Staying in contact with old supervisors

By Gwenn Barney

The typical rules for internship success are pretty straightforward — show up on time, dress… The typical rules for internship success are pretty straightforward — show up on time, dress according to the internship standards and take on any task suggested by an internship supervisor. But there’s one aspect of internship success that often falls by the wayside: Many interns neglect to keep in touch with their internship supervisors once they complete their time with a company, business or nonprofit organization.

“If you had a positive experience and intend to put your internship experience on your resumé, then you should definitely maintain some contact with your supervisor,” said Alyson Kavalukas, the internship coordinator of Pitt’s Office of Student Employment and Placement Assistance.

“If you maintain some form of contact, then it will be easier to reach out when the time comes to ask for networking contacts in that field, additional internships, job shadowing experiences or full-time work,” she said.

Kavalukas recommends that students try to touch base with a recent internship supervisor once a semester.

“Use positive opportunities to tell them about experiences, success, new jobs, how the internship prepared them for something at school or work, etc.,” she said.

She said email is the best way to reconnect with an internship supervisor at first, though phone calls present another good medium for connecting, especially if students have more time to share new information or had a closer relationship with supervisors.

Sophomore Jaclyn Krogh, currently participating in a co-op program with US Airways, said she uses an email-to-phone-call strategy.

“Usually I’ll start with an email and then move to a phone call,” Krogh said, although she admitted that “sometimes the beginning of a phone conversation can be awkward.”

Senior Naji Alibeji periodically emails his supervisor from a past internship with Acutronic USA, a motion simulator supplier.

“I’ll ask how he’s doing,” Alibeji said. “When I was applying to graduate school, I told them about how my experience with Acutronic helped me afterwards.”

Email also serves as a solid tool for students who participated in internships at locales distant from Pitt or their hometowns.

Two years ago, senior Eli Gabel-Frank spent his summer completing an internship at Warm Heart, a grassroots community-development group, located in Phrao, a rural area in Thailand. He was able to keep in touch with his supervisor from that internship by email, despite the distance between Pittsburgh and Phrao.

“I’ll email him sometimes,” Gabel-Frank said. “If I need a recommendation, I’ll write, ‘Hey, how are you. Hope everything’s good.’ I’ll tell him what I’m doing and what I need the recommendation for.”

The one medium Kavalukas doesn’t recommend for keeping in touch with past supervisors is social networking.

“With the goal of maintaining a professional relationship in mind, it is not advised to use social media or texting exclusively for professional communications,” she said.

Kavalukas encourages students who formed strong bonds with past internship supervisors to meet up with the supervisors in person.

“If you had a positive experience and maintain a good contact, it may serve you well to have coffee or lunch at some point. While this is not necessary, it is a nice gesture as graduation approaches, if a strong relationship was actually formed,” Kavalukas said.

Even if a significant amount of time has passed and a student has failed to keep in touch with an internship supervisor during that period, Kavalukas emphasized the importance of reconnecting with any supervisor before asking him or her for a recommendation for a new job or internship.

“It is critical for them to reach out before listing [a former supervisor] as a reference for another position. While they are generally willing to provide a reference, you do not want for them to be caught off guard or unprepared when a reference call comes,” she said. “Even though someone may say to feel free to use them for a reference anytime, it is still mutually beneficial for them to know when to expect a reference check.”

Junior Nicole Heenan, currently an intern at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said she believes that keeping in contact with past internship supervisors is essential for future success.

“You need to have a big network to get jobs,” Heenan said. “You never know when they can help you and you can help them.”

Junior Elena Giel, an intern at financial advisory firm Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, agreed with Heenan, but she also held that post-internship networking should be more about maintaining true connections with employers and coworkers and less about creating relationships as stepping stones for future success.

“Too many people get caught up in networking rather than genuinely talking with their boss and forming a relationship,” Giel said. “Having a personal relationship that’s still work-appropriate makes it easier to stay in touch afterwards.”