These 5 Interns Earned Full-Time Job Offers. Here’s How They Did It

Updated October 21, 2016
by Kelly Gurnett
Contributor
how to turn an internship into a job

Graduating from college with a job already lined up — and a job in your field, no less — is the dream for most soon-to-be grads.

To make that dream a reality, you need the right combination of industry knowledge, real-world experience and valuable connections to set you apart.

An internship can be a great way to get all that and more (including a pretty sweet salary, if you manage to snag one of these high-paying internships.) But if you’re a real go-getter, you may be able to figure out how to turn an internship into a job after graduation.

We asked five recent grads who did just that to share their stories, then asked hiring managers, career specialists and recruiting experts across various industries to evaluate each grad’s strategy.

We wanted to know:

  • Were these smart moves all interns should keep in mind?
  • Were these strategies risky, depending on the type of company?
  • Would these pros recommend similar moves to other ambitious interns?

Here’s what they told us…

1. Beau Walker, Associate Attorney and Marketing and Data Scientist at Fish & Tsang, LLP

“I am currently an associate at Fish & Tsang LLP, an Intellectual Property Law Firm in Orange County, CA, but I started here as an intern almost three years ago while I was a first-year (1L) law student.

“As a 1L, it is very hard to find paid internships. Virtually no one wants to pay someone with only a year of legal training. Paid positions, if the firm even offers them, are usually reserved for second- or third-year students.

“When I entered law school, I had a family (wife and two kids), and so working for free was not an option for me. Our school’s career development office told us that our chances of getting paid our first year was very slim, even at a top law school. Indeed, that was most of my classmates’ experience.

“So I took matters into my own hands. I researched and contacted over 100 companies and law firms in Southern California that practiced IP law and explained my background, that I was a student, why I wanted to practice in intellectual property law, and asked if they knew of anyone who would be hiring.

“I was surprised with the number of responses that I got. Most people said they weren’t hiring at the time, but everyone was friendly. I secured a number of interviews from this process.

“Before my first interview with a law firm, I made sure to do as much research on the firm as I could based on their website. As a result, the interview went extremely well, and I ended up accepting a position at that firm, which is the firm I currently work at.

“Over my past three years here, I have gone from an intern to the director of marketing and now an attorney. In fact, I became a salaried employee while I was still in law school, which is virtually unheard of.

“There are a few things that I did to make this happen:

  • I made a great first impression because I did my homework.
  • I didn’t do anything to shake that first impression during my time here — i.e. I worked hard and always did what was asked. I learned what was important at the firm.
  • I made sure to always ask questions when I didn’t understand something.
  • I made myself a crucial part of the firm. I did this by taking initiative and providing value in areas beyond what was asked of me. This is possible even for interns. I’ve learned that most good bosses love it when you can prove your value and initiative. It is a lot easier to manage someone who is a self-starter and can solve problems effectively with little direction, or even identify problems that management wasn’t aware of.”

The Experts Weigh In

What he did right:

Beau did not take no for an answer. Because the current economic conditions of America haven’t improved much over the past 8-10 years, job applicants have to go above and beyond to stand out.

“What Beau did was right, but risky. He was right because he took the initiative in securing his career. He was risky because if he communicated his personal brand or value statement wrong, those companies would not hire him in the future.”

Marc DeBoer, Career Specialist, Silberman College of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University

He demonstrated his skills through his actions (i.e. researching, reaching out to companies to get the job, being inquisitive and taking initiative). Oftentimes candidates will tell you that they possess these skills, but when you show potential employers it goes a long way.

“Bosses love self-starters and people who can work with little direction. A great example of this is when interns ask, ‘How can I help?’

“That is a good intern, but what stands out is someone who has done their research and goes to their boss and says, “I see that you’re leading next week’s team meeting. Would it be helpful if I put together the agenda based on last week’s meeting and the projects happening this week and send it to you for review and edit?” Who can say no to that?

“Being general in your ask will not get you as far.”

Alina Tubman, Campus Programs Specialist and Career Consultant

“Didn’t settle on an inconvenient situation. I’m giving two plusses for this the story simply because Beau showed a level of dedication that is (still) so rare in today’s world.

“With unemployment and high levels of competition among job seekers today, the fact that he did not just accept the first opportunity that came around shows that he knew what he wanted and went after it.”

Pierre Tremblay, Director of Human Resources at international steam cleaning supply company Dupray.

“He worked hard to find an internship and didn’t take no for an answer. His comment about being a self-starter and proving his value is key. While companies often like the idea of interns, in reality they are a lot of work and can be a huge time-suck without any value produced.

By being a self-starter, I’m sure this company was willing to invest the time to further develop him. His pre-employment research is impressive as most applicants do not do this anymore.”

