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Turning an Internship into a Career-Starter

by Morgan Richardson, School of Communications 2013

This summer I had the pleasure of serving as the Communications Intern for GE Energy Financial Services, a unit of General Electric (GE). While I definitely advanced my communications skills (press releases, media pitching, social media initiatives, internal communications and more), I also developed a forward-looking view of where this internship could lead. I was able to learn more about myself and what I’m really looking for in a career, besides just having a job after college.

Although it seemed like a no-brainer that an internship can hopefully lead to a job, your employer doesn’t always know what you are looking for. After a few weeks at GE, my manager asked me, “What are you looking to get out of this? Where do your interests lie, inside and out of GE?”

I realized that I needed to develop and express concrete career goals for myself. Internships, especially at larger companies, can provide an array of opportunities, sometimes internationally. I had to determine what I wanted from my career. To travel the world? To make great connections? To rise in the ranks of a certain company? After I found the answers to those questions, and many others, I let my managers and others know what I wanted. I scheduled a meeting with an HR manager to discuss my career goals and they helped me determine the next steps I should take to making them a reality.

After defining my goals, I took the first step to actualizing them by finding a sponsor. Something that I learned at GE is that you need more than just mentorship to start a successful career; you need sponsorship. A mentor gives advice and guidance, but a sponsor will also put their name on the line and speak up for you. A sponsor will say, for example, “This employee is intelligent and reliable, and I think they are the most deserving for the position.”

However, having a sponsor does not mean having a free ride. During my internship, I made sure to demonstrate my work-ethic, ability to learn quickly, and skills set so that everyone I worked with, including my sponsor, knew that I was a serious candidate. I collaborated with departments outside of Communications to ensure that everyone knew me and could speak to my professionalism if asked. I was determined to make a lasting impression, despite only having 10 short weeks.

Finally, and I’m sure this is something that everyone has heard before, I networked! To me, networking is not only giving out business cards and talking about your accomplishments. It also includes showcasing your personality. At times, there can be numerous qualified applicants for a position and the deciding factor will be, “Is this someone that I would enjoy working with?” I attended company social events, diversity forums, lunch & learns, and even volleyball games, establishing my character. Showing who you are in and outside of the cubicle can make the difference in starting your career.

Going into my last year at Northwestern, I’ll continue to work at achieving my career goals. Great advice that I learned from a colleague this summer is to continually seek other opportunities, even if you think you have found your dream job. Interviews, besides leading to a job, can be great practice and speaking with other companies will only expand your professional network. Additionally, I will keep in touch with the contacts I’ve acquired this summer and continue practicing my skills in public relations. My experience this summer has given me a new focus on how to jumpstart my career and armed me with great tools and advice to get there.

About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.