Making the Most of Your Internship

By Barbara Hewitt

Penn students will soon be leaving campus for internships all around the world. Some of you will work with large employers in very established internship programs, while others might be the first intern in a new start-up. Penn students work in for-profit, nonprofit and public sector jobs in all sorts of functional areas. While internships are a great way to explore a career of interest and gain valuable skills, the quality of internships can vary dramatically. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that the experience is as positive as possible.

Ideally, think hard about what you want to accomplish during an internship before you accept one. You may want to develop new skills, learn about a new industry, or perhaps make money to pay your fall tuition. (In fact, all three of these goals might be important to many of you!) Think about how many hours you can devote to the internship each week and how many weeks you would like to work. The more clear you are on these parameters the easier it will be to focus your search and prioritize your goals to find an internship that is a good fit. You should definitely have a discussion with your supervisor to clarify expectations regarding the types of assignments you will handle, your work schedule, and how you will be trained. Discussing these issues BEFORE you commit to the internship can help stave of problems and disappointments down the road.

When you actually report to work, realize that as an intern you are a representative of the organization. It is important that you make a good impression at all times by being professional and diligent, reporting to work on time, and following the office dress code. You should also be observant of the “unspoken rules” at work, as they are frequently more important to fitting in than the more formal written rules. For example, is it customary for people to take rigid lunch breaks at noon or is a more flexible break schedule acceptable? Do people refer to each other by their first names or are higher-ups addressed more formally? Are you able to check social media tools like Facebook when at work or is that frowned upon (or outright forbidden)?

Be sure that you know when assignments and projects are due and meet all deadlines, even if it means staying late. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it will increase your knowledge of the organization and demonstrate your interest in learning as much as possible. You may want to check with your supervisor early in your internship to discuss his or her preferred method of communication. Some supervisors have an open door policy and encourage interns to stop by when they have questions. Other might prefer a more formal weekly meeting or request that you send an email when something comes up.

The attitude that you display as an intern is critical. Work hard to demonstrate a positive demeanor at work, as no one likes to work with a complaining, unhappy coworker…especially an intern who will only be in the office for a few months. Make the most of menial tasks by doing them well and without complaining. Virtually all internships (and jobs, for that matter) have some mundane components. If you are unhappy with most of your assignments, take the initiative and ask your supervisor about taking on different or additional responsibilities which interest you more. Generally, supervisors will be impressed with your initiative and drive. However, be sure not to do this too early in the internship. It is important to develop relationships with your supervisor and colleagues and gain an understanding of the organization before assuming that you will be entrusted with higher level assignments.

An internship provides a great opportunity to take advantage of being on the “inside” of an organization by talking to other employees and making contacts. You may want to arrange informational interviews to learn more about other departments in the organization. Collect business cards as they often come in handy when networking for a full-time job down the road.

Hopefully the internship will be a stepping stone to additional professional opportunities. Save copies of things you create for future reference (web pages, flyers, press releases, articles, etc.). Learn as much as you can from your experience by seeking and accepting feedback about your performance, including constructive criticism. Try not to be defensive when a supervisor suggests ways to improve your performance. Request an exit interview to discuss the internship as a whole. Before leaving, ask for a letter of recommendation. Open a credentials file with Interfolio to house the letter if you haven’t already done so.

At the end of the summer, write a thank you note to your supervisor for his or her guidance. Hopefully your experience was a good one, and you have developed a relationship that will continue into the future. Keep in touch with your co-workers and supervisor after leaving the site, as they can often be very helpful as you begin a full-time job search.

Most of all ENJOY your experience. Internships provide a unique opportunity to experience a new work environment and career – take full advantage, as summers during college are limited commodity!
(Blog entry based on Career Services “Tips on Making the Most of Your Internship” website.)

The Back-and-Forth of Transferable Skills

One of the things we constantly emphasize at Career Services is how you can ‘transfer’ the skills you’ve learned during your academic career to a job in industry or consulting. I recently heard from a PhD in Biochemistry who just accepted an academic position at a Florida University that the ‘transfer’ can sometimes go the other way.
In his email, he emphasized that what made the most impact on his selection committee was what he’d said in his “Statement of Teaching Philosophy” about how to get his students to approach a research problem. Instead of using a piece of academic research to illustrate this, however, he’d used something straight out of a workshop I’d led on ‘Managing the Non-Academic Interview”—how to answer an off-the-wall quantitative question like, “How heavy is a Boeing 707?”
First, he emphasized that the wrong thing to do would be to try to come up with the ‘right’ answer, as students might be tempted to do if they were facing an academic advisor or dissertation committee. Instead, he went into some detail about how the question should be clarified (“Before or after a flight?”, “With passengers or without?” etc.) and then separated into component parts, (“Let’s see…a Boeing 707 probably has 30 rows of seats, with 6 people in each row, except for first class…6 rows of 4 seats, so that’s 24 + 144…160 passengers with an average weight of let’s say 150 pounds, and average baggage of 25 pounds, so 175 x 160 equals 28,000 pounds. Then the plane itself is pretty light—less than what a car would be per passenger—let’s say 1000 pounds for 4 passengers, or 40,000 pounds for all of them. Then a gallon of fuel is lighter than a gallon of water, and that weighs about 8 pounds, so let’s say 6 pounds x 1000 gallons…”) You get the idea.
What made this so appealing to the selection committee was that it closely matched the spirit of inquiry and cross-disciplinary thinking that were fundamental components of the University’s mission. The ‘thinking-out-loud’ aspect of the description triggered a lively discussion of the candidate’s interview, and gave him much more of a chance to display his teaching style and techniques than any discussion of his own research might have done.
So the next time you’re in a Career Services workshop on the Non-Academic Job Search, keep your eyes open for something that might be useful on the academic side as well!