Mary M. (“Mickey”) Swortzel, CFO and Hiring Manager at tech company New Eagle

What he could have done better:

He receives A- because he did not work with a career consultant or his career development office. No matter when you graduated from college, your career development office has services they can provide you as an alumnus.”

— DeBoer

He didn’t do anything wrong. I would just remind interns to try and go above and beyond. You want to be remembered as a GREAT intern who went above and beyond, not just a GOOD intern who did everything that was asked of him.”

— Tubman

“N/A.”

— Tremblay

“I wondered why he took a marketing position first and then became an attorney? That could have been viewed as a poor move indicating he wasn’t serious about the law.”

— Swortzel

Grade (on a scale of A-F): A- (DeBoer); A (Tubman); A++ (Tremblay); A (Swortzel)

2. Carrie Kirk, Digital Marketing Associate at Majux Marketing

“Last fall, I reached out to Majux to inquire about their open internship opportunities. I had no experience in the marketing field, but I expressed how interested and open I was to learning what I could from them in order to help their company succeed in the industry.

“I was brought in for an interview and offered the position on the spot. I truly think that my honesty and willingness to learn was key in being granted this opportunity.

“Fast forward to February, when I started. I made sure to listen, take notes and, most importantly, ask questions.

“At this time, I was also taking a digital marketing course as part of my undergrad studies. I made sure to bring in concepts I learned in class and ask to be taught how these concepts would be applied in the real world. Upon graduation in May, I was offered a full-time position.

“For others who wish to leverage their internship into a paid position, my advice is to always be willing to learn and try something new. If you can show your potential employer that you are willing to do what it takes to succeed, and to help their company succeed, that will only serve to benefit you in the long run.”

The Experts Weigh In

What she did right:

Carrie took the initiative to acquire an internship that provided her with experiential learning.”

— DeBoer

“I couldn’t agree more that companies will hire people who are willing to learn and do what it takes to be successful.”

— Tubman

“Expressed her willingness to learn. In interviews, there is usually a tendency to be guarded. The fact that she showed her interest and enthusiasm was probably part of the reason why she was offered a position on the spot.”

— Tremblay

“She appears to be doing the baseline to get an internship. While she mentions a willingness to learn and grow, it doesn’t seem like this is really going the extra mile to perform, and maybe her job offers have been as a result of timing versus truly standing out.”

— Swortzel

What she could have done better:

Carrie’s flaw was that she said to the employer that she was ‘willing to learn.’ While in her case it worked, she was lucky. By using the statement ‘I am willing to learn,’ you’re insinuating you do not have the experience to do the job.

“Instead, she could have pointed to her experience in the classroom from projects and any extracurricular activities. This is why it is so important that undergraduate students join groups like clubs, Greek life and athletics. In each of these, there are leadership positions that can be attained that can you provide you with practical experience.

“Then, with this experience, she could have created her own wix.com or LinkedIn page where she could have highlighted this experience, thus justifying the company bringing her on.”

— DeBoer

“I would suggest knowing who to go to with your questions. Asking questions is a great opportunity to network at a company, and you want to make sure you’re asking the appropriate question of people.

“You don’t want to ask a senior manager what the work/life balance is for a junior role; you don’t want to ask a junior person or someone who has been at the company for a relatively short period of time what skills are needed to be successful at this company, etc.”

— Tubman

“Don’t be so quick to bring in unrelated principles to situations where they might not be applicable (e.g., concepts learned in class won’t always apply to the real word).”

— Tremblay

“Nothing wrong, just not exceptional.”

— Swortzel

Grade: A- (DeBoer); B (Tubman); B+ (Tremblay); B (Swortzel)

3. Holly Steffl, Junior Media Coach at Media Minefield

“I interned for the company I am currently with, Media Minefield, the summer before I graduated college. As I was preparing to graduate, I applied for a job with Media Minefield and was offered a full-time position. Here is my experience of turning my internship into a job.

First, you can’t view your internship as an internship; you have to think of it as an extended job interview. You have to take the time you spend as an intern seriously and view your work as valuable. Work hard, ask questions and show that you are there to learn and do good work for the company.

“My trick was to think as though all of my work was going on the CEO’s desk — what would I want her to see?

“Second, you have to stop feeling like an outsider and jump into the company culture. My first week as an intern, a Wacky Dress Up Day was planned for that Friday. I could have chosen to remain professional and shown up in the typical business casual that Friday, but instead I donned a tutu and some wacky glasses.

“I was pretty tamely dressed compared to everyone else in the office that day, but I still participated in a tradition my coworkers love and I don’t think something like that goes unnoticed.

