“And I’ve landed a really good internship at a big company. Honestly this is the sort of job I’ve always dreamt of having. I would love to be hired full time after I graduate and work there for a few years, how would you suggest I go about making an impression? Making myself invaluable?”
Hi there! Obviously, there are no guarantees here, but let’s give it a shot.
A big mistake interns and young employees in general make is, “I’ll do anything they tell me!” (And then you stand around, useless, waiting for someone to tell you something.) There are almost no jobs available for people who can only follow specific instructions. Being eager-but-useless just makes you a burden, whereas you want to be the opposite.
At a big company with a well-defined internship program, this might not be an issue. But still, you want to be a peer with your coworkers (in some ways), not just a young lackey. I would try to suggest a project and end up completing it yourself or by coordinating others to complete it. What kind of project would someone put an intern in charge of? Anything where the final product stays inside the company, like some kind of report to the boss, or where the final product is approved by people higher up before it goes out. Or internal stuff, like organizing employees for a charity event. Also, any kind of report with your name on it that sticks around after you’re gone? Golden. What kind of information are people always chasing down and asking each other that you could helpfully put into a single “resource guide” and distribute?
Also, don’t just try to make good with a boss. Coworkers, assistants — all those people are important. If you just make friends normally, whoever’s in a hiring position will see you as having a “good fit,” whereas even if you don’t work at the company in the end, people who are closer to you in age than your direct boss might very well be even more useful contacts than the boss. (See Bullish: What I Wish I’d Known When I Was 18.)
Don’t only express interest in the big, important, glamorous tasks. (Annoying intern: I want to work in fashion, doing fashionable things like Carrie Bradshaw! Or: MTV is great, when can I meet the celebrities?) Express genuine interest in the more mundane and necessary functions of the company — things you’d actually be involved in if you worked there for real. (How does our customer information get into this database?!)
Finally, don’t be shy to actually talk to people (around the second half of your internship) about how you really want to work there! Just like the best way to get a raise is to ask for one, the best way to get hired is to make it really clear that you are interested and enthusiastic and ready to play on the team.
Hope that helps!
One more thought about being young and inexperienced. In so many fields, there are young, promising whippersnappers, and there are sharp, powerful, seasoned experts. And then there are a bunch of aging, mediocre people who never really hit it.
So, if you’re a young, promising whippersnapper, you’re not in last place. You’re in second.
Furthermore, there is an informal society of sharp, powerful, seasoned experts who used to be you. These sharp, powerful, seasoned experts are, on a daily basis, annoyed by the lazy, sloppy, intellectually incurious people who surround them. Some of these sharp, powerful, seasoned experts are actively looking for you, to welcome you into a club of people who don’t fuck around. Just FYI.