From intern to employee: 4 tips for making a lasting impression

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Last April, as I neared the end of yet another unsalaried yet beloved internship, I turned to Idealist to resume my job seeking journey. Knowing I couldn’t afford any more unpaid or stipended work, the pressure to find a sustainable job increased.

Resumes and cover letters cluttered my screen when I happened to receive a message from Idealist asking what I was up to. A past Idealist intern, I viewed the organization as a dream place to work. I struggled to keep my enthusiasm to a sane level when I replied. Perhaps they only had a question for me, or a volunteer opportunity.

As chance would have it, Idealist was hiring and they wanted to know if I was interested in the position. I couldn’t even land a counter position at the shop next to me in “desperate” need of hire! And now I had the possibility of working at an organization I’d have paid to join. How?

Being authentic as an intern

Right before Idealist contacted me, I had become one of the final candidates for a position at a school I also once interned for and loved (and I found that job on Idealist). As much as I’m inclined to toss these opportunities off to good fortune, the innumerable amount of jobs and internships I applied to in the past and didn’t get assured me that it wasn’t just luck. When I look back, it wasn’t just about wearing the business professional suits, following the etiquette of interviews, and revising my resume (again and again) to please whichever seasoned career counselor I asked for feedback. What did make a difference was something that never occurred to me as a strength: authenticity.

Nonprofits care about people who care. Yes of course they want qualified applicants, but they also want committed applicants, people who bring energy, drive, passion, and joy to their work. I genuinely wanted to do the work of the internships I applied to. Once there, I genuinely felt grateful for the chance to learn, collaborate, and work for organizations I respected. Once I left, I genuinely wanted to keep in touch, to see how my co-workers and managers were doing, to know what my past students were up to and what new developments Idealist had lined up.

Here are a few ways I demonstrated my commitment that helped me turn my internships into jobs.

I sought feedback

When I taught English classes at the school, I often stayed after hours or reached out for advice from the veteran teachers. I welcomed all and any feedback they had for my assignments, classes, and management skills. I set up meetings to figure out how to tackle new teacher struggles and collaborated with my peers to share successful methods.

Though at times I felt dejected, the feedback helped me realize that great teaching takes time. Once, in response to my inquiries, one teacher reflected, “You’re asking exactly the right kind of questions for someone who wants to teach.” That reminded me: I might not be a great teacher at the moment, but I could grow into one by working at it. The full-time teachers already knew that, and my constant attempts to improve reflected my commitment to becoming a great teacher. I think that helped my case when, years later, I came back to apply as a teacher and program coordinator.

Once you’re at your internship, seek feedback from those around you. Not only will that help you improve the quality of your work, but it also shows your supervisors that you’re invested in doing your best for the organization.

I expressed appreciation

On the last day of my Idealist internship, I wrote everyone an embarrassingly long letter and brought in flowers and cookies. I didn’t want to make a show of anything; I simply felt deeply appreciative for the summer and wanted to express that. So I left the flowers and cookies on our lunch table along with my letter.

This might’ve been too much for certain workplaces or different personalities. But for me, and this office, it fit. Idealist received my thanks warmly, understanding my sincerity (and my sentimental nature) [Editor’s note: We put her letter on the refrigerator. It was incredibly touching!]. I also think they appreciated my appreciation; it’s encouraging to know how you’ve inspired someone else. I think my goodbye helped crystallize the image that stayed once I left: this girl loved it here, she truly cared about our mission and our people, and she worked hard for both. A year later, that’s the person they thought to contact when they had an opening.

Let the organization know how they impacted you. Don’t be afraid to say a sincere thank you! Let them know how much you learned, that you appreciate those who taught you, and that you value the relationships you’ve formed. I don’t like the idea of writing thank you notes of formality. Write them from your heart.

I stayed in touch

After I left the school, I stayed connected to my fellow summer teachers and the full-time teachers. I visited during my vacations to observe classes and see my old students. After I left Idealist, I similarly stayed connected to my co-workers, sending catch up emails every now and then.

Hopefully if you had a good experience at your job or internship, you’ll want to stay in touch regardless. Stop by and visit, keep up your good relations, see what your old colleagues are up to. Not only will that help you stay in people’s thoughts, it also shows you’re still invested in the organization. By keeping in touch, you also keep one another in mind. That’s great for both sides if anything comes up where you can help each other out.

I stayed in tune

Even when I’m not looking for a job, I keep my Idealist email alerts on so I can see what nonprofits are up to (especially all the ones I’ve worked for). If a position opens up in one of my past organizations and I’m not looking, I send it along to friends who’d be great fits. I also stay subscribed to all my past organizations’ newsletters, comment fondly on their social media pictures, and try to publicize them because they’re all places I love and believe in. It’s through these multiple modes of communication that I always know when they have open positions or events I can go to. It’s just one more way to say: hey, I cared when I was there, and I care now even though I’m gone.

Almost every organization is on social media these days. So aside from staying in touch personally, stay in tune with your organization through social media and sites like Idealist. As I said, I wouldn’t have known about the opening in the school had it not come up in my Idealist email alert. Similarly, sometimes organizations will post new initiatives or events they’re running, which can be a great time to check in.

These tips are not guarantees, but hopefully they’ll help keep you on good terms with the places where you volunteer, intern, and work. And who knows, perhaps a wonderful organization will send you a message when your screen seems helplessly filled with applications, surprising you with an offer instead.

Were you able to go from intern to employee? Share your tips below.

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Photo Credit: Monkey Business, Shutterstock

About Author

Community Manager at Idealist.org

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