Along with the many reasons to consider an internship as part of your undergraduate or graduate degree studies, one reason is the unparalleled opportunity to network with your co-workers, supervisor, and others at your company or organization.
Whether you’re changing careers or looking to get ahead in your chosen field, it always helps to have a a few individuals who can vouch for you. Having friends in the right places can mean anything from someone to keep you up-to-date with the latest changes in the field, to landing your next job opportunity.
So what are the ways to best use your internship as an opportunity to network?
1. Do a Genuinely Fantastic Job
This really is the first step. Before anyone is willing to stick a neck out for you, you need to show you’re worthy. This means doing whatever it takes to get your work done — and not only done, but done well. This isn’t a stage to be asking “What’s in it for me?” It’s a stage to build value for the company, and in doing so, build your own reputation.
2. Establish Relationships
You should first look to make connections with your direct supervisor and those on your team. Don’t start running around buying coffee for everyone, because it won’t have the effect you want. Be genuine, be clear about what you’re hoping to learn out of the internship opportunity, and you may be surprised to see the introductions start rolling in.
3. Look Beyond Your Department
Who else do you want to meet? Once you’ve established yourself and impressed your direct co-workers, you can start looking beyond the borders of your own team. Ask your team members if they know of anyone in specific departments who it would be good to meet, and follow up. Don’t be shy — ask to sit down for coffee, or if there are any meetings you could attend to get a feel for how things work.
4. Attend Events
This one is a bit tricky, so it will depend how things work at your specific internship. Does your company or organization send people to conferences? Or are they okay with you attending on your own dime, if you’re allowed to put the organization’s name on your nametag? It doesn’t hurt to express interest, and your co-workers can see this as a sign that you’re serious about your future and want to learn whatever you can during your internship.
5. Set Specific Goals
When I work with students, I encourage them to make personal networking goals and stick to them. This could be as simple as saying “meet someone from marketing,” all the way to attending presentations or board meetings. The important point is to set goals for yourself and reach them. Your time at an internship is limited, so make sure you make the best of it.
Remember that the point of your internship is to contribute value while you are there. Your networking won’t go very far if after you leave, no one can point to a positive effect you had at the company. Think about why they hired you — hint — it wasn’t to network with their employees — and let that lead the way to a successful internship experience.