Most internships likely end one of three ways: Some lucky interns receive job offers from their employers, thanks to their hard work and talent; others are still students and have to return to class; and the final group desperately wanted the internship to turn into a full-time job, but didn’t get the offer.
If you fall into the latter group — maybe because the company just wasn’t hiring, or perhaps because you weren’t a great fit — here are 11 steps to take right away:
1. Put the situation in perspective
Hold your head high, take a deep breath and remind yourself you’re not alone and that it was likely nothing personal. You went into the situation with your eyes wide open and if it ended with a job offer, great — but understand that it was never a guarantee.
Instead, take the time to reflect on what you learned, how many new networking contacts you made, and how the experience will bolster your résumé. Take a detailed inventory of what it is you learned — leaving nothing out, no matter how small it may seem. You’ll likely surprise yourself at how much you actually learned during your time as an intern.
2. Think about the experience you’ve gained
Youtern CEO and founder Mark Babbitt says that the primary purpose of an internship is to gather valuable experience. So if you don’t snag the job at the end of it, don’t be too hard on yourself. Consider all of the things you might have gained instead.
“Did you gain new soft skills?” Babbitt says. “Did you improve your personal network? Did you build a mutually-beneficial relationship with a mentor? Will your résumé and LinkedIn profile be more robust with this internship included? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” your summer internship has been a success, job offer or not.
3. Consider the fact that it may be a blessing in disguise
“Had you been offered a job you may have felt compelled to accept it out of loyalty or desperation, without considering whether or not the position is actually the best career move right now, or whether or not you really do want to work for the company,” says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humour Advantage.”
Starting back at square one might not feel ideal at the time, but it forces you to seek and consider other promising opportunities.
“Keep the perspective that being an intern is a two way street — it’s as much an opportunity for you to test drive a potential employer and job as it is for the company to test drive potential employees,” Kerr says.
4. Get a recommendation
Kerr stresses that it’s important to ask for referrals and letters of recommendation from managers and colleagues before you leave or right after you go.
“If you did an outstanding job then they will be more than happy to offer up possible leads and a letter of recommendation,” he says.
5. Stay in touch
Share your phone number and personal email address with everyone in your “goodbye and thanks” email, and mention your intention to stay in touch.
Then, actually do that.
“Staying in touch will help them keep you on their radar, so that when they do become aware of job opportunities, either within their company or elsewhere, you might end up being the first person they reach out to,” Kerr says.
6. Ask for advice
Once you’re certain that you won’t be getting a job offer, head to some of your connections within the organisations and ask for guidance.
“They will respect you for it and be flattered that they were asked,” Kerr says. “Ask what courses you might consider, what strengths you need to highlight in your résumé, and what gaps need to be filled. But be forewarned — if you ask for honest advice then be prepared to hear some uncomfortable truths. But recognise that this is another benefit of being an intern — many people looking for jobs won’t have gained the access you have to free career consulting advice!”
7. Don’t write it off as a failure
Babbitt says it’s important to remember that an internship is a stepping stone — not a guarantee of a job offer.
“In today’s job market, you may have to take several steps — and even missteps — before your career starts to go in the right direction,” he says. “Be patient, yet persistent. Remain grateful, and at the same time stay hungry. Employers will notice the effort and commitment. Your hard work will pay off.”
8. Seek out a mentor
Just because you’re leaving the organisation doesn’t mean that you need to cut ties with everyone.
“Is there someone you respect that you built a solid relationship with during your internship that you could approach and ask if they’d be willing to mentor you on a casual, on-going basis?” Kerr asks. If so, invite this person to coffee and have that conversation.
9. Express your gratitude
Yeah, you didn’t get the job. Still, you most likely have a lot to be grateful for. Kerr says it’s a nice idea to thank thank everyone who helped you during your time at the company.
“A small, thoughtful gift or handwritten thank you card listing the specific ways they helped you grow will be truly appreciated and leave behind a long lasting impression,” he says.
10. See if and how you can help
“This may seem like an odd offer to make, but it will be perceived as a very professional, even classy move to make,” Kerr says. “You might offer to write a testimonial letter about how valuable you found their internship program to be, do a video testimonial about how great you found their workplace culture, or offer to be an ambassador when they are seeking positions to fill and share any potential openings with your network.”
11. Start planning your next step
Babbitt says it’s important to leverage your recent internship to see if you can get something even more prestigious for your next gig.
“Go bigger! Set your sights on a high-profile start-up or marquee brand like Google, Deloitte, or Uber,” he says. “Show a clear progression in your responsibilities and impact. Demonstrate an undeniable track record for personal and professional growth. Make the your next employer, who sees hundreds of ‘blah, college degree, blah, blah’ résumés every week say, ‘Wow, this one’s our next rock star.'”
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