“I think that most important thing you can do when trying to turn an internship into a paid job is make connections. You need to make those personal and professional connections with each person you work with throughout your internship.

“If you build a good rapport with the people you are working with, you can help them envision you working with them long-term. If you prove that your work, your ideas and your teamwork skills are valuable, you never know what will happen next.

“On my last day at my internship, I went around and personally thanked each person I worked with for everything they taught me and for working with me. I also went back and visited the office a couple months after my internship had ended to say hi and catch up with everyone.

“I knew from the first day of my internship that Media Minefield was where I wanted to work after I graduated from college. So I worked hard, networked, and learned as much as I could while there.

“Then I kept those connections I had made as I applied for jobs. And I very thankfully ended up back at Media Minefield, and I couldn’t be more happy.”

The Experts Weigh In

What she did right:

Holly crushed it! She had the right attitude and gave it her all. Her advice is fantastic: ‘My trick was to think as though all of my work was going on the CEO’s desk — what would I want her to see?’

“If you go in with this attitude, any company will want to hire you.”

— DeBoer

“Everything! Two things to note:

“1) Companies are not only evaluating interns for skills that will allow them to do the job, but if they are aligned with the company culture.

“By participating in the event, Holly showed that she wanted to be a part of the culture, not just do her job and leave. This is very important to companies.

“2) Also, building a network is very important, and she handled that flawlessly; you never want to burn a bridge, even if there are no opportunities open at the moment.

“If you left a positive impression on the team and they know you really want this job, they will think of you when it comes up — but you also can’t make them forget about you during the school year (out of sight, out of mind). Holly handled things well by visiting the office after the internship ended.”

— Tubman

“Thanking everybody personally and growing personal relationships makes you a memorable person. Being memorable is important when being offered a job. Holly nurtured personal relationships. That goes a long way towards keeping you in a company’s memory.”

— Tremblay

“Work as though the CEO was going to see it, and she jumped into the culture and realized it was a ‘long interview.’ She was clearly focused on networking and realized that all professional connections can lead to long-term opportunities.”

— Swortzel

What she could have done better:

This is a tough one as I would only be nitpicking. She could have made her intentions clear as she was nearing the end of her internship, such as speaking to her boss about graduating and looking for a full-time job.

“In this scenario, it is possible the company may have offered her a full-time job after her internship, thus securing her. Because she didn’t do this, it seems, she was forced to apply to other jobs. Never put all your eggs in one basket!”

— DeBoer

“Nothing!”

— Tubman

“I would have liked to see her make some connections with people who she did NOT work with as well. You need both vertical support (hierarchical) and horizontal support (different departments).”

— Tremblay

“While she emphasizes she enjoyed the position, her actions and attitudes could be taken as self-serving instead of company-focused. I wonder if she was overly political and had too much focus on her own career development instead of doing the work.”

— Swortzel

Grade: A (DeBoer); A+ (Tubman); A- (Tremblay); A (Swortzel)

4. Kelly Jacobson, Junior Content Creator and Social Media Manager at Illumine8 Marketing & PR

“I graduated in December 2015 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in journalism and public relations. I now work at Illumine8 Marketing & PR after completing a summer internship for the company.

“During the spring of my junior year, I cold-called my now-boss for a summer internship. I thought I was late, so I gave a quick elevator speech. The elevator pitch was very hurried; I think I might’ve even laughed a little because I was embarrassed that I couldn’t remember what I’d rehearsed. In retrospect, it probably sounded slightly desperate, but she knew I was serious about the opportunity.

“I basically gave her my resume over the phone, keeping it as simple as possible. I told her where I went to school, what I studied, what I was interested in doing with my career.

“She asked me where I had heard about the internship, and I was in shock because I didn’t know they were actually advertising an internship; I just Googled her company. Turns out, it was my lack of research that drew her to my phone call because it was a chance for me to really prove myself.

“I landed the internship after two interviews, a few writing samples, and sharing a fake PR campaign I’d created in college. I worked as a blogger during the summer, and my boss hired me part time to work remotely during my senior semester. Once I graduated, she offered me a full-time job as a content creator and social media manager.

“My best advice for students looking to create a job opportunity out of an internship is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Many bosses understand that college students are new to the business world, so they’ll be more than happy to share advice. Learn from their mistakes.

“Also, hard work rarely goes unnoticed. Interns have a bad rep for being lazy, so break the stereotype by proactively asking for new tasks that’ll boost your skill set, making you more valuable.”

The Experts Weigh In

What she did right:

“Kelly lucked out. She cold-called the company, which shows initiative. The majority of students do not have the audacity to make a phone call like that, so because of that she stood out.”