Don’t get your lines crossed!

Dr. Joseph Barber

Hello, I love you!”

You don’t expect to receive that kind of e-mail message from anyone other than your significant other or family member.  You might be surprised to hear, then, that several of the counselors at Career Services have stories about receiving this kind of e-mail from students who they have previously advised, or sent program/workshop information to.

There is an explanation. The “hello, I love you!” messages are usually followed by this sort of message:

Dear Dr. Barber, I am very, very sorry that you received that last e-mail. Please ignore it. My phone was taken by my friend/roommate/drunken colleague and they sent out prank messages to my contacts. I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Of course, that’s only if the owner of the phone realizes that messages have been sent out on their phone by their “friends”. Who knows what mischief they are up to with your phone while you are off in the bathroom? At Career Services, we are used to receiving the odd message that has been sent by mistake. After any program announcement that I send out by e-mail to our listservs, I usually get one message along the lines of:

Hey, I’m at the library, let’s do lunch. Are you done with classes yet? See ya!”

I let the sender know that they sent their message to the wrong person – no harm done. But what if your mischievous friends, or a slip of your finger, mean that wrong messages get sent to that prospective employer you have been e-mailing? How are they going to react to messages where you seem to be telling them that you love them (or worse)? Well, probably not well. They are unlikely to e-mail you back and let you know that you sent them a wrong message, and they might be much less forgiving than we are when they receive your hastily sent apology e-mail. First impressions always count, and it is hard to convince someone that you are well-organized and professional if you cannot keep track of your phone or e-mail.

Employers receive far more applicants than they have jobs available, and the job of whittling down 200 applicants to the top 10 is a tough one. Don’t make it easy for them to discard you – keep your phone and your e-mail secure, double check your e-mail recipient list before you send, and don’t drink and phone/e-mail/text (and especially not when driving).

Mistakes with e-mails can happen – it’s not the end of the world when they do, but it should be something that you take care to avoid whenever possible. In a somewhat creepy fashion, Mayor Nutter appears on my TV at night and asks: “Do you know where your children are?”. You should heed the mayor’s advice and always think about the location of your phone in a similar way.

Job Postings: More than meets the eye…

By: David Ross

So by now some of you have probably seen more job postings than you care to think about. After reading through a few of them, it can be easy to “cut to the chase” and focus on applying for the position. While applying for job openings of interest is imperative, important clues can be revealed in job postings – minor details here and there – that not only signal whether the job is truly a good fit for you but also help you improve your application.

One of the first things job seekers look at is the position title. The more impressive the title sounds, the more interesting or significant the position may seem. Perhaps this is true in some instances, but it’s important not to instantly dismiss a position just because the job title is not exactly what you are looking for or what you ideally envision. Some organizations use their own classification or terminology for positions that may not make a lot of sense to those outside of the organization. But if the job responsibilities and tasks seem interesting, the position could be one of those hidden gems that ends up a strong fit for you. Another thing to look for is the experience/education requirement. Some position titles may imply a level of experience or education that doesn’t match your background. But looking closely at the details may reveal the position is indeed appropriate and can ensure you don’t miss great opportunities.

While on the subject of job duties and responsibilities (and even qualifications), it can be easy to lose sight of their significance. For some positions, you may already know what the job entails or have performed similar roles in the past. While that information and experience is certainly valuable, still be sure to carefully read through the job duties and responsibilities section. Similar roles in different organizations may vary in terms of the actual day-to-day assignments and responsibilities. Beyond that, any information in this section can provide tangible topics for you to consider addressing in a cover letter. Companies spend time including descriptions and overviews in their job postings for specific reasons – so why not focus on addressing these areas in your application materials? Detailed information listed in job postings can be helpful in attempts to tailor your cover letters to job opportunities at each organization.

What can also be quite interesting is information not included in the job posting. Sometimes postings can be somewhat vague or address some points of interest while neglecting others. For example, one posting may clearly highlight and indicate the requisite job duties and qualifications but neglect to signify how that position fits within the company’s organizational structure. For someone that values working in an organization as part of a team within a department, no mention of organizational structure may leave the applicant wondering about fit. Pay attention to any information important to you that’s missing from a job posting and use that as the basis for one or two questions to ask at the end of an interview. If you are focused on opportunities in one particular industry, it may be helpful to examine multiple job postings at different companies in that industry to compare and contrast them. What details are missing from one listing that are indicated in another?

Regardless of where you find a job listing (and I can’t emphasize this point enough), really stop to think if the posting is legitimate. Sometimes job opportunities are just too good to be true. I can think of several stories I’ve heard where applicants saw a job posting, applied for the position and found out the job really wasn’t as advertised. If you have a funny feeling or sneaky suspicion, don’t be afraid to ask questions or research to try to find more information.

These are just some of the ways to scrutinize job postings to reveal valuable information. Remember, sometimes there’s more than meets the eye…