BY NINA POLIEN LIGHT
“I thought I would only be making status updates and promoting content through social media,” she says about her internship with the startup accelerator and venture fund, which focuses on software and technology. “I ended up doing video development, wire framing, and even some basic coding. If I had not been open to the idea of learning new skills, I would have limited my experience.”
A year and a half later, Zorman has transitioned from intern to mentor. Her full-time duties as program manager for Flashstarts include working with interns in the company’s summer accelerator program, coordinating events, and managing digital and email marketing. She draws on her experience when answering interns’ questions about housing, attire, and local social events. Like many mentors, Zorman encourages interns to immerse themselves in both the company culture and greater community.
“Being an intern is like taking a test drive of your future career,” she says. “You get to see if you like the culture and the industry of that experience without a long-term commitment.”
In Zorman’s case, the internship was an affirming experience that culminated with the NOCHE presentations at the end of the summer. Prior to the pitch event, when she and other Flashstarts interns presented to each other, she recognized the strength of being a team player.
“I learned a lot from the Flashstarts team and the entrepreneurs, but the amount I learned from the other interns is above and beyond what I had expected,” she says.
Similarly, Adam J. Sheldon was offered a full-time position after interning at the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, an organization that serves and supports arts and culture in greater Cleveland. As an intern, he helped manage grants for a fellowship program and locate resources for the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute. Occasionally, he provided technical assistance to CPAC leadership and staff during meetings with artists and arts-and-culture organizations.
Five years later, and now a CPAC employee, he has advanced from a program associate to the operations and finance manager.
“The single most important quality I found in not only being an intern but managing interns is to be curious,” he says. “Learn, explore, and engage in the work 120 percent of the time.”
As a CPAC intern he most enjoyed providing technical assistance to an arts education-based group. He devised solutions by applying tools he learned in college to the group’s real-world scenario.
“I could see the direct translation of my four years of hard work in that very moment,” he says. “It made me feel a part of the CPAC team and the services they were providing to the community.”
The drive to apply classroom knowledge to the work world in a creative manner, cooperate with other interns and staff members, and immerse oneself in a company and community’s culture differentiate exceptional interns from mediocre ones, Caitlin Nowlin, campus recruiter at Hyland Software in Westlake, says.
“Interns who show initiative and bring ideas to the table have proven to be successful,” Nowlin, whose internship program includes about 70 students annually, says. “They could bring a fresh perspective to a project already in existence, but it’s being able to identify that opportunity and take advantage of it that sets them apart. We don’t expect our interns to know everything about our product and what we do when they start the internship. We expect them to ask a lot of questions.”
For many students, a successful internship fosters their professional and leadership skills and can lead to a job offer. It may also be illuminating in an unexpected but equally valuable way.
“Internships are a great way for students to figure out what they want to do or don’t want to do after graduation,” Nowlin says. “When it comes time for students to find a full-time job for when they graduate, they’ll already have an idea of where they should go with their search.”
Liz Voldan, college recruiting lead at Rosetta, recalls two especially passionate interns who earned full-time positions at the data management and advocacy agency.
“Courtney (Driscoll’s) greatest moment came when, at the conclusion of her internship, she organized a meeting for our retail group to thank them and presented a PowerPoint on her overall experience,” Voldan, who looks for aptitude and attitude when screening potential interns, says. “This was not something she was required to do but was reflective of Courtney’s approach to her internship — going beyond the call of duty.”
A Rosetta intern on multiple occasions, Ben Durst distinguished himself because he was “smart, driven, culture-focused, and knew how to have fun,” Voldan says.
Likewise, a student from the Cleveland Institute of Art left a lasting impression when he interned at Swagelok last summer. “His output gave us some great insight into (not only) how we can expand our thinking with innovations where we are really good at developing high-quality, functional products, but he helped us think about design for ergonomics and the customers’ use and feel of the handles in our product designs,” Andy DelSignore, custom solutions manager within the corporate engineering group of Swagelok, a Solon-based manufacturer and distributor of fluid system solutions, says.
DelSignore favors interns who are self-motivated, critical thinkers, solution-driven, team players, and focused on what they want to get from their internship experience.
“It gives them an opportunity to confirm that what they are studying is truly what they envision themselves building a career around once they graduate,” he says. “It will help them to confirm if they would like to pursue a career in academia or industry, along with them finding an organization that is a good cultural fit for them, giving them the best working environment for them to have a productive and successful career.”
Lest one think internships are all work and no play, these companies emphasize that social events, sporting events, and community service are often part of the mix.
“I make sure that not only are the interns learning a lot over the summer, but I make sure they have fun while they do it,” Rosetta’s Voldan says.