To most young adults navigating their college years, the word “internship” can be a source of both cautious excitement and unrestrained dread. A necessary evil, perhaps. The certainly don’t think about how to become a dream intern.
Whether you’re a rising sophomore, a recent college graduate, or even a restless retiree, securing an internship can give you a serious leg up. The common misconceptions about modern internships — pointless busy work, disconnection from day-to-day tasks, and next-to-nothing pay — are moot. They shouldn’t dissuade you from applying in earnest. After all, these experiences pay serious dividends for your career.
And interest in internships remains incredibly high. We receive hundreds of applications at Blackford Capital from highly qualified individuals every year. In addition, companies like Under Armour have created coveted internship programs that are harder to get into than Ivy League schools.
Organizations that desire innovative futures lean on interns for fresh ideas and energy. In turn, workers lean on internships for personal growth and future career opportunities.
Stereotypes of frantic coffee runs and photocopier duty are certainly outdated. But that doesn’t mean you can get away the bare minimum. So do you go from being a mere intern to an indispensable member of your team? Perhaps more important to your long-term career: How can you score a glowing recommendation — or better yet, a job offer?
Show Initiative: Learn Quickly
The most praised and respected intern ‒ the dream intern ‒ is the person who hits the ground running. From day one, they learn all they can about all aspects of the company.
At Blackford Capital, we have a very structured training and onboarding process that involves two weeks of education about private equity, deal sourcing, valuation, and more. Not all internships have such extensive training, however. In those cases, it’s up to you to discover how to learn quickly for yourself.
I encourage new interns to research the industry and company. Spend the first two weeks soaking up information and staying engaged through trainings. I also suggest interviewing various teams to learn what they do, how to help them, and what skills to develop to find success.
Whenever feasible, take initiative to find training programs and show the self-starting spirit that companies value.
This sort of in-depth study not only can impress the higher-ups, but also can help you determine whether your current career track is right for you. Some schools, such as the University of California San Francisco, hold career exploration programs designed to help students gain knowledge and understanding of their chosen fields. A recent study showed that 94 percent of participants are more decisive about their career paths as a result.
Perfect Yourself So You Can’t be Ignored
Leaders and hiring managers focus most on interns who not only go above and beyond in their roles, but excel in their skills. Once trained, perfect your responsibilities. Triple-check work to ensure it’s error-free. Take pride in presentation, Make your work visually appealing and consistent. And take all the time necessary to learn the company’s “voice.” This is what being a dream intern is all about.
Most internships will provide a clear outline of how interns can apply their skills to be successful. Following those guidelines to the letter is sure to impress any supervisor. This is especially true if your added research and dedication shine through in your completed work.
It’s also important to look and act the part. Be professional. As they say: Dress for the position you want, not the one you have. Be punctual, courteous, and respectful. When you perform your duties with a good attitude and a team-first mentality, superiors will take notice.
Don’t Stop Reaching for New Opportunities
After mastering responsibilities given… ask for more!
The dream intern helps out in all functions in order to gain exposure within the larger company framework.
Interns who go above and beyond at Blackford Capital work hard to master their assigned responsibilities of deal sourcing and show enthusiasm to get involved in additional projects. Standout traits are a strong work ethic, productivity with assigned tasks, and asking good questions. Those producing good work that is well-thought-out and accurate will always win our praises.
At the inception of your internship, write down three or four goals. Then share them with your teammates for extra accountability. In the end, you liking the position, company and culture pales in importance to the exposure you receive. After all, it’s better to learn your disdain for an industry now rather than later. No matter what, maintain the relationships you started, as updated references will do your LinkedIn profile and résumé good.
By adopting a mindset of constant improvement and expansion, interns set themselves up for success both personally and within the company’s greater scope. Those eager employees who study hard, excel in their primary functions, and remain hungry for more opportunities will stand out. And in a way that only the most foolish of employers would ignore.
That’s how you become a dream intern. And that is how you earn a job offer ‒ at this company or the next.
Martin Stein is the founder and managing director of Blackford Capital, focused on dramatically transforming lower middle-market industrial enterprises through exponentially profitable growth. Since receiving his Bachelor of Arts from University of Chicago and his MBA from Harvard Business School, he has had almost two decades of private equity experience. Among other awards, Martin has been honored as the nation’s Private Equity Professional of the Year by M&A Advisor.