Internships are one of the most vital and important experiences as a college student when it comes to getting ready to enter ‘the real world’. There is so much more to being an intern than filing papers or getting coffee – internships give you a taste of a career, of an industry. They offer you the chance to reflect on what you want in a job, and a sense of what to expect when looking for one. And ultimately, internships give you the one thing a classroom can’t – experience. Working hands-on in an industry will teach you more about what jobs entail, and teach you life skills that you’ll need for any career.
I spent two (and a half) summers interning for the same digital agency in their marketing and innovations team, and I’ve been at the same university paper as a reporting intern for three years now. I owe so much to these jobs – they’ve taught me how to survive in an environment that isn’t a classroom, they’ve taught me valuable work skills, and they gave me a more educated opinion of what I want to do with my life.
Here are some of the tips that I’ve picked up over the years on how to rock your internship.
1 // Be Proactive
The best way to get noticed as an intern is to take charge, and this is a valuable skill that you can take into whatever profession you choose. Be proactive – don’t just sit around until you are asked to do something. Make the most of your time by filling your time. If there is something you can anticipate your boss needing done, or them asking you to do, there is nothing more impressive than being able to tell them that you’ve already got it done for them. Or if you’ve run out of work to do, ask them for more! The more you take charge, the more you’ll stand out.
2 // Be Flexible
Being an intern isn’t always glamorous. Sometimes it is back-breaking work carrying boxes of files up and down three flights of stairs. Sometimes it is picking up your boss’ catering order for a lunch meeting. Be flexible. Even if every task isn’t exactly the hands-on experience you pictured, the time you put in will get you there. The attitude you face everything you’re tasked with will be how you’re remembered.
3 // Pay Attention to Detail
Don’t half-ass anything. Details are important in any work place, and you always want to make sure that your work reflects you. Not doing a task to the best of your ability only shows a sub-par work ethic.
4 // Learn to Accept Feedback
Criticism is a part of the learning process. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s a part of being an intern. You’re learning. That’s the point of an internship. The game changer is not how perfectly you do every task, but how willing you are to accept your mistakes and are willing to learn. The key is to not be defensive, but instead take criticism gratefully. Hearing feedback is the way that you’ll learn to improve the next time.
5 // Network
One of the best parts of an internship is the ability to network – with people in the industry that interests you, with career professionals who can help you break into that industry, with people who can later serve as references. Building relationships through your internship is going to be key when you’re looking for jobs. Who knows? Strong relationships built and good impressions left may even turn your internship into a career.
6 // Develop a Strong Work Ethic
Finding motivation to perform your best will take you far, and how you perform will reflect what type of worker you are. Be organized, be able to multi-task, pay attention to detail, and be self-motivated. Having a strong work ethic will only help you perform better, be proactive, and build good relationships.
7 // Take it Seriously
Treat your internship like what it is – a job, but also an educational opportunity. If you don’t take it seriously, you won’t stand out. Give your all, because this is your first real glimpse into the career field. Likely this is a job that you may be interested in post-grad. Take this opportunity to seriously consider if this is what you want to do, and to build serious, professional relationships. Taking an internship seriously and being the intern to remember will only benefit you when you’re looking for a job.
By the end of your internship, you should have built lasting relationships, left positive impressions of your strong work ethic, and gained skills that will apply to jobs for the rest of your life. And ultimately, you should have gained a sense whether or not this is the industry for you. And if it isn’t – that’s fine! One of my past internships showed me that I don’t think advertising is the industry for me. And that’s great, because now I can focus more on what I want to do. But that doesn’t mean that the internship wasn’t still a great learning experience, because it was. I gave it my all, and it will be something that will always be there for me not matter what career I choose.
Though the ‘real world’ may be this mysterious and terrifying place that looms around the corner for me, I feel much more prepared for anything life throws at me because of what I learned through my internships.
Whether your interning for a summer or for a year, make the most of the time you are given to learn as much as you can.
What have you learned from your internships?