How to Make the Most of Your Internship

Congratulations, you landed an internship! Hopefully you’re excited for this new experience and have lots of questions about how you can make the most of it. We’ve put together some tips in response to questions asked by you and other readers on social media.

Q: How can I choose a meaningful internship?

A: Start by determining what you’re hoping to gain during this internship. Consider goals that will benefit both you and the organization you’re working for. For example, are you looking to learn certain technical skills, improve your customer service communication, strengthen your sales experience, or build your network of contacts within a specific company?

Next, do some preliminary research. Find out what projects or assignments you could work on during your internship, and decide if these things will help you accomplish your purpose. Review the company’s website and social media pages, interview somebody who already works there, ask the internship coordinator about his or her expectations, and talk with past interns about their experiences. Draft a plan describing what you want to accomplish and how it will benefit you and the organization. Then, share your plan with the hiring manager or internship coordinator. Listen carefully and work to build a shared agreement.

Q: How can I make sure my internship counts for school credit?

A: Before applying for a position, contact the program’s internship coordinator at the college you attend. He or she can help make sure the internship meets the school’s requirements and can help you start applying for academic credit. Stay in contact with your college’s internship coordinator throughout the course of your internship so that you can quickly address any questions or issues that may arise. It is equally important to discuss your internship requirements with your supervisor at work. Together, discuss appropriate assignments and timeframes required for you to receive credit for your internship.

Q: How can I make a unique contribution in a short amount of time?

A: Avoid becoming complacent and thinking to yourself, “Well, this project or this procedure doesn’t really matter since I’m only going to be working here for a few months.” Treat your internship experience as a tryout for the company. Work hard by arriving to work on time, meeting your deadlines, coming prepared to meetings, volunteering for projects, and taking initiative. Show your coworkers why you would be a valuable asset if hired as a full-time employee. Set attainable goals and develop a plan to accomplish them. Regularly review these goals with your supervisor and ask for feedback on how you can improve.

Q: How can I get over the “intimidation factor”?

A: First, realize that it’s normal as an intern to feel intimidated or inadequate. Take a deep breath and remember that you were hired by the company because they felt you had something to contribute. Have confidence in your skills and abilities; you worked hard to develop them. Avoid undermining yourself and your work by constantly apologizing or showing a lack of confidence in your ability. Voice your ideas in meetings, engage in projects, and learn from your mistakes. It’s okay to ask for feedback from your supervisors to see how they feel about the work you’re doing and how you can do better.

Q: How can I best network with my coworkers?

A: Your first priority is to effectively complete the work you are assigned, so don’t let networking become a distraction. Instead, find ways to turn your regular, daily interactions into networking opportunities. For example, having lunch with a coworker allows you to get to know them without taking away time from work.

The best way to network is to genuinely get to know those with whom you work. Find ways to connect with fellow coworkers, and approach them with an attitude of learning. Remember that networking involves two-way communication and that it isn’t only about your needs and interests. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being taken advantage of, so avoid interrogating people about their professional lives. Approach them as people, and think about how you could help them professionally too. Consider connecting on LinkedIn or other social media sites.

Q: How can I stand out in a group of interns?

A: Be consistent in your actions by treating everyone with respect, following through with what you said you would do, being on time, and thanking others for their help. Avoid the tendency to become stagnant in your growth and development. Look for opportunities that get you out of your comfort zone and push you to be more creative, efficient, and productive. Avoid comparing yourself to others and instead focus on doing your best work. Be aware of what other interns are working on, and find ways to support them in their work. Encourage those around you, and remember that you’re all working together to help the organization succeed.

Q: Is it appropriate to try to negotiate my pay, schedule, and project assignments?

A: Negotiation is a part of professional life. Learn as much as you can about the policies and procedures of the company you’ll be interning with. Some things may be negotiable, and others may not be. Consider these rules when negotiating:           

  • Use appropriate negotiation channels such as talking to your HR representative
  • Research the pay, schedules, and responsibilities of past interns
  • Make a case for why you’re worth the extra investment

Q: Is it appropriate to request time off?

A: Honestly, it depends on the company, so you’ll want to do some research before requesting time off. Weigh the overall worth of missing part of your internship, and don’t feel entitled to time off. Be courteous and inform your supervisor of your request early on instead of waiting until the last minute. If you are allowed time off, plan accordingly so that you will still be able to get all of your work done on time. Remember that you were hired for a specific period of time with the expectation that you would contribute fully during this time. Always remember that any employment agreement is a relationship of partners exchanging goods and services in an atmosphere of trust.

Q: How do I balance learning things on my own and asking for help?

A: Find a mentor from your team or organization who can explain the culture, expectations, and cautions of the workplace. He or she can help you find the right balance for your position. If a question or concern arises, utilize the resources you have to try to first find the answer on your own. If you’re still stumped, it’s more helpful to ask questions early on rather than waiting until the project is nearly due. Supervisors expect you to ask questions, and they want you to be able to contribute great work, so don’t be afraid to ask if you need to.

You can make the most of your internship by following these principles along with those in What You Should Know about Internships. Good luck!

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