Internship? No, This Is an Interview

Treat Every Day as as Interview
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I spent New Year’s Eve in the backyard of my friend’s house surrounded by a multitude of people that I’d known all throughout my years at Punahou High School. Some I had kept in touch with better than others and between my whiskey gingers, hugs, and honis (kisses), I was able to hear a bit about where everyone was in their lives.

For the most part it was good. A friend had just spent the past couple of months backpacking through the Chilean mountains, another was finishing up his time with Teach For America and was excited to head to Chicago for his next position.

I was so happy for them.

But not everything I heard was positive. A few hours before midnight, I heard another friend asking the hostess’s mom for advice about getting a job as a nurse.

I heard the frustration and fear in her voice as she explained how impossible it seemed to get a nursing job in Hawai’i. Though it’s such a necessary profession, it’s incredibly difficult to get your foot in the door with an entry-level position in Hawai’i. Hospitals want to hire experienced nurses and recent graduates often get overlooked.

Though I continued to party the night away, the conversation stuck in my mind and when I grabbed dinner with my cousin a few nights later, I asked him about his experience getting hired as a nurse in Hawai’i.

“It’s tough,” he admitted, “some of it comes down to luck and timing, but there are things you can do to increase your chances. I was actually talking about this with a friend other day. Here’s what I told him: You have to treat every day like an interview.”

My cousin knows this from personal experience. As a nursing student, he’d been required to do an internship. At this internship, he looked at every single day as an interview. He wasn’t just there for his own gain. Yes, during this time he developed the real-life skills that nurses need, but he also used his time there to prove that he was worth having at the hospital.

He wasn’t above any task and went out of his way to find out if the doctors needed anything.

Remember that employers are hiring to solve a problem. We talk about “pain-spotting” in cover letters, but internships are real-life situations in which you can prove that you’ll make your supervisor’s life easier.

“Whether you’re getting coffee or administering a shot, show that you want to do it,” he says, admitting that there will be not-so-glamorous parts of the job but that they’re just as important.

And there will be times when you make mistakes but you can’t let that stop you from approaching every task with a positive attitude. Acknowledging your mistake and doing it right the next time makes you even more desirable. It’s the actualization of the interview question, “What are your weaknesses?” or “Tell me about a time you failed.”

Thinking of your internship as an interview forces you to be on your best behavior—not only being willing to do any task, but doing it with enthusiasm. If you’re enjoyable to work with, people are going to want to work with you. A lot of success at a company has to do with cultural fit.

And this definitely worked for my cousin. While interning, his supervisor was so impressed with him that he introduced him to managers and was more than happy to recommend him after graduation. It was through those connections and recommendations that he got hired in one of the most competitive markets.

And this does not just apply to nursing. A similar story was told at the Academy of Art University’s “It’s All About You” presentation for Multimedia Communications majors.

One Academy of Art graduate on the panel spoke about the importance of taking every day of your internship seriously. She explained how she approached every assignment she was given at her radio station internship with enthusiasm and determination. Whether she was switching music tracks for the DJ or scouring the web for some breaking news in pop culture, she took the task seriously.

Not only did she get voted “best intern,” but she was also offered a full-time position with the station after the internship ended.

Ross Manderscheid started as an intern at Kaiser Permanente and adopted a similar attitude while he was there.

“My philosophy when I was an intern was to just make myself as useful as possible to as wide a variety of people and projects as I could,” he explains in our interview with him here.

This approach to his internship led to an extension of his time there and eventually the creation of Business Operations Analyst, the position he went on to hold full-time.

And this pursuit of new challenges and solutions to the organization’s problems shouldn’t stop once you get the job! The mentality can be applied to your days once you start working. What better way to get noticed and advance in your career than to make the life of your manager easier? It may even help you negotiate your salary in the future.

What to keep in mind: Unfortunately, there are times when even A+ performances do not lead to an offer. There are external factors that also affect an employer’s decision whether or not to convert an intern into a full-time employee. For example, it may just not be possible to hire anyone full-time with the current department’s budget.

If your internship is coming to an end and you aren’t being hired on permanently, set up a little meeting with your manager. Find out whether you could have done anything differently during your time there or if the reason they’re not hiring you is completely unrelated to your performance. If you can, use that information to improve your performance at your next position.

Homework time! It can be easy to look at an internship, volunteer work, or an entry-level job as annoying things that stand between you and your career. Change this attitude toward them. Instead view them as development tools that can lead you to your career. Approach each day as an interview and act to impress. Figure out the needs of your employers beyond just what they assign you and work to fill those needs!

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