Internships are the secret ingredient to kickstarting your career. But a few miscalculated steps after your internship ends could dampen your image for years to come.
Whether you loved or hated your internship, burning bridges isn’t going to do your career any favors. Take Anthony Weiner’s former intern Olivia Nuzzi, for example. While she certainly got a lot of media attention for providing an inside look into his campaign, people have mixed views on whether that helped or harmed her career.
Here are seven ways to keep your professional image intact after your internship ends:
1. Don’t forget to say thank you
As your internship comes to end — or even if you’re already gone — it’s your duty to personally thank everyone you worked with during that period. Recognition is important, even if you didn’t thoroughly enjoy the working experience.
Verbal thank yous aren’t enough, either. Go with the handwritten thank you note. For each person you write, provide specifics about what you appreciated. Maybe they showed you the ropes on a new project or made your lunch break more bearable by sharing a table with you. Whatever it is, avoid a canned response.
2. Don’t badmouth anyone
Unfortunately, some internship experiences aren’t positive. You may have had a less-than-impressive manager or duties that lacked educational value, but it’s best not to share your opinions publicly. Don’t tweet or Facebook your distaste for an employer, ever.
Instead, keep it constructive. If you didn’t get the chance to share your opinions about your experience in a one-on-one meeting with your internship or human resources manager, consider reaching out to them in an email. Just remember not to be overly negative — you never know when you’ll need a reference.
3. Don’t lie about your experience
The aftermath of a bad internship may feel disheartening, but don’t blow it out of proportion when sharing it with friends and family. Lying about your experience could get around fast and ruin your professional reputation.
If you want to share your professional opinions to warn potential interns, consider posting on an internship rating website, but keep it tactful. Never lie about what took place because it’ll only come back to hurt you in the end.
4. Don’t share confidential information
You may have signed a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) or confidentiality agreement (CA) when you filled out your internship paperwork. If so, you agreed not to disclose private information related to your work.
Sharing confidential information pertaining to your internship, such as client- or customer-related details, could place you in serious legal trouble. You’d face hefty legal fees and being branded as untrustworthy — something no employer is looking for.
5. Don’t lose touch
Building your network is essential to the future of your career. Everyone you came in contact with during your internship is a potentially valuable connection for another internship, job opening or professional development opportunity.
Stay in touch with your fellows interns, coworkers and manager by connecting with them on social media sites. For instance, you can shoot your previous internship manager an email if you see the company has won an award, or check in with a former coworker to see how things are going since you left.
6. Don’t ask to be hired without having a plan
Maybe you’re looking to be rehired as an intern or you’re seeking an entry-level role. The worst possible thing you can do is ask for a job without having the appropriate planning in place. It’s the equivalent of shouting “Please hire me!” into a crowded room.
Build a personal presentation. Compile all the outstanding work you’ve done for the company and from other endeavors. Schedule a time to speak with your previous manager and pitch this opportunity. Even if they’re not sold on bringing you back or they don’t have the resources, they may know of another employer seeking an intern or entry-level employee.
7. Don’t engage unprofessionally
While judgment is subjective, you should set some engagement boundaries for yourself after your internship. Don’t go to the bar and get drunk with your previous internship manager or coworkers or engage in unprofessional public conversation on social media.
Just because your internship is over, that doesn’t mean you don’t reflect on the company — that gig will be on your resume for years to come. And burning bridges isn’t the best way to jumpstart your career. Remember to keep your professional reputation in mind even after you finish an internship. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)
How did you make the most of your internship experience after it ended?
Ashley Mosley is Community Engagement Manager of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. Connect with Ashley and InternMatch on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.