Internships are a great opportunity to experience working life for the first time or explore a new field, market, or industry. They are also good for networking and making contacts. Internships are great resume fodder, too. In fact, more and more organizations consider internships an integral part of career development.
Whether you are just entering the working world or are a seasoned worker looking to make a change, internships can be incredibly valuable. Well, that’s IF you take your internship seriously.
Here are nine tips to help you make the most of your internship:
- Treat it like a real job. Take it seriously. Be on time and act like you belong there. Even if your employer doesn’t take the internship seriously (which, unfortunately, happens quite often), you should.
- Dress for success. Try not to look like an intern. Dress appropriately for your environment and as professionally as you can. In fact, dress like you already work there. How are other employees dressed? How does your boss dress? Follow suit.
- Be clear on your personal and professional goals. Before you start, try to determine what you want to get out of the internship. Do you want to learn or hone a new skill? Understand an industry? Network with professionals? All of the above?
- Network and connect inside the organization. Don’t just stick to your cubby or section; network throughout the entire organization. People may be more receptive to you because you are in a “learning” position, so they may be happy to grant you informational interviews. Cast a wide net.
- Support the other interns. Be sure to connect with and support your fellow interns. You are all on the same playing field at this point, but one day you may be in a position to help or hire someone, or they you, so be gracious and supportive of your intern colleagues.
- Request real work. Chances are, interns are not going to be given important work. But that doesn’t mean that your only job has to be getting coffee or taking lunch orders. Don’t be pushy and overwhelm your boss, but ask if there is something substantive you could work on, like a project or presentation. Do you have special skills that might be useful, like social media or event experience? Let them know that you are ready and willing to work.
- Appreciate the menial. By the same token, everyone has to start somewhere and “menial” tasks are an important part of organizational life. These tasks build trust, so say yes to any request. Do more than is required and do the best job you can. If you are asked to get coffee, be the best damn coffee-getter they’ve ever seen. Be outstanding at every task you are asked to do. People will remember you for it.
- Exhibit a positive attitude. Be a yes person. Smile and be pleasant. Treat your internship like a 12-week job interview. How do you want them to remember you? Positive, with a can-and-will-do attitude? Or bratty, with a this-is-beneath-me attitude?
- Show gratitude and follow up. When your internship is ending, do a goodbye tour. Go around and thank everyone you met and worked with, including secretaries, security guards, other interns, etc. When it’s over, send hand-written thank you notes to the people you worked for. If you really liked it there and are interested in employment, be sure to follow up in 6-8 weeks, then again in 12 to see if there are any openings. Be gracious and appreciative, and stay in touch.
The best way to make the most of your internship is to take it seriously, be professional, and treat it like a real job. Trust me: if you take it seriously, you can meet great people and learn skills that will stay with you throughout your working life. Good luck!