Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly described the Corcoran Gallery of Art as part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is a privately funded museum separate from the Smithsonian.

Bring Your Internship to a Strong Close

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 23, 2009

When Katie Funk left her summer internship in the director's office at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, she wrote thank-you notes to each person she worked with. During winter vacation, she stopped by to see three colleagues and the Ansel Adams exhibit. She stayed in touch through her senior year and ended up with a job at the museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution.

Two years after her internship, Funk is working in the director's office and this summer oversaw 25 interns. For them and other interns, it's crunch time for proving themselves and paving the way to future work possibilities. Despite worries about college loans, getting the right courses or work options for the fall, interns need to make the most of their last weeks on corporate or nonprofit payrolls. If they make the right moves, they can be building a bridge to a future job, experts say.

"Stay positive and end the internship on a good note," Funk said. If you're leaving ongoing work for others -- including fall interns -- write a description of the project, its goals and the process in advancing it. Leaving the work organized and easy for someone else to pick up will show your professionalism and help your boss reassign it.

"It really does come down to performance, combined with a passion for what you're doing," said Leslie Chappell, director of university relations for Lockheed Martin. She oversees an intern program that brings in some 1,500 interns a year. If you really want to impress your boss, she suggests picking up the pace and doing "something above and beyond" the job's basics in the last couple of weeks. Make sure you keep working through the end of the internship.

If you haven't already developed a network of people who know your work and like you, get going on that immediately, experts say. Go to lunch with colleagues; go to the company cafeteria and introduce yourself to a table full of engineers or managers. Or look up alumni from your university who work at the company. Attend intern events and other activities for staff. Find someone who's willing to mentor you for the next year.

"It's almost like becoming a student of the company you're interning for," Chappell said. Read about your company and visit departments that interest you. Maybe your next internship is two floors up or in another division of the same organization.

"An intern should always be thinking about the future," said Marilyn Mackes, executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks student and college jobs. Consider what comes next long before your last day. Ask about what departments or business units are growing and where opportunities will occur in the next year. If your supervisor knows of something promising, ask her to send a letter of recommendation and introduction to someone in that area, Mackes suggested.

If you really enjoyed the internship but didn't finish all the assignments, consider finishing the work in the fall from your dorm room or apartment. Employers like that because it helps with the workload and keeps them connected to young recruits, Mackes said. It demonstrates time management and an ability to work remotely and independently -- and it looks great on the résumé to say that you handled three projects in the fall and winter.

Funk tells of a former intern who was earning her master's degree in art history at a local university. She stayed involved at the Corcoran by working part-time at the gift shop and then helping out in information technology.

"She took any part-time job that was available," Funk said. Now she has landed a full-time position in the special events department.

In their final days, interns may also want to bring in their résumés or cover letters and ask for a review from colleagues or someone in human resources, Funk said. Use the organization's resources and get some pointers -- and don't forget to reinforce your interest in working there again.

Interns' big mistake, said Lockheed's Chappell, is forgetting a "strong closure to their assignment." Don't forget to let key people know if you want to return.

"Make sure you know how you did," she said. "Make sure your manager knows you enjoyed your assignment."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company