Internships are a fantastic way to meet new people, learn about a chosen industry, and discover what your dream job is really like. There are a number of things that you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of your internship experience. Because if your friends are hanging out at the mall over the summer while you’re in an office cubicle somewhere, you’ll want to make sure the choice was worth it!
A word of warning: Not all internships are created equal. Some will be very structured and, if you’re conscientious enough, it should be fairly easy to have an enjoyable and enriching experience. Others will have next to no structure, so it’s important you take the lead. The first two weeks of an internship are crucial in setting expectations and your trajectory for success or failure.
1. The basics: These are things which, if you’ve had an internship before, you probably already know, but we’ll list them just to be sure:
- Dress appropriately (and don’t assume Fridays are casual)
- Watch the language you use
- Don’t bitch, whine, complain, or moan
- Don’t hit on your cute co-worker—or worse, your manager
- Do NOT get drunk at the welcome drinks (or happy hour)
Now, on to some of the lesser-known tips…
2. An internship is a six-week interview: Many internships will offer some full-time jobs to recent graduates at the conclusion of the internship program. So if you think you want a permanent role in the company, your internship is the best time to prove to your managers that you’re the right choice. Even if you don’t get a job straight away, you can still build up contacts for later down the track.
3. Failing to plan is planning to fail: The internship will be over before you know it, so it’s important you plan exactly what you want to get out of it. By letting your manager know upfront what you want to do, it will be a lot easier to design a program tailored to your interests. Be firm, but not demanding; they might not give you much “real work,” but at least you can let them know which types of roles you want to oversee.
Try to set up brief weekly catch-ups with your manager so you can update them on your progress or flag any concerns you have. Use this time to steer the direction of your internship if you feel it’s getting off track.
4. Be realistic in what you want to achieve, and have a daily plan: It’ll be impossible to deliver a major project in such a short amount of time, but you should look to add value in any way you can. Tagging along to meetings is a great way to find out what your manager actually does all day, discover what problems they face, and how they deal with them. Offer to take the minutes and send them to your manager after. This will help keep you in-the-know, and will get you well-acquainted with the different stakeholders and the steps required to complete a project in the company.
5. Be social (but not at your desk): Sure, eating out every day can be expensive and unhealthy, but imagine you’re the only one who brought lunch and you’re sitting in the lunch room by yourself while everyone else is out. Next thing you know, everyone is calling your manager “the dolphin” and you have no idea why. Hanging out with your colleagues during non-work hours is an essential part of getting to know their personalities and how to best work around them, so don’t be the one left behind!
6. Don’t just hang out with your intern friends: It’s great to make friends, but make sure you also spend time getting to know your managers and teammates, their backgrounds, and the team culture as they’re ones you’ll be working with in the future. Being an intern, people will generally be more lenient when it comes to you asking questions and poking your head into different parts of the business. Use this to your advantage and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions about how different divisions work together or whatever else you’re interested in. Most people love to talk about themselves—they just don’t have an audience! By asking how your colleagues got to this stage in their careers, you can see what skills you need to acquire in order to get to the same place.
7. Your manager is not your friend: An internship is a mighty short time to build strong, professional rapport with your colleagues and your manager, so always make sure you act professionally in the office. Even if they say it’s cool to take a two-hour lunch break, it probably isn’t. The same goes with sharing too much personal information; this doesn’t mean you have to act like a robot with no feelings or personality, just make sure you’re showing your best self during this time. Also, don’t be too concerned about sucking up to high-level managers! Often it’s your immediate manager or middle management who will have the last call around hiring you.
8. Don’t come with problems, come with solutions: Instead of asking, “What should we do about XYZ?” say, “I think we should do [insert activity] for [insert project]—what do you think?” This will test your own analytical skills and also show your manager you are thinking about the problems, not just waiting for instructions to be dropped in your lap. People who follow instructions without adding value are easily dispensable. Always have a go at finding a solution before asking your manager; they want to work with people who can think on their own, not people who they have to micromanage every step of the way.
So there you have it! Eight simple steps to getting the most out of your internship. Keep your head up, and great job taking charge of your career!
How do you make sure you get the most out of your summer internship? Share your tips in the comments!
Ask Dustee Jenkins, VP of Public Relations at Target, about making the most of a job!