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How to turn an internship into a lucrative full-time job

Key Points
  • Being an intern gives you the inside edge to turn an 8- or 12-week stint at a company into a full-time job.
  • But having that advantage doesn't always automatically result in an offer letter.
  • Showing initiative, networking and asking questions are just some of the tips interns should keep in mind if they want to get noticed.
A. Chederros | Getty Images

One of the best things about being an intern is the inside edge it gives you to turn an 8- or 12-week stint at a company into a full-time job. But having that advantage doesn't always automatically result in an offer letter.

What are the things interns can do to turn their temporary position into a full-time gig? CNBC spoke with some leading hiring managers, as well as some interns, to find out how to turn an internship into a full-time offer after college graduation — and a few behaviors that can derail a future career.

Here are some of the top tips to keep in mind:

Treat it like a full-time job

Michelle Sterling is executive vice president and chief human resources officer at technology giant Qualcomm and works with the roughly 500 interns the company brings on each year. She says the ones that impress her the most — and are most likely to be invited back and get an offer letter — are those that treat the internship like a full-time job.

"Show that you are fully invested in the position and that you want to stay for the long term," she advises the interns she works with. Sterling counsels these young men and women to attend any meetings they are invited to, and to offer to help in any way possible.

"Do additional industry research and find ways to truly immerse yourself in the work, in the company and understanding its business," Sterling adds. "Managers notice when interns go beyond the scope of their duties and show initiative."

Network and get involved

Once you're selected for an internship, use it as a springboard to meet as many people within the organization as possible, says Liane Hornsey, executive vice president and chief people officer at global cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks. The company brings on about 125 interns each May and June for a 12-week program across all aspects of the company, and she encourages them to build relationships right from the start.

"Attend events and join affinity groups, like those for interns " she says. "I understand that not all interns are extroverts and for some it may be difficult to strike up a conversation with someone they don't know, but I do advise them to do their best to get involved. Make a point to meet managers and other interns beyond just the people you are working with every day."

That's what Ryan Gramlich, 25, did. He started as a product marketing intern at Palo Alto Networks in the summer of 2016 while attending San Jose State University in California. During his time at the company, he made sure to set up meetings with other managers he met throughout the day. "I don't drink coffee, but it didn't matter," Gramlich says with a laugh. "I still reached out and asked people to grab coffee so that I could network and learn as much as I could about them and what they did."

Before he left his internship at Palo Alto Networks, Ryan Gramlich connected with his managers and told them he was interested in a full-time position with the company. "I didn't want them to think this was just a stopover while I looked for another job," he says. He is now a full-time program manager on the customer marketing team.

As his internship was drawing to a close, he connected with these managers and told them how interested he was in a full-time position with the company. "I didn't want them to think this was just a stopover while I looked for another job," he says. Before graduation in 2017, Gramlich was offered a full-time job and is now a program manager on Palo Alto Network's customer marketing team.

Be a sponge

For most interns this is their first corporate job and, for some, even their first job. Still, it's important to remember that a certain level of preparedness is expected. Qualcomm's Sterling says that "when you're new to an organization, you want to be a sponge by observing those around you, paying attention to what's relevant and how decisions get made." She acknowledges that it can be intimidating at first to navigate meetings and know when to make your voice heard.

That's why she says the best path is to always be the most prepared person in the room. "Do research on the topic at hand; do the prereading; learn everyone's name in advance," Sterling says. "Over time your opinion will become invaluable and your team will be wondering what they would do without you."

Ask questions

Beyond being curious about the company you're working for, ask questions about the internship itself. Hornsey of Palo Alto Networks says interns should ask their managers how performance is measured and when evaluations are done. "You want to know what success looks like," she adds. If there isn't clarity on this, it could be a sign that the internship position is not a strategic placement, or the company doesn't have a good process in place, she says. Both could hinder an opportunity to secure a full-time position.

Make your manager's life easy

When Marshia "Mai" Seto, 26, started as an intern at Qualcomm in June 2015, she was a freshman at Purdue University studying computer science. Her biggest concern back then, she says, was overcoming her fear of asking questions in meetings. But as time went on, Seto says she realized one of the keys to her success as an intern was how well she helped her managers with their tasks.

Each Friday, without any prompting, she emailed a progress report to her managers, detailing the status of the projects she had worked on that week and what still needed to be done. Not only was it a good way to keep them up to date on her accomplishments but Seto says "it helped my managers keep track of everything going on and I know they appreciated it."

By the time she graduated from Purdue in May 2018, she had a full-time job offer in hand as a software engineer at Qualcomm's headquarters in San Diego.

Solicit feedback

No one wants to be surprised to learn at the end of their internship they didn't meet expectations. Tracy Keogh, chief human resources officer at tech giant HP, advises interns to ask managers and team members for feedback early and often and then make the appropriate adjustments. "Being open to feedback reflects maturity and an eagerness to grow," she says.

When Ryan Gramlich was interning at Palo Alto Networks, he made sure that he knew what his managers and team members thought of his work by asking for their feedback. "If you need to put the extra time in to get your work up to snuff, then do it," he says. "But make sure you know where you stand with managers so there are no negative surprises at the end. At the end of the internship, you want to make sure that everyone you worked with has something good to say about you."

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @ Work: People + Machines Summit in San Francisco on Nov. 4. Leaders from Dropbox, Sas, McKinsey and more will teach us how to balance the needs of today with the possibilities of tomorrow, and the winning strategies to compete.

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