Interviews, Professional Identity, Tools

End of Your Internship? Skip the Pens, Take Stories


This is the time of the year when many internships are ending and you ask yourself: What did it mean? How can I use it? What comes next?

Even though it’s about to end, it’s not too late to get a lot out of it. And I don’t mean stealing pens and staplers. Instead, you should capture all the stories you can.

Compelling stories about the results you achieved are the most valuable part of any career experience.

Stories are the currency you use to barter you way into full time positions. Stories are how internships swing you into opportunities that hadn’t been available before.

But not all stories are equal and you need to make sure that those you take with you possess the right elements.

All Stories Begin with P, A and R

Behavioral interviews (likely the final step toward your next position) work under the assumption that if you can describe a success you’ve had in the past then you will be very likely succeed in similar situations in the future. Of course, what it’s really testing is how good are you at telling stories about what you’ve done. And the best way to tell a persuasive story in nearly any contexts is to describe the Problem you faced, highlight your specific Actions and conclude with your Results.

Problem: Think of the problem as giving context to what you did. The more problem-like the context or situation is, however, the more heroic your actions and achievements will appear. Don’t dismiss everything you did as too peripheral. Think about what your work was contributing to. For instance, copy-editing a slide deck may have actually been about ensuring your company secured a major investment that enabled it to gain competitive advantage. If that were the case, that’s where you start your interview answer:

“Our company was facing intense competition and we needed additional financing to hire more talent and build our new product. I was responsible for…”

Actions: And that’s where actions come in. These should be the specific things you did to address the problem.

“I was responsible for copy-editing the investor slide deck to ensure it told the story of the business opportunity. I took the risk to rewrite whole sections of the talk that our CEO had drafted because it lacked coherence. When I presented it in the all-hands meeting…”

Results: And then results. Here you want to capture the impact your actions had on the problem. It is often a good place to infuse your story with feedback from teammates or supervisors–anyone the interviewer believes is a compelling observer.

“When I presented it in the all-hands meeting, I explained the changes and my rationale. Everyone nodded. The CEO was contemplative, and then said he loved it. The following week when he made the presentation we won the financing and my supervisor said my changes were a part of that.”

Backing up and thinking through the P-A-R of your experience reveals that what you might have initially dismissed as insignificant, was actually critical to a key milestone for your company. These are the stories you have to capture from your internship.

Track it All for Always

Write a few sentences about each element (P-A-R) for as many Results as you can. And keep it somewhere safe. I recommend starting a “Performance History” document that you keep on your work desktop or Dropbox or Google Docs–somewhere handy. Whenever something good happens and you notice, write it up.

Doing that little bit of work on the front-end will make it immeasurably easier to remember the detailed, problem-oriented stories that interviewers find compelling. Stories are what make your career experiences valuable. You need to be capturing them.