Even as the economy improves and talent becomes more difficult to find, employers remain selective when it comes to adding entry-level workers. As a result, internships have become increasingly vital when it comes to securing post-graduation employment.

“Internships are more important than ever, but not all internship programs are created equal. Many employers do not have any type of strategy when it comes to utilizing and educating their interns. In these situations both the employer and the intern lose. It is critical that young people entering an internship program take a proactive approach to managing and maximizing their experience,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement and business coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

While statistics about the number of internship positions held each year are difficult to come by, some estimates put the total between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000. Currently, there are more than 117,000 available positions listed on internships.com.

Regardless, of how many Americans participate in internships, the importance of these opportunities to one’s career development should not be overlooked. A 2012 survey of graduates by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 60 percent of those who participated in paid internships received at least one job offer.

Meanwhile, another NACE survey revealed that 95 percent of employers said candidate experience is a factor in hiring decisions and nearly half wanted that experience to come from internships or co-op programs.

In light of the growing importance internships have in career development, Challenger offered the following advice for getting the most out these positions.


  • Treat your internship as a real job.

The best way to prove you are qualified for a permanent position is through action. Think of your internship as a trial period or extended interview for obtaining the position you desire. Always be on time and meet deadlines. Maintain a positive attitude and show that you are eager to learn and succeed by seeking out feedback to improve your performance and develop new skills.

  • Exceed expectations.

By taking initiative you can show management what you are capable of. Do not be afraid to voice your own ideas, offer solutions, and ask questions. Show interest in attending meetings and seek out extra work and new projects. When you go above and beyond the minimum, you demonstrate your commitment level and gain the attention of management.

  • Keep track of your contributions and accomplishments.

Keep track of the projects you worked on, your individual contributions, and the results achieved. Having a tangible record of your achievements with the company is a helpful tool in convincing a manager why you should be hired full time.

  • Network, network, network.

Developing contacts inside and outside of your department is extremely important. Schedule lunches or meetings with company managers and executives to give them a better understanding of what you’re about and what you plan on accomplishing. Find a mentor to teach you the ropes of the organization and offer advice on company politics. The contacts you make through your internship could prove invaluable throughout your time at the organization and throughout your career.

  • Stay in contact.

If you don’t get hired for a position immediately after your internship ends, stay in touch. Check-in with your contacts and provide updates on your progress. This will help to keep you in the forefront for the employer’s mind when a position opens.