Making the end of your internship count

It’s hard to believe it’s already past the middle of July, that summer’s half gone, and that you’re two-thirds of the way through your internship. You might not realize it, but the next couple of weeks are a critical period during which much of the career value of the internship can be gained or lost. People remember first and last impressions – the middle, not so much. So with that in mind, I’ve put together a list of things you can do now to maximize the value of your internship.

Before we get started, though, let’s review your goals:

  • Have fun
  • Learn a lot
  • Meet people
  • Get an offer

I’m assuming that you have the first bullet point under control (ah, to be young and carefree again). As for the next two, by now you’re probably past peak learning and meeting, and are currently concentrating on the nuts and bolts of doing.

This post will focus on the last point. Whether you’re dying to get an offer letter or never want to see the inside of your current company ever again (i.e., and want to get a job elsewhere), there are things you should be doing now to make this happen.

Things to do now

  • Finish your project

You’ve had about a month and a half to come up to speed – by now, you should be pretty comfortable with the code base, and deep into the guts of whatever project you’re working on. You need to finish. I can’t emphasize this enough – if you leave behind an almost-finished project, you’ll be remembered as that nice intern who didn’t actually get anything done. If you don’t merge working code, the most likely outcome is that everything you worked on will get thrown away. Pull some late hours, work over a weekend, do whatever it takes, but make sure your project ships. Shipping something buggy won’t help, of course, so test and get your code reviews.

If you’ve been working on a series of smaller projects instead of one big project, you should be making sure that you’re hitting your smaller deadlines. If you can squeeze in an extra project, so much the better.

Lastly, if you find yourself with a little time on your hands, and your manager doesn’t have something specific for you to work on, take a look at the slush pile of random crap your team is responsible for (every team has this). Bugs, tickets, legacy tools, old shared libraries, whatever. Nothing will endear you to your coworkers so much as making a dent in this, or (better yet) automating some portion of it away. It isn’t necessarily glamorous, but it can sometimes be surprisingly interesting, especially if you’re only doing it for a short period of time.

  • Connect with your coworkers

LinkedIn is an essential part of modern professional life, and if you don’t have an account yet, you need to set one up. Make sure it’s up-to-date, describes what you accomplished in your internship, and has an identifiable picture. Then send connection requests to everyone you’ve met – other interns, team members, your manager, business partners, people you talk to at the coffee machine, etc. In short, everyone who knows you by name.

I’d also recommend following your coworkers on Twitter. Favoriting, retweeting, or commenting on someone’s tweets is a low effort way to stay on their radar after you’ve left.

Lastly, there’s Facebook. Everyone uses it differently, and some people don’t feel comfortable mixing workplace acquaintances and friends. For people who are purely professional acquaintances, I’d personally recommend against, but that might just be me. Use your judgment.

Things to do in your last week

  • Ask for recommendations

When you leave your internship, you should ask your manager, mentor, and coworkers for recommendations. LinkedIn has a pretty good interface for doing this while avoiding any attendant awkwardness. Leaving a company with positive feelings from your coworkers is nice, but having two or three strong recommendations pays dividends far down the line.

  • Get a performance review

This is a key opportunity for learning where you need to improve. Schedule some time with your manager to have a final one-on-one, and let her know that you’ll want to discuss your performance. This can be uncomfortable, but an experienced manager should be able to give feedback that’s meaningful and actionable. This is especially valuable if you don’t leave with an offer letter. If you killed it over the summer, you likely won’t get much feedback on where you can improve – they’re going to do everything they can to convince you to come back for another summer or for a full-time job, and may focus on the up-sell over substantive critical feedback. On the other hand, if you don’t get an offer, you need to know why – it might be an uncomfortable conversation, but depending on the feedback you get, could also be hugely valuable.

  • Leave well

Hopefully, you’ll have had a fantastic time this summer, loved working with all of your eccentric yet insightful coworkers, had a deeply fulfilling intellectual experience, and learned life lessons that you’ll later turn into an award-winning screenplay. Or maybe not. Either way, leave well. If you loved it, send a goodbye email full of gratitude for all the kindness you were shown. If you hated every minute of it, then skip the goodbye email, and do not take the opportunity to give anyone a last vengeful piece of your mind. It might feel good in the moment, but it’s a surprisingly small industry, and shouting profanities at a hated boss on your last day will only hurt you in the long run.

One more thing you should be doing now, but won’t

  • Start getting ready for interview season

Interviewing is hard, somewhat random, and extremely frustrating, but you can dramatically improve your odds of getting an offer by studying a few very well-defined things. You can blow it off and get by on what you already know, wait until September and start cramming, or do a little every day, starting now. Most people won’t do anything, and will go into their interviews cold – some will get offers, others won’t, but it’s basically a version of The Hope Method™. Some will freak out and start cramming right around the career fair, and will be unprepared and nervous during the interviews. This is better than going in cold, but still sub-optimal. It’s strongly preferable to start reviewing material now.

Most engineers love talking about interview questions, and would be happy to show you a few of their favorites, then check your work. Get a bunch of your coworkers together for lunch, ask them their favorite interview questions, and you’ll have an hour of people trying to one-up each other with interesting problems and discussions of solutions.

The point is that you shouldn’t be relying on luck or last minute cramming. If you’re training for a marathon, you don’t start with a 16 mile run the week before the race – you start small and build up one mile per week. You have some great resources around you right now – use them.

Things to do after you leave

  • Send thank you notes

No one sends hand-written thank you notes anymore, which is why yours will stand out. It takes almost no time, but it demonstrates a level of thoughtfulness that most people simply don’t display.

  • Keep in touch

Even if you don’t end up getting an offer, or don’t accept the offer you’re given, stay in touch. Let them know when you’re in town, and meet favorite coworkers for coffee, or lunch at the office. Build a network. One day, they’ll be looking for an awesome engineer to hire, and will think of you. Or they’ll be looking for a job, and you’ll be at a company they’d like to join. This is how the system works.

  • Find out how your project did

Remember that project you finished at the end of your internship? What ended up happening with it? Did it make the company a boatload of money? Did it reduce key impediment X to achieving goal Y? Is it still being used? Is there a way for other people to see it? You might not be able to share detailed results (confidentiality and all that), but it’s a much better selling point on your resume and in an interview if you can discuss the business impact of your project (e.g., increased revenue by $X), as opposed to a description of what you did (e.g., designed and implemented feature Y).

A final note

Just to make one thing clear – I’m not advocating that you should start a deathmarch to the end of your internship. But you’ve worked hard up to now, and have a special opportunity with an expiration date. Enjoy the rest of your summer, but don’t drop the ball because you weren’t paying attention.

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