The Secret to a Successful Internship: Perform

Spc. Avery Harbin, a soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, participates in a mock interview with local business and political leaders at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, March 16, 2017.
Spc. Avery Harbin, a soldier assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, participates in a mock interview with local business and political leaders at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, March 16, 2017. (Leejay Lockhart/U.S. Army photo)

Many veterans are starting their internships this week and experiencing corporate culture for the very first time. The learning curve will be steep as veterans try to acclimatize themselves to working within a business setting.

It's no secret that all interns are looking to parlay their internships into full-time offers. With that mission in mind, many focus their time networking with as many people at the firm as possible in order to seek out opportunities and increase their chances of getting a full-time offer. This is a huge mistake.

Your No. 1 priority as an intern is to perform. Period. And not just perform, but to be the top performer at whatever you're asked to do. Whether it's putting together complex modeling formulas in Excel or putting stickers on DVD cases, you want to be the go-to person for your direct supervisor; you want to be known as someone who gets things done.

As a veteran intern, the expectations on how you will perform are already higher than the average intern: You're older, more experienced and more mature. If you're not outperforming the average 20-year-old college kid, don't expect to receive any full-time offers.

Here's why focusing on performance is so important: It doesn't matter whom you network with at the company. Everyone that you talk to is going to call or email your direct supervisor and ask how you're doing. Your fate at the company will be determined by what they say about your performance.

It doesn't matter how much you network. If your manager has other than exemplary things to say about you, you're simply wasting your time because no one wants to hire an average performer. So your No. 1 priority is to earn the respect and sponsorship of your direct supervisor. If your direct supervisor is willing to put their name and reputation on the line for your behalf, then more times than not, the company will find a way to keep you on board.

The veteran community within the company is very small as well. Most, if not all, of them talk to one another, especially about any new veteran interns or hires. They want to support you and have your back, but they will also be harder on you than the average intern or new hire, which is to be expected.

Your mission as an intern is to build a solid, performance-based relationship with your manager or direct supervisor. If you make their life easier, make them look good or alleviate their workload in any way, they will fight to keep you on board in some capacity.

And in many cases, particularly in the veteran community, if the company cannot hire a top-performing intern because of financial reasons, veteran employees will call their veteran associates -- and even competing companies -- to make sure you're successful in gaining full-time employment. But none of this happens unless you earned the respect and sponsorship of your managers through your performance.

Within an organization, networking is a waste of time if you aren't considered a performer. Focus your time during your internship on performing beyond expectations. Let your supervisor take the lead in networking for you, and you'll ultimately be successful obtaining full-time employment.

Michael Abrams is the founder and president of FourBlock, a veteran career development program based in New York. He is the author of "Business Networking for Veterans," as well as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.

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