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This guest post is written by Elizabeth P. Cipolla, a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. Cipolla is featured weekly in the Jamestown Post-Journal’s business section, where this column was published orginally on March 10, 2013.

Each year, millions of students and adults race to find the perfect internship in the industry of their dreams. What many fail to understand is the simple truth behind what they can do to get the most out of their experience at any internship assignment, every time.

Truth No. 1: Despite what you’ve been told, studying hard and getting good grades is not the only path to career success.

As a seasoned human resource management professional, I can assure you that savvy hiring managers want something more than good grades. In fact, many will not even consider hiring a candidate who has no related work experience. This translates to one simple truth – demonstrated internship experience will give you an edge over a candidate who only has good grades to show.

Truth No. 2: An internship is only as good as you make it.

Throughout my career, I have hired and managed countless interns in many industries nationwide. The three similarities shared by those who I would consider hiring as a regular employee are demonstrated knowledge of the business, the ability to think through problems or issues and knowing how to conduct themselves in a professional environment. Simply put, take the time to learn about the company where you would like to intern, show off your resourcefulness by developing a fix for simple problems and act the way they do – as a professional in their line of work.

Truth No. 3: Your internship is also an audition for your future in the company.

This is a well-kept secret, and I am letting you in on it! Very often, senior leadership will look to their internship pool as a feeder for future openings. When I was a human resource manager at a fortune 200 global organization, we joked that our interns were actually participating in a long interview. We would frequently consider our top-notch interns who already knew the inner workings of our company over outside candidates who did not.

Truth No. 4: Internships aren’t just for college students anymore.

Are you looking to make a mid-life career change? Do you plan to re-enter into the work world after an extended absence? Nontraditional internships are a growing trend in recent years. Many employers will be happy to give you a chance to volunteer on important projects which will give you hands-on training, a foot in the door and relevant experience for your resume. In fact, many employers recognize that traditional interns may not have the maturity or experience of someone who has been out of school for a while.

Truth No. 5: Your college doesn’t offer an internship program? Create your own.

Whenever I’ve hired recent college graduates for entry level positions, I looked favorably to those with internship experience. It was always especially impressive when a candidate took the initiative to seek out their own internship experience despite not being required to do so as part of a graduation requirement. If your college does not offer a structured internship program, you can create your own. Work with your college’s career center to connect with alumni interested in hosting interns, join a professional association in your area to build a network of contacts for potential internships, or contact local employers. Tell them what you can do for them. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and willingness to volunteer some of your time in exchange for a chance to learn about what they do.

Above all, always remember what you do today can stick with you for a long time. Make it count!

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