An internship is an excellent opportunity to try out a career field, build skills, and potentially become employed at a company full-time after graduation. Here are 10 tips to make the most of the experience:
1. Meet your coworkers
Introduce yourself to everyone in your department. Try to have contact with each person and get a sense of what they do. You never know when someone else in the company is doing something that might interest you later down the line. You may not want to work for your company past long term, but you will definitely want to get a recommendation from them. The better job you do and the more familiar your supervisor and other employees are with your personality and your work, the stronger the recommendation.
2. Set goals
It is always a good idea to meet with your supervisor at the beginning of the internship to find out what their expectations are for you. If your supervisor doesn’t set a meeting with you, you should ask for some time to meet. What are you expected to accomplish every day? Every week? Make sure to request feedback from your supervisor to make sure you are on the right track. Finally, keep in mind what your own goals are for your internship and what you would like to learn. Discuss your interests with your supervisor and ask if there are opportunities to get involved in those areas.
3. Watch and learn
Understanding and acting in accordance with the culture of an organization is important whenever you start working somewhere new. Watch and seek guidance from your colleagues and peers. What are the routines of the organization? Of the people? Read all organizational material, policies and procedures, etc. If it’s appropriate, ask to sit in on meetings or shadow other employees so you can learn the ins and outs of the business.
4. Be professional
Be mindful of how you present yourself to your co-workers and supervisor. What is the appropriate attire for your workplace? What is appropriate email etiquette for the person you are addressing? If you have a concern or there is an issue you are not sure how to handle, who is the most appropriate person to talk to? And don’t forget the basics of common courtesy – be punctual, say thank you, follow up and follow through.
5. Keep busy
If things are slow for you, make sure your supervisor knows it. And then if things are still slow — read some trade magazines or see if it’s OK to ask another employee if they need help. Or, generate ideas about what you might be able to work on as a longer term project to fill down time, and present it to your supervisor. Everyone has to do grunt work at one point or another and the more enthusiastic and willing you are to do it — the better the chance of you’re being hired full-time and/or getting a strong recommendation. Plus, maybe there’s a better or more organized way to finish the grunt work.
6. Stay organized
Take notes during all meetings and keep to-do lists of tasks and deadlines. Keep your work space neat so that your work is organized and out of the way when you are not around. Take care to observe data storage processes—if your organization keeps files in central locations, take note and observe and maintain records in accordance with policy.
7. Manage your time wisely
Always complete projects on time, and when one task is done – ask for another. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with projects, talk to your supervisor about prioritizing your work.
8. Keep track of your projects
Start a list of all of the projects you have worked on so that you can discuss your progress with your supervisor. It will also help you remember everything you’ve worked on to update your resume, add to a portfolio, or talk about in a future interview. Ask if you can keep examples of projects you have worked on for a portfolio. Remember that some of this information will be confidential, so always get approval before taking any copies of work with you.
9. Buy a coffee for your contacts
Either during your internship or afterwards, ask your supervisor and/or other employees if they have 15 minutes for a coffee and a chat. People like to talk about themselves and their path. The key is that everyone’s path is different, so try to reach out to as many people as possible. If you don’t get a response immediately, ask once or twice more. People are very busy, so often when you think they are ignoring you — it’s usually because they are overloaded and not because they don’t want to talk.
10. Reflect on your experience
If there’s no formal review process, be sure to ask your supervisor and coworkers for feedback on your performance so you can learn what you’ve done well and what areas need improvement. Reflect on the skills you’ve gained during your internship and update your resume with your experiences and accomplishments. Even if you decide that this career field is not right for you, the experience is still a valuable one. Meet with a CCE counselor to discuss what you’ve learned and what steps you can take to move forward on your career path.