One of the realities of today’s work landscape is for a lot of people, you have to be willing to show your skills for free before you actually start receiving a paycheck. This isn’t some sort of arcane slavery that’s crept back into society, but an internship. Employers love getting free labor, and it’s become a monster that’s out of control. Instead of trying to fight it and risk being left outside to dry, learn how to work the system to your advantage so you score that awesome full-time job you’ve had your eye on.
Be Selective about Where You Apply
Because so many internships are just looking for free labor, it’s easy to get caught up in the pool of thinking you have a chance. Don’t offer someone your skills and time unless you actually think it’s going to go somewhere. Yes, this will involve a bit of research on your part, but isn’t it worth it to spend half an hour googling a company than three months working for them — and then learning after it was for no good use?
Act Like You’re Already Getting Paid
With a steady paycheck comes certain responsibility, but you don’t have to wait until the money hits your account to start acting responsibly and accountably. Your (future) manager wants to know you can be trusted with tasks, so show you’re capable of that right now. Pay close attention to what needs to be done, do it, and never wait to be told what to do. You know your regular job will consist of much more than fetching coffee, so start learning as soon as you can.
Dress Like You’ve got the Job
One of the worst things you can do is ignore the company dress code, even if there isn’t one formally announced. Interning at a bank? It’s suits and ties for you. Spending those days at a graphic design company? Leave the suits and ties at home, and learn what’s in fashion at the moment. Whatever the clothing culture is at your internship, disobeying it is one of the fastest ways of telling everyone — without need to speak a word — that you don’t actually work there and your time is limited.
Network, Network, Network
Whether you agree with it or not, jobs are increasingly being filled it not by the most qualified candidate, but by who the candidate knows. It may not be fair and it may not end up with the best fit, but it’s how things are and you can either fight the system or make it work for you.
The key to networking is to make friends with others and never mention you’re looking for a job. Full-time employees at the company you have an internship with are an incredibly valuable resource, and you want to pick their brains as much as possible. Although you may not think you’re “allowed” to take part in office activities (and happy hour is one of them), do offer to take them out for coffee or lunch so you can ask their advice.
Although each workplace will be different for your internship, these four tips are solid enough to be applied everywhere. They offer concrete ways on the timeless “work hard and you’ll be rewarded principle”, giving you a way to turn your internship into a well-paying, full-time job.