When recruiting interns, it’s easy to promote the role you’re offering by rolling out the common, cliche benefits of an internship: “It’s a great way to see how the real world works,” “You’ll make great connections,” “You’ll get some good experiences,” and more. While these benefits are accurate, managers often exclude one of the most important, if not the most important, takeaway: learning how to network. It’s practically a secret weapon.
Through my internship at Productive Strategies, I was exposed to one thing that only an internship could teach me effectively: the art of networking. While I learned a lot during my freshman year at Northwestern (including that networking is important), no one really taught me how to network. People talked about it all the time, and I learned the general expectations for networking, but I didn’t know how to apply what I learned.
Networking, like many skills, requires practice. Through my internship, I was in a prime position to watch my boss and longtime networking aficionado, Phil Krone, show me how it’s done. During meetings of networking groups, I watched him and then tested what I’d learned immediately. Whether it’s a person, a book, or an online post, words alone can only do so much to teach networking. At the end of the day, improvement required watching successful networking practices in real time, practicing them, hearing feedback, and trying again.
Without this internship, I wouldn’t have learned how to network this summer. While I still have a long way to go, I now have a strong foundation upon which to build. In addition, I plan to observe and apply other people’s networking habits at future internships. Networking isn’t hard because of the necessary technical knowledge. The difficulty lies in developing a second-nature ability to engage with people in meaningful ways, the confidence to go out there and do it, and a strong situational understanding that will lead to doing and saying the right things at the right times—abilities that develop only through watching a pro and practicing. (See “Ready, Set, Network!” for detailed advice.)
When recruiting interns, managers should highlight all of the benefits, not just the ones that most candidates already know about. Everyone, from a prospect’s parents to friends to professors will preach the importance of gaining “experience” from internships, for instance, but arguably the best reason is too often neglected. Learning to network from someone with experience and success is a significant incentive for any internship prospect to choose the position you’re offering.
Tyler Turk is a sophomore at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He was a Productive Strategies intern during the summer of 2019.
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