An internship can be an amazing opportunity to learn valuable skills, and to begin building your professional network. While each internship is unique, there is one common factor—you. You control much of your experience, so take note of these five strategies that can help you maximize your internship:
1. Maintain a positive attitude
Much of your internship experience will be determined not by any one action you take, but by your attitude throughout. Treat each day like an interview. Even if you are not hired, or if you have another year or two of college before you enter the job market, the people you meet at your internship may impact your future career. They may write you a letter of reference (see below for more information), or they may be in a position to hire you in a year. They may even know of a vacancy that suits you.
Do not limit this attitude to your immediate supervisor. You never know who is watching, and office gossip can be a powerful force. Plan to go beyond the minimum requirements for your internship—stay late, dress neatly, volunteer for projects, and finish your work on time. If you have a free moment, look for tasks to do instead of browsing the Internet on your phone. As the saying goes, the real test of character is what you do when no one is looking.
2. Always show up
This piece of advice may seem obvious, but some students treat internships like miniature school vacations—or like classes that can be skipped whenever the urge strikes. In most college courses, your grade depends on your homework, project, and test performance, and less directly on your attendance. However, with an internship, you are graded on your attitude and participation just as much as on the work that you accomplish.
3. Ask questions
In order to be fully present at your internship, you must be mentally engaged. Your goal is to truly understand the work that you are doing, even if you do not find each individual task deeply fascinating. So—ask how your work impacts the company. Ask who will use the product or service that you are producing, as well as what the long-term goals are for any short-term projects.
Asking questions can also demonstrate your commitment to your internship, and it can equip you to answer anyone who asks how your work is going. Remember that an internship is, in certain instances, an extended job interview, and be prepared to explain how your work fits within the business as a whole.
If you have not yet joined LinkedIn, do so now. Why? Many recruiting managers look to LinkedIn when evaluating candidates. Once you create your profile, ask your colleagues if you can add them as contacts. Asking shows respect, and it can prevent people from simply deleting your request if they do not recognize your name.
Also make a point of introducing yourself to strangers. Arrive early to meetings, and stay several minutes late to exchange contact information. You can likewise ask your supervisor to introduce you to coworkers that he or she knows.
Consider preparing several questions to ask each new person you meet. For instance, “What do you do for the company?” Other great options include, “What is your favorite thing about working here?” and “Who should I talk to while I am here?” You may quickly find that you have made a great contact (and learned more about the company) with limited effort on your part.
5. Request letters of reference
There is no guarantee that your internship will lead to a job offer, so be sure to ask for one or more letters of reference before your experience ends. Your recommenders should be people with whom you frequently work, or people who have a good sense of your internship role. In your final weeks, ask these individuals if they can write a letter of reference on your behalf, and keep it on file. This way, the letter will be ready when you need it—and before your experience with the company begins to fade from memory.
Brian Witte is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.
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