So you've got that internship you dreamed of all lined up, but what should you do to get the most out of it? The more you get out of it the more connections you'll make and more likely you'll will to get hired from the company in the future, and the more skills and experience you'll take away from the position. Here are a few ideas you could try for size:
At the beginning of your internship ask your line manager what their expectations are for your experience. What are you expected to accomplish every day? Every week? Keep in mind what you want to achieve from your internship experience 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.
Being likeable and friendly is a highly positive quality in the office, and unfortunately, in getting your first step on the career ladder who you know is often more important than what you know. If you are chatty and sociable and make an effort to get on with your colleagues, when you finish your internship, you’ll be in the forefront of their mind if they have a suitable job opportunity. As colleagues will have found it easy to work with you when it comes to a reference your boss will offer you praise for prospective employers.
Being sociable means that you might also learn about the way in which other departments work, and the business works as a whole, which will give you further insight to take away with you.
Show that you are eager to help by volunteering yourself for different jobs, and aim for excellence however mundane the task may be. Go above and beyond what is expected of you, and if you find yourself with nothing to do, ask for another assignment. This way you’ll learn lots of new things and you’ll impress your colleagues.
If you’ve the opportunity, for example in a meeting, speak up and voice your opinion or your skills. As an outsider, it’s likely that you’ve a fresh perspective. Although you’ll be nervous at first, your colleagues will encourage your ideas and participating shows how valuable you are as a member of the team.
All jobs come with some boring tasks, and this is especially true when you’re an intern. Take it in your stride, and enter that data and file that paperwork like there’s no tomorrow. If office etiquette allows you to listen to music or podcasts, and you can organise the time in your day, you might like the idea of spending an hour a day or a day a week with your headphones, head down and just getting through the work. When it’s completed, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did a task well.
If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs while your manager determines what your next task will be talk to them about how you can combat this and how you can pitch in. He or she might be able to give you a long-term goal that you can turn to when there’s nothing else, you might be able to help another employee or you might be able to use the time for yourself to clarify some of the experiences and information you’ve been given during your internship.
Although you need to dress and act appropriately in the workplace, you also need to show other people your personality. If you are interested, genuine and natural, mention your life outside work, for example your hobbies or family, your colleagues will get to know the real you which will have an impact on how people perceive you and you’ll create a more memorable impression if the company is hiring in the future or if you need a reference from your line manager.
Learn from your colleagues
As your colleagues are likely to be in a position you see yourself in in the future, ask them about their career paths. Ask them whether they’ve got time for a quick coffee and a chat, and as everyone is different, reach out to as many people as possible. How did they get into their role? What do they enjoy about it and what do they find challenging? Most people might not offer their opinions, but if you speak to them they will be happy to help. Let them know that you are open to advice, both now and in the future, and you may find that they offer job leads, recommend you for a job or suggest various career choices you hadn’t thought of.
Always strive to do your best, but remember that internships are designed to offer a learning experience, and that the best way to learn is through failure. As a newbie, you won't be expected to know everything, and you will make mistakes. Your line manager will know this and be patient with you, especially if they can see how you are improving over time. Ask questions and for assistance when you're struggling, and ask for feedback for how to prevent making the same mistake twice.
You might also want to ask for feedback when you’ve completed tasks, even if you thought they went well. What could you do differently? What could you do better? Are you meeting the goals of the organisation? This input will help you improve, grow and set the goals you have for yourself.
Write an internship diary
While in your internship, track specific facts and figures about your performance. List all the projects you have worked on so that you can discuss your progress with your line manager. Keeping a diary also means that you’ll be able to update your CV accordingly and talk about specific projects at a future job interview.
You’ll also be able to use your diary to reflect on your experiences during your internship. If there’s no formal review process, ask your line manager for feedback on your performance so you can learn what you’ve done well and what areas you need to work on. Having reflected on the skills and experience you’ve gained during your internship you can then update your CV.
Say thank you
Saying thank you goes a long way and at the end of your internship let your line manager know what you got out of it and thank him or her for giving you the opportunity to work there. Once you are back at college or university or looking for work, let your colleagues know what you are up to, as you can never be sure when an opportunity for you might arise.