The Summer Internship: Nail It or Fail It<br />

Don't sleep: sometimes unpaid internships are worth it

Should students hold out exclusively for paid internships? With graduation season and summer breaks beginning this month, that’s the question of the moment. Well, a recent study finds that those who accept unpaid internships are less likely to receive job offers. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, nearly 60% of college graduates who take part in a paid internship program received at least one job offer. That compares to just 37% of unpaid interns who received job offers—which was only slightly better than those with no internship experience whatsoever (36%).

So: should interns hold out for pay or not? If only it were that simple. The same study suggests that differences in the type of work done by paid and unpaid interns is what contributes to the discrepancy in job offers, with paid interns being more likely to engage in “real work,” spending the majority of their time on analysis and project management.

It’s clear that how you perform on the internship actually counts. I tapped J. T. O’Donnell, founder of Careerealism, for her top advice on ways interns can make their mark, receive “real work,” and plant seeds for a job offer.

Dress the Part

You may think this a no-brainer, but even if the office is casual and it’s 90 degrees outside, always look to your manager for wardrobe guidance. If he or she wears a suit everyday, you may want to at least keep your attire business casual. It shows respect for the gig, unpaid or not.

Remember Your Posture

Your body language speaks volumes. You may be able to control giving the stink eye, but have you given much thought to your posture? Poised posture exudes confidence and makes you a better worker. In fact, one study shows correct posture can boost productivity by more than 50%. On the other hand, slouching conveys boredom and/or lack of enthusiasm. So sit tall like Sunday morning yoga class and activate that crown chakra, so to speak.

Anticipate Your Boss

This is an important one: don’t wait to be told what to do. Of course you won’t have all the instincts the first week on the job, so it’s important to really listen, observe and ask questions in the early days. From there, you should be able to understand what your team needs. Should they fail to hand you enough assignments, suggest some additional items you can take care of. Always think: How can I add value?

Be Accountable

If you make a mistake, own up to it. Managers hate excuses. Don’t try to blame someone or something for what went wrong on your watch. You’ll get more respect for being honest. Even if you anticipate missing a deadline or something is holding you back in your work, be up front sooner rather than later. They’ll be much angrier if you fess up at the last minute.

Stay in Touch

Finally, when you send out your “Thanks, It’s Been Great” email at the end of the summer, mention that you’d love to stay in touch… and then do so. Follow your coworkers on LinkedIn  and Twitter (if appropriate), and send occasional messages continuing to show interest in the company. Offer examples of how your summer internship has, say, helped you better understand the coursework or execute a class project. It’s not uncommon for interns to return the following summer, a clear sign that you’re full-time material.

Donovan X. Ramsey is not a personal finance expert. He’s a multimedia journalist who writes about all things social, political, cultural and whimsical. After college, Donovan set out to discover everything he didn’t know about the world of personal finance. Learn along with him weekly on EBONY.com as he explores more everyday money matters. Follow Donovan on Twitter @iDXR or at DonovanXRamsey.com.