Why Students Must Maximize Summer Internships (and How to Do It Right)

NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Summer may be starting to sizzle, but for college-age interns getting their first glimpse at the professional working world, the feeling may be more cold and clammy.

Some anxiety is understandable. But college students should remember that internships are no luxury these days — they're a necessity.

"In today's job market, internships are key for people looking for jobs with top firms when they graduate," says Kathy Harris, managing director at Harris Allied, a New York City recruiting firm in the technology sector. "Employers expect that top entry-level candidates will have had at least one internship during their college career."

If you're in the internship market this summer, whatever you do, don't take the assignment casually. Your short-term professional future could be on the line, and there are long-term ripple effects to consider as well. "Given the potential upside of a coveted internship, I encourage interns to treat their summer positions — whether paid or unpaid — as a 'real job' and look for opportunities where they can distinguish themselves and add value to the organization," Harris says.

The experts tell collegiate workers to treat an internship as a serious opportunity. "My advice to college interns in making the most of their internship is to say 'yes' to opportunities," says Tom Ostapchuk, marketing director at Chalk.com, an educational services firm who completed four internships while at the University of Waterloo. "That means more than just handling daily responsibilities, or ad hoc tasks."

Interns should be saying yes to going out for lunch, joining after-work sports teams and attending company events, Ostapchuk says. "Building a positive relationship with professional contacts is absolutely critical to succeed," he adds. "For me, building relationships resulted in connections at several major companies and job offers waiting for me when I finished school."

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