End your internship with common sense

Although there is still plenty of sunshine and hot weather left for the season, now is the time to start thinking about how to wrap up your summer internship before heading back to school. Regardless of whether your work experience was transcendent or abysmal, there are steps you can take to depart on a positive note.

Just as first impressions are lasting, final ones can make quite an impact as well. Don't slough off during the last few days on the job, thinking nobody is noticing.

U.S. News & World Report career and business writer Alison Green recently posted some valuable exit tips. Although some of them are just plain common sense, it's surprising how often they go unheeded in the workplace. For instance, simply extending a heartfelt thanks to your supervisor and co-workers goes a long way. Tell them how much you enjoyed your time with them, what valuable insights you gleaned from the experience, and what you'll "take with you" in your future endeavors. After all, there is a common perception in our society that niceties and courtesies are things of the past. You'd be surprised how far words like "please" and "thank you" will get you nowadays. (Your mother was right: It does pay to be polite!)
Why not go the extra mile and express your gratitude in something less mobile than a text message. Yes, it's easier to send a text message than even an email -- I do so all the time -- because it's something you can do from nearly everywhere. But sending an "old-fashioned'' note makes a lasting impression, and lets people know that they were worth a few moments of your time. I can say from personal experience that receiving a thank-you note on paper from someone whose career you've been watching can make someone's day.

E-mailed professional thank-you notes are wonderful, and I save any I receive – as should you; mine are in a folder in my e-mail program. You can save them wherever you like, but the point is – save them! You might be able to refer to them later, when asking for a job reference or applying for a position and backing up your application with a quote from a former colleague.

It would also behoove the departing intern to update and stay in touch with any contacts that were made during the summer. People like to be remembered, and by periodically sending brief emails (avoid lengthy ones, as they may well end up getting deleted before they're read) you'll stay fresh in their mind(s) -- always crucial for getting a recommendation or reference after you've left the internship. Along this train of thought, Green notes, now is also a good time to update your resume, while the details of your internship are still clear and vibrant in your mind.

One Internships.com columnist advises adding to your own value by doing such things as training your replacement; spreading the word about a particularly great internship; and sending referrals to your previous supervisors. These steps can keep you fresh in their minds – particularly useful if they hear of, or have to hire for, an entry-level position. Intern coach Colleen Sabatino offers similar reasonable advice, including what to do if you have found your internship disappointing.

One thing that Sabatino suggests – and I implore you to do as well – is to tell your school's internship coordinator or counselor why you were disappointed. Once in a while, I'll hear second- or third-hand of a student who didn't have a positive internship experience but who neglected to tell me, in my role as internship coordinator in the journalism department of Columbia College Chicago. This keeps me from giving constructive feedback to the supervisors, and therefore protecting future prospective interns from the same thing happen. It also prevents me from trying to help improve the disappointed intern's experience before it's too late.

Perhaps most importantly, try to keep in mind that no matter how your internship turned out, it will – in the long term – have ended up teaching you something that you'll be able to use later in life – even if you can't predict how. This could come in professional skills, or it could come in life skills. But it will have an impact, and you'll have gained something from it. It's not always easy to try to see things through the longer life lens, but it can be extremely helpful to do so.
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