— DeBoer

“Going after what she wanted and cold-calling. Not everyone can do it, and those that can show they are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.”

— Tubman

“Showed initiative by going out and looking for an opportunity. Cold-calling takes guts and dedication.”

— Tremblay

“She worked hard in the internship and seemed to view it as a chance to learn and grow personally and contribute to the company.”

— Swortzel

What she could have done better:

“She waited too long to actually search for an internship and when she did, she did zero research. Conducting research is 101.”

— DeBoer

“Doing research on a company is important before you get on a call. And treat every conversation as if it were an interview!”

— Tubman

“Lack of information on the company shows people that you just want A job, not THIS job.”

— Tremblay

“She got lucky. Being unprepared and thinking that is impressive is a mistake.”

— Swortzel

Grade: B (DeBoer); B (Tubman); B- (Tremblay); B (Swortzel)

5. Danny Garcia, Marketing Operations Manager at Stacklist

“Currently, I’m the Marketing Operations Manager at Stacklist.com, which documents the tools startups have used to succeed to help other entrepreneurs make quicker, better decisions on tools.

“I’m a recent graduate (this past May) of St. John’s University in Queens, NY, where I majored and got my B.S. in marketing. I started working immediately out of college. I was interning for Stacklist for a three-month period prior to graduation, so there was some nice timing there.

“How did I turn my internship into a job? I hustled. My CEO recently described me as possessing a certain ‘startup quality,’ which is moving fast, being hungry, and working hard.

“That’s the best advice I can give: to make sure ANYONE in college is using their time wisely, they need to get experience in the workforce, not just sit in class and do homework. Network, surf the Internet and find a place that will help you learn and accelerate your growth.

“I didn’t think I was going to be a student with a job upon graduation. To be frank, I was a terrible student. I was juggling 18 credits, a part-time job (where I worked 35 hours a week), and my internship at Stacklist (where I interned for 20 hours a week). There were countless days where I didn’t sleep because I needed to finish assignment by 8 a.m.

“My CEO knew how hard I was working (with the limited time I did have to do any homework or outside work), and knew she could trust me. For anyone interning, I can only say: Be hungry.

“Work hard, say yes to everything and do not waste your time with something that will not help you learn something new. If you’re looking for an internship, I would personally recommend interning at a startup, where it is fast paced and you’ll be an important part of the team.

“If you had an internship, but it didn’t turn into a job, use that experience and twist whatever you did there to fit into the culture and needs of the companies you apply for.”

The Experts Weigh In

What he did right:

Any company can train you on a hard skill, but they can’t train you to work hard and have a good work ethic. Like Danny said, he hustled.”

— DeBoer

“Said yes to everything! It’s important to be a go-getter and show that you’re capable of learning and getting things done.

“I also agree with Danny on not wasting time in college. We all have 24 hours in a day, and it’s how we use that time that is important and tells our story.”

— Tubman

“Realizing that school doesn’t have all the answers. If you don’t have real-life experience, you’re going to learn some hard, painful lessons.”

— Tremblay

“He understands the value of applying what he’s learning to a job. I believe the attributes he notes for a startup culture apply to interns at any company. If companies can see they are recouping the time being poured into an intern, it can get the person noticed.”

— Swortzel

What he could have done better:

“He downplayed his skills all throughout college. If he had met with career development earlier, he could have had an internship which would have led him to another an internship and eventually a job. It would have instilled more confidence in him.

“Additionally, startups are great, no doubt about it, but not usually for your first job. You should be aiming to start in a big company that you can move around in to find your calling. Then, once you’ve honed your skills and have a specialty, you can go to a startup.”

— DeBoer

“Not taking on too much. You never want to overpromise and underdeliver. It’s great to take on a lot and be hungry and willing to learn and work hard, but you don’t want to stretch yourself so thin you can’t deliver on your commitments.

“I also firmly believe how you do one thing is how you do everything, and if he was a ‘terrible student’ and didn’t commit to his academics just because he was juggling too much, it doesn’t really show well unless you can explain that.”

— Tubman

“Seventy-hour weeks are not sustainable in the long-term!”

— Tremblay

“Grades matter. While I agree that college students can benefit from work experience, it doesn’t  always compensate for a poor GPA.”

— Swortzel  

Grade: B+ (DeBoer); B (Tubman); B+ (Tremblay); B (Swortzel)

Your Turn: Current interns, could you see yourself turning your internship into a full-time job? What takeaways from these stories would you apply to your own situation? Former interns, what advice would you add?

Kelly Gurnett is a freelance blogger, writer and editor who runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. Follow her on Twitter @CordeliaCallsIt.

by Kelly Gurnett
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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