Landing an internship is one of the best possible paths to full-time employment. But even if it doesn’t, there are numerous benefits to consider from having an internship:
- You have the opportunity to make connections to others in your field.
- You can find out what you like best about the industry – and what you don’t! Internships can be a crash course in determining that something you thought would be right up your alley ends up being not what you expected. Spending time seeing what people really do day-to-day can be eye opening, even if it’s not what you had hoped for.
- You have the opportunity to gain real work experience that will be impressive to future employers. No matter how much real responsibility you actually had, the fact that you were able to hold down a position in a professional environment makes another employer more apt to consider you for full-time employment.
But a successful internship is about much more than just showing up and doing the job. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your internship:
- Always be on time. Early is better. Nothing says “eager to learn” like being in the office before everyone else, even if they are always late.
- Dress professionally. The old adage to “dress for the job you want” is spot on. Dressing like you are heading to the beach after work (even if you are!) doesn’t convey the importance you place on the position.
- Ask questions. A lot of questions. You might feel dumb asking questions, but everyone knows that is the only way you will learn. Your supervisor would much rather have you ask questions than do things wrong, and that’s how you’ll figure out how and why things work the way they do in the office.
- Pay attention to who does what. This can help you when you feel like you are asking too many questions of your supervisor! Knowing whom else in the office you can go to ask questions is incredibly valuable. That way you can take a question about an invoice to accounting; a question about supplies to the administrator, etc.
- Take advantage of every opportunity inside the office. No one likes the grunt work, and hopefully your internship is full of many learning opportunities in addition to the routine work. But doing those tasks with a positive attitude will ingratiate yourself to the rest of the staff. And remember no matter how menial the task seems, there is always something to learn, whether it’s about how they target clients, their marketing plan or how processes work together. It’s up to you to find the value in every task. But also be looking for projects where you can lend a hand and offer to help with those as well, big and small.
- Do the same outside the office. If the group goes for drinks on Fridays, go with them, even if you have other plans. You’ll soon learn that social events can be one of the best ways to ease your way inside the workplace. People just naturally want to help people they like so give them a chance to get to know you.
- Get to know the people in the office, but maintain a professional distance. No matter what, don’t get drawn into badmouthing or office gossip. You shouldn’t do that anyway, but certainly not when you are just starting your career.
- Turn off your phone. Don’t check your texts, social media accounts or email while you’re at work. Even if you are taking a well-deserved break, the one time that you are sneaking a peek is when your boss will inevitably walk by. He or she will mistakenly assume that you’ve been on your phone all day, and your credibility will take a hit. Save it for your break when you are away from your desk.
- Find out what your boss does, and see if you can join in. If your boss is going to a board meeting or a client meeting, ask if you can join them. There is no better time than as an intern, when everyone knows you are there to learn something. Even as an entry-level employee, you won’t be afforded the opportunities you are now, so take advantage of them.
- Offer your assistance with technology. Believe it or not, millennials have something amazing to offer their superiors, and that’s your familiarity with tech that might confound them. Find out if anyone in the company needs help with Twitter, Instagram, etc. — the platforms that are so easy for you to navigate but that some of them may find confusing. But of course, take care not to offer your assistance in a way that makes them feel embarrassed.
- Thank everyone who helps you. Everyone. No matter what “level” they are, being courteous to everyone brands you as someone others want around. And, they are more likely to help you again.
- Evaluate what you like and don’t like about the workplace. It could be the tasks, it could be the ambiance, it could be the industry, but remember that it’s as much about finding out about what you don’t like to do as what you like to do, and the work environment that suits you best. Critically thinking about the aspects of the job can help you when you are looking for future employment.
- Leave on a strong note. Now is the time to ask for recommendations that you can use on your LinkedIn account and in future job inquiries. Waiting until you actually need them might be too late, since your most amazing qualities might have already slipped their minds. Write thank you notes to the people who helped you the most, letting them know how valuable they were to your career progression.
- Stay in touch. Whether you are going back to school or on to another opportunity, every person you worked with can provide a valuable building block in your network. Connect with them on social media and touch base with them now and then. You never know when your paths might cross again.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about internships is to consider it a “three month job interview.” You never know what you might eventually like to do once the internship is over – whether they offer you a position or even if you want one – but consistently offering your best work and smartest thinking will ensure that you will be top of mind as someone to hire or recommend.
by Cathie Ericson