Networking for Interns

Professional schmoozing is one of the keys to turning a summer gig into a permanent job. Here's how

A summer internship can be tough enough without any extra stress, but experts agree that just showing up (even to all the planned events) isn't the way to get the most of out an internship. Instead, career experts say that one-on-one networking during a summer internship is a must—along with not neglecting the actual job and attending events planned by intern coordinators.

Because networking (done right) leaves a great impression on the employer, it can lead to a permanent job offer or a handy recommendation. "The biggest mistake that people make networking is that people don't do it," says Timothy Butler, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths.

There's no formula for dazzling an employer (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/6/06, "The 'Do Nots' of Networking"). But we've gathered tips from successful professionals and career experts and picked our favorites to help motivated interns to shine this summer.

Beef Up Your Memory. Not knowing a co-worker's name is normal, especially since interns are often inundated with dozens of new names in their first week. But when summer interns bump into the same high-level manager on their way to get coffee the manager will be a lot more impressed if the potential employee remembers something about them, says Anna Mok, a Strategic Relationships partner at Deloitte & Touche. Mok suggests that interns should put in the effort to remember anecdotes and names of co-workers and keep notes on whom they've met.

Be Sincere. Moving quickly around the cubicle maze can cause dizziness—but strategic maneuvering can be a plus. Kristen Garcia, a group sales manager at Macy's West (M) says that her genuine interest in meeting others from the company got her the job offer after she interned at Macy's two years ago. "I introduced myself briefly to someone who wasn't my direct boss, and it got me to work on an advertising project that the rest of the interns weren't working on," Garcia says. "But I never misrepresented myself and was always sincere." Butler agrees, "To be indiscriminate for the sake of networking is going to be a waste of your time and not get you what you want."

Find Some Face Time. Online networking sites, such as LinkedIn, are great. But to truly build connections, Mok, who belongs to the National Asian American Society of Accountants, encourages interns to join professional organizations in their field to get valuable face time. Especially for those in a large city, a variety of networking groups are available and organizers are often thrilled to get younger members. "We run a really high-tech business so we network with other tech clubs in the area," says Dave Wills, vice-president of Seattle-based Cascade Link, who encourages interested interns to join similar organizations. "Through those clubs we've met people whom we've hired as interns or to work on other projects."

Join in the Big Kid Activities. Interns don't need to stick to their own kind. Instead, ask to play in the company softball league or volunteer with their charity of choice. For those willing to be more proactive it helps to create an activity others from the company would be excited to join. That's what Bain consultant Sara Martin did when she was an intern: "Another intern and I organized a bike tour of Chicago—a number of consultants from the office also joined in," says Martin about the summer she spent at the company.

Show Up Alone. If fellow interns at the company don't join that optional lunch or head over for a few drinks at a happy hour—go alone and meet others at the organization (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/12/06, "The Art of the Schmooze"). In fact, not bringing work friends to networking events helps guests leave their comfort zone and meet new contacts, according to a new study by Columbia Business School professors Paul Ingram and Michael Morris. The study confirmed that those who wanted to meet new people showed up to networking events without a pre-arranged group of acquaintances or friends. By attaching electronic tags to executive MBAs attending a mixer, the professors were able to track that people who came alone introduced themselves to a higher percentage of guests.

Skip the E-Mail. Most key figures at a company are overwhelmed with their Outlook in-box, so instead of being 1 out of 200 messages, pick another way to communicate. Plus with summer schedules, it may be a while before the person replies. Instead, a quick hello or a short chat goes a long way according to Wills. "A phone call is still appropriate," he says and encourages interns to figure out a convenient time in the day. "I'm always booked solid in the mornings, but usually the afternoons for me are pretty laid-back" (see BusinessWeek.com, 8/25/06, "Understanding Your Summer Interns").

Save the Tough for Last. Reach out to those who are easiest to approach first—hold off on chatting with the heads of the company who probably know less about incoming interns. "Don't start at the top of the food chain—network with people who can still identify with where you are as a student intern," says Ken Keeley, executive director of the Career Opportunities Center at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. Going to the higher-ups later in the summer also increases the chance that a colleague will put in a good word about the intern before the actual approach.

Evaluate Them. Not only is networking a tool interns use to stand out, it's also a way for students to find out whether they're willing to commit to a full-time job. University decision deadlines for some areas of B-school ask students to accept offers in the fall, so Keeley encourages students to poke around during their internship to make sure they're prepared to accept or decline an offer. "Many times these organizations force students to make big decisions before campus recruiting, so the companies will know how much recruiting they have to do during the school year." Garcia, who received her offer in September of senior year, agrees: "Not only did I want to make a good impression on the company, I wanted the company to make a good impression on me."

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