for this job, and don’t cut corners when it comes to professionalism.

Do – Meet as many people as you can

The more people you know, the more people there are to advocate for you when it comes to making a full-time offer.

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Just as we discussed cultural fit, networking and setting up lunches or coffee meetings is important for leaving a lasting impression at your internship. Most of the people in the company will be happy to spend some time sharing insights with an intern, especially if they share the same alma mater or have a mutual field of interest.

If someone suggests you “speak with ____,” send that person an email asking if they would be interested in connecting. The team you work with during your internship will be happy to see that you were proactive and listened to their advice, which will just reinforce the strong impression you are making on the organization.

Don’t – Forget to also interview your company

As a student, it can be a little intimidating going into an internship because you just want to do a good job.

When you are so focused on your performance, you can forget that you should be “interviewing” the organization, as well, to see if it is a place you want to be.

The insight you gain when evaluating the organization is valuable when it comes to leaving a lasting impression. If the company you are working for is a good fit for you, then you can be more targeted in your responses for why you would want to return as a full-time employee.

In an interview, you can avoid generic answers like “I like the technology you work on.” Instead, highlight the technology advancements along with something more distinct to the company like the collaboration environment or company values.

Employers want someone who wants to be at their company, not someone just interested in any company in a certain sector.  By being able to convey why you want to work at the company in a way that sets them apart from others in the industry, you will stand out and leave a lasting impression.

You have three months to make a lasting impression at your internship. Remember that they are evaluating you for cultural fit, don’t cut corners on professionalism, meet as many people as you can, and don’t forget to also interview your company.

Each internship is an important step towards getting your first full-time job, so use these tips to make a lasting impression.

Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen loves to put her creativity to use by solving problems in emerging technical fields, and has been an IEEE member since 2012. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015, Kassalen began her career with Covestro LLC. in 2015, and soon became the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Fast Company and the Huffington Post. After Solar Impulse, Kassalen has helped Covestro and JPMorgan Chase develop and implement strategies to embrace a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. In 2020, Kassalen received a Master of Information Systems Management degree from Carnegie Mellon University and now uses her problem-solving skills at an artificial intelligence startup, CrowdAI, where she leads the implementation of computer vision solutions for existing commercial customers.

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