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Making your internship work for you

Success at an internship is about more than just getting paid: you want to learn, develop your skills, and deepen your network of professional contacts. Fortunately, there's a clear path forward: if you follow the steps below, you'll be doing more than just working at your internship - you'll be making your internship work for you.   

Start Strong 

After you've accepted an internship offer, reach out to your supervisor to confirm the start date, hours, and dress code. During your initial days at the internship, be sure to clarify expectations with your supervisor:

  • Find out what projects you will work on and what results are expected.
  • Discuss what you want to learn and ask if your goals are realistic.
  • Ask how interns are evaluated, as feedback is essential to your professional development.
  • Consider asking for a learning contract that outlines these goals, expectations, and outcomes.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions

You might be scared to ask questions because you think it could make you look stupid. But the truth is, asking questions will help you do the job better, and it shows your boss and coworkers that you are interested, and working hard to understand the organization and the work. 

“In my first internship, I was afraid of saying I didn't know how to do something and didn't feel comfortable enough to be proactive about asking questions to get the job done well,” said senior Bryan Leines, who worked as a statutory tax credit specialist at Ernst and Young in Dallas. “Then I learned that my coworkers actually appreciated me asking for advice, and as long as I could show I tried and was having trouble, they were happy to help.”

Meet as Many People as Possible

Shake on it

Have you ever heard the expression, "it's not what you know, it's who you know?" Internships are not the time to put your head down and go about your tasks like a robot. Instead, they are amazing opportunities to meet people you can learn from! 

Socializing with coworkers can be intimidating, but if you have the chance to go to lunch with colleagues, do it! “Most workplaces are very friendly to interns and love to get to know you [and] tell you about what they do,” Hoshiko said. “My internship experience in London wasn't exactly the kind of work I'd want to do for my career, but I met several people in different offices who are still to this day helping with career advancement; one even regularly reviews my resume and writing samples. You never know when you might make a lasting contact.”  

Be helpful, professional, and proactive 

If you have an idea, don’t keep it to yourself. This is the time for you to put the skills you’ve learned in college to the test.

“During one of my first days of my internship I decided to pitch an idea,” said junior Beth Bergstrom, a communications intern for the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio. “We were preparing for our bicentennial, and I said we should do 200 years of bishops. The idea has blossomed into a [giant project]. Seeing an idea turn into something so big has been an incredible experience. The first segment had thousands of people read and respond… Just because you are new does not mean you can't have good ideas.”  

Take notes

Tips at your internshipRelying on memory alone is a recipe for disaster. Jotting down important things in a notebook or carrying a day planner can save you from embarrassing moments.

“Take notes. It really helped me,” said junior Abigail Olinski, who interned with the office of a New Jersey congressman on Capitol Hill. 

Giving tours of the Capitol was part of her job.

“There were so many exhibits and different floors and turns that I had to take, so navigating was much easier when I had the notes on where to go,” Olinski said. 

Wrap it up right 

It's never too late to leave a good impression. The end of the internship is an important time for turning your summer's work into something that lasts.  

  • Be sure to complete your responsibilities and leave your workspace in order.
  • Ask your supervisor or someone who knows your work well for a letter of reference. Make this request while you are still at the internship and your performance is fresh in their mind.
  • If you're a rising Senior and interested in working for the organization upon graduation, consider bringing up the subject of employment before you leave. Let your boss know about your interest and qualifications and ask what steps you'd need to take to be considered for a full-time job.
  • After you leave, send a thank you letter to your supervisor and any other employees that served a mentorship role for you while you were at the internship. Demonstrate your appreciation for the experience and any references written on your behalf.
  • Maintain relationships with the colleagues you met. Add everyone to your LinkedIn network, of course. And an occasional email, phone call, or visit during school breaks can help go even further to foster relationships with these members of your professional network.

Adapted from: https://www.phc.edu/learnphc/01262017-6-tips-for-succeeding-at-your-internship and https://careers.vassar.edu/internships-jobs/internships/make_the_most_of_your_internship.html.