After the Internship

Things shouldn't grind to a halt after you've completed your internship. There are plenty of ways to keep reaping the benefits of your internship experience long after you've turned in your nametag.

Want to finish things off the right way? Read below.

I didn't like my internship. Should I tell people?

Thank you for asking a very important question. Other interns may have come to the same conclusion about their experiences. Before you decide how to handle the situation, evaluate your internship and decide why it was a waste of time. Then, air your views accordingly. The following tips may help you put that negative experience behind you and look forward to future internships with a positive attitude:

  • Evaluating your internship: Were your expectations realistic? You may have misunderstood the scope or duties of the internship in your haste to procure one. If so, that’s your problem. You could have been overqualified for the position and found the hours dragged and you were bored. If so, consider yourself more advanced in your skills than you had previously thought. Take consolation in the fact that you’re ahead of the other interns. However, if the duties or internship description changed, resulting in assignments that you felt were a waste of time, then the company is at fault here. Were you given unexpected assignments that annoyed you, such as getting coffee or making copies? You were probably too polite to say no, but you’ve built up resentment against the company, and understandably so. But someone needs to know how you feel.
  • Expressing your feelings:  There is no sense in telling anyone at the company that the internship was a waste of your time because it’s too late to do anything about it. Also, keep in mind that you still want a good reference letter.  You do owe it to future interns to confide your disappointment to your school’s career center or counselor who set up the internship for you. To be fair, explain your evaluation of why the internship was not a success. The counselor will appreciate your information, ensuring that the next intern is better suited to the position or deciding that the company is not a good internship site for the school’s students. If a student asks you about your internship, stop and think about your response. If it’s a student who is considering the same internship, you might want to give your honest opinion. However, if it’s an idle question that will only generate gossip, then it’s better to simply shrug off the inquiry.
  • Looking ahead:  Fortunately, most students are expecting to experience multiple internships in their academic careers. Let’s hope that all your other internships will be great. You might want to spend some time on internships.com, browsing through thousands of internships, searching for the right one for you. Enter the keywords and watch all the internships come up. Then, apply for the ones that appeal to you, giving yourself plenty of options. Be choosy. And be sure to start your search months ahead of time. Also, check in with your career center at school. After your earlier negative experience, the staff will work extra hard to ensure that your next internship is a positive one.

How should I keep in touch?

Here’s a great opportunity for you to be proactive. Rather than asking the company or your busy internship supervisor to take his/her limited time and figure out your options, develop a game plan yourself and present it to the company. You’ll be respected for your creativity and forward thinking. You might find some of the following tips helpful:

  • Self-designed assignments:  Based on what you’ve learned during your internship, devise an assignment for yourself that will add value to the company. For example, if you’ve been evaluating data, you could offer to write reports on the results. Review what you’ve learned about the company and examine any areas that could benefit from new material, such as a history update on an old building. Another area to explore is research. All companies need to have more research done and usually don’t have enough staff to do the work. After you’ve decided on the best assignment, write up a proposal and a timeline and present it to the appropriate person for approval.
  • Intern support:  Companies love interns but are often overwhelmed by the responsibility of training and monitoring interns. Why not offer to train your replacement intern as a way to gain favor with the company? Or you could volunteer to write a guide for new interns, answering typical intern questions on company dress code, policy, and corporate culture. Another suggestion would be to start an alumni intern newsletter online, which would also serve as a marketing tool for the company. You may wish to start an intern blog, open to current, future, and former interns as a clearing house to improve the internship program.
  • Company representative:  If the company attends college career fairs, you could offer to go to these events and tell students why you liked your internship at the company. Or you could spread the word about the joys of the company internship back on your own campus, helping recruit outstanding candidates for the company. The company may sell products to college students, which opens another door for you to act as a company representative on your own campus.

Asking for references

References are important! The letters validate and document your hard work as an intern. You’ll want at least one reference letter as well as verbal agreements to give their names and numbers as contact people for future references on internships or jobs. The sooner you get started on the reference process the better. Here’s how to proceed:

  • Meet with your supervisor. Make an appointment with your intern supervisor. Be sure to thank your intern supervisor for the guidance you received during your internship. Then, ask him/her to write you a general reference letter that you could use to get future internships or employment. If you have a specific position in mind, you may want to ask the intern supervisor to write you a reference for that posting. If graduate school is in your future, you may like to have a reference letter geared for the Admissions Committee at that school. Request permission to use your supervisor as a general reference, finding out the proper contact information for future use.
  • Consider other appropriate references. Draw up a list of any other people at your internship who could be good resources for references, such as the team leader if you worked as part of a team, or different department heads if you moved from department to department. You may have found a mentor or advisor who informally helped you—he or she may be willing to write a reference letter for you, too. Sometimes, the human resources or personnel department can be called upon to provide a reference letter for you. You can never have too many reference letters.
  • Consider timing. Consider when you should request reference letters. To make sure that you receive them before you leave the internship, start making your requests about two weeks before your internship ends, giving people enough time to write good letters. At the beginning of your last week, check in to see if anyone has completed his/her letter. Thank everyone in advance for taking the time to write you a reference letter. Mention the date of your last day and that you’ll be back to pick up the letter that day if not before. If you’re feeling uncertain about getting the letters, call your school career center counselor and ask for advice on speeding up the process. Your counselor may have already requested reference letters for you.

