In my career thus far I have been connected to two outstanding internship programs – Johnson & Johnson and IBM (MBA summer job). At both companies, I encountered outstanding summer interns who ultimately ended up frustrated because they didn’t land a full time job. Moreover, they were befuddled because they thought they did a great job, and got little negative feedback, yet their summer assignment didn’t convert into a full-time role.
Assuming there are permanent jobs to be had, this phenomenon stems from any combination of the following:
Your manager. He or she may not be regularly thinking about your performance or giving you the feedback you need to optimize your performance.
The competition. While programs claim to not be competitive, they naturally become that way once there are more interns than full-time roles. You will likely not know how you rate among your intern peers until after you leave and all the managers gather to compare notes. As a result, you have a lack of clarity on where the bar sits, which can mean that ‘very good’ performance won’t cut it.
The internship program. Not all companies design a true intern program, in which objectives are set for the company, processes are in place and the intern experience is crafted. As a result, you, the intern, may sense little transparency, communication or even attention. Even when there is a true program, there are difficulties. At J&J, we did not receive information from execs about how many full-timers we could convert from the intern pool until pretty much October. While that’s understandable given the business cycle, it poses a challenge when you are running a robust summer program.
Against this backdrop, my advice to you is simply to embrace this insight:
Remove as much guesswork as possible by taking matters into your own hands.
A more proactive approach is in order to control your own destiny and max out your chance for an offer. Here are my recommended action steps:
1. Scope out the program. Find out if full-time offers are available and to what extent the number is known. Also ask about the process to determine who gets offers. You may not get complete information but best to become ‘in the know’ as much as you can.
2. Meet with your manager…more than once. Don’t wait for meetings to be set up. You are sadly a low priority for your manager so you need to act by setting them up yourself if you have to. At a minimum, have 3 meetings, one in the beginning, middle and end of internship. In the first meeting gain alignment on expectations, business results and expected leadership behaviors. Moreover, talk to your manager about what ‘exceeds’ looks like, so you can aim for this level of performance. The interim meeting is to ensure you receive performance feedback. Set goals for the remainder of the internship and show keen interest in addressing any weak areas. Importantly, tell your manager in advance of the meeting you will ask him or her if they would recommend you for a full time offer, based on how you are tracking. Don’t blind side them with this question. Ask it again in the final meeting so that you have gained a final alignment on performance. Do not let that last meeting be too general (“hey you did a great job…good luck…we’ll be in touch”); make sure you both walk away from that meeting in agreement with your performance level versus expectations established in the beginning.
3. Be visible, but more importantly, be self-aware. I say that latter piece because I have met far too many interns whose energy has turned off the team. Use great judgment to find that balance between showing interest and knowing your place. Get out there and meet people. Schedule 10 minute coffee chats. Ask questions. Speak up in meetings (where appropriate!). Ask for feedback and guidance from multiple stakeholders, but remain keenly aware of your impact on their time and interest in you. Never overstay your welcome….even during a brief chat in line to get lunch! The more people on which you make a good impression, the more advocates you’ll have when decision time comes. And, because those decisions could be made weeks or months after your assignment ends, stay in touch. Remind the company (no more than once or twice) that you remain interested in joining permanently. Just like you appreciate not being forgotten, so would the company.