Thanking the company

It's smart to start thinking about thanking people as your internship is coming to a close. You can never say “Thank you” too many times or to too many people. Here are a few points to ponder:

  • Who to thank:  The first thank-you goes to your internship supervisor. Other people who might be on your thank-you list could include co-workers, department heads, volunteer staff, Human Resources, your Career Center counselor or staff members, and any individual who went beyond the call of duty in helping you. For example, the parking lot attendant who made sure you had a convenient parking space or the newsletter editor who interviewed you for a complimentary article in the company publication. You could consider writing a thank-you to the company president, mentioning how much you appreciated your supervisor’s excellent guidance. It’s a wise move to get your name in front of as many people as possible. And your supervisor will remember you kindly for putting in a good word for him/her.
  • How to express thanks:  You have many options here, depending on the corporate culture and your own style. A hand-written note is always safe. Do choose simple note cards in white or pastel shades. Double check employee titles, so you don’t make any embarrassing errors in addressing the letters, which should always be sent to the office address. However, if you feel more comfortable producing your thank-you notes on a computer, select an informal typeface and sign the letter with an ink pen. Use a good cotton or linen stock with matching envelopes rather than standard copy paper. To eliminate the possibility of jealousy, compose all your letters on the same stationery so you won’t be showing favoritism.
  • How not to express thanks:  An email thank-you might be fine to a friend for cooking a delicious dinner, but it’s not a professional statement. Please don’t buy cards with pre-printed thank-you messages inside and then just sign your name. It’s much more meaningful to write a personal message yourself, naming specific ways in which that person helped you. You may not have much time to write thank-you notes but do refrain from sending general thank-you letters addressed to “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Hi Everyone,” or “Hey Guys.”  Don’t wait too long to express thanks—try to finish your thank-you notes and distribute them by your last day, saving postage and ensuring that they reach the right person.
  • Other ways to say thanks:  You could bring home-made cookies or pick up donuts or a special snack for your office mates on your last day. If your supervisor has been exceptional, you may want to offer to take him/her to lunch on your last day or after your internship ends as a way to stay in touch. If you wanted to do something special for your supervisor, you could buy him/her a book, a coffee mug from your school, or a small gift. However, keep the cost to a minimum.

Evaluating what you learned

Good for you for wanting to make sure that you had a successful learning experience at your internship! Your internship supervisor and your Career Center will probably offer you assessments, but you also want to perform a self-assessment. Here are a few ways to measure the growth of your learning curve:

  • Review your goals and expectations as listed in your pre-internship or first-day documents. Check off the ones that you’ve met. Examine the assignments that you’ve completed and note the new skills that you’ve developed. Assess your internship supervisor’s final evaluation report and write down the positive comments in terms of your work ethic and attitude.
  • Compare your confidence level and self-esteem after the internship as to before your internship. You should not only feel better about yourself but also feel better prepared for your prospective career. You may find that you’ve gained new knowledge that you can turn into a class paper or use to improve your academic standing. If your school gives grades for an internship and you’ve earned an A, then you’ve raised your grade point average, another sign of your success.
  • Collect all the items—reports, projects, documents etc.—on which you worked and include them in your portfolio. Write up a paragraph on each, explaining the challenge and how you performed in each instance. You’ll be surprised and pleased at what you find.
  • Count the number of new contacts made during your internship, ranging from your internship supervisor to other interns and to company personnel in various departments. These people will serve as valuable resources when you start networking for future internships or jobs. You’ve probably also developed improved relations with your Career Center staff, which will be helpful in reaching career goals.
  • Study your resume before and after your internship. You’ll find that you now have additional entries to strengthen your resume, including new work experiences and achievements as well as software or technology skills. Be sure to detail your assignments and accomplishments, adding value to your resume. When you’ve completed all the above self-assessments, you may want to go out and get another internship, inspired to learn even more. 

Asking about future opportunities

First, you may want to spend some time deciding what future possibilities interest you. Second, devise a plan and timeline to present your future possibilities to the appropriate parties. Third, consider what your alternative options may be in case your future possibilities don’t come to pass. 

  • Future possibilities:  Would you want to continue your internship as an online internship? If so, do you have a specific project or plan in mind that you would want to work on for the company? If your internship is unpaid, would you want to transform it into a paid part-time job? Or if you’re graduating, do you want to apply for a full-time job with your internship company? Or would you like to change your internship into a co-op in which you’re working and gaining credit at the same time? Or would you like a reference to work in a related company or a subsidiary? Would being a paid consultant for the company be in your future? You may want to rank these future possibilities in order of preference and proceed to the next step.
  • Plan and timeline:  At this point, you may decide to set up an appointment either in person or online with your Career Center counselor and run your ideas past him/her.  The counselor may have a longer history of collaborating with the company than you do and be able to advise you on creating a successful plan. Next in your timeline make an appointment with your internship supervisor at his/her convenience, preferably about one week before your internship ends. Before the meeting, write up an agenda and list your preferences for future possibilities along with the subsequent value that you would bring to the company. Explain each possibility to the internship supervisor and produce a calendar with your proposed dates for your future involvement. At the end of the meeting, thank your supervisor for the consideration and express your hope for a continued relationship with the company.
  • Alternative options:  The internship supervisor will probably not give you an immediate answer to your future plans with the company but will have to discuss your suggestions with colleagues and maybe even Human Resources. Send your supervisor a thank you note and be patient. However, if you find out that none of your future possibilities is acceptable, research your alternative options. For example, apply those same future possibilities to another company and ask your Career Center to direct you to the appropriate organization. Or develop a list of other goals, such as joining a pre-professional society on campus or applying to be a teaching assistant for your major professor. You could also volunteer to work with a group related to your future career. Whatever you do, maintain a positive attitude and turn your energy into action in another area.