Be a Great Intern

Treat the internship like a “real” job

  • Paid, and even unpaid, internships are work.  They may not have all the requires or privileges as a full-time job, but your employer is expecting that you contribute each day just as if you were full-time.
  • Accepting that your internship is no different than a “real” job, do all the things you would do for your real job.  Be on time.  Be professional in the workplace – and maybe just a little more.  A good example is: in a casual work atmosphere, think about your dress as being just a little better than casual.  You want to impress in this situation. While it is appropriate for the full-time employees to be casual, you are a “guest” of sorts and should think about them when preparing for your work.

Be open to opportunities

  • Although you should receive a detailed and specific list of duties before you start, be ready and willing to add to that list as the employer asks.  Being adaptable and able to adjust to the demands of the workplace is an important skill.
  • If you would like to help with something in your internship, or see a problem that you might be able to address, do not hesitate to ask.  The worst that your employer can say is no.  If you are going to ask, do you homework.  Provide a mini-proposal for what you would like to do, why your work on that project or task would help the company, and why it would enhance or, at least, not detract from your current duties.  This is a good time to test your ability to prove value to your employer – something you will be asked to do nearly every day in a full time job.

Observe and learn

  • During your internship, you will have numerous opportunities to see how the “real world” works.  Observe and learn.  Consider yourself an anthropologist studying the behaviors, interactions, and activities of the workplace.  What do you see?  What do you hear?  How can that help you understand inner operations of the kind of enterprise in which you want to work.
  • Learn new skills no matter how menial.  Many times the person who knows how to fix the copy machine or interpret a confusing report can become a valuable member of the team.  No task is too small for you to be noticed if you do it well.  Of course, watch out for internships which are merely “grunt work.”  You want your internship to provide you with skills and training, not just provide the employer with a warm body to fill a chair.

Fill in the holes

  • Know your weaknesses in your field before you start.  If you are interning in a creative enterprise, how much do you know about business side?  If you are interning in a government agency, what do you know about the regulations that govern your operation.
  • Use the internship to fill the holes in your experience.  For that creative enterprise, seek out the business manager.  Find out how the cash flow works to support the artists.  In that government agency, look for ways to learn about how the agency influencing the policies that control its work.  Knowing why government works is just as important as knowing how.

Finish the job

  • Some internships are not that great, but unless you are in a situation which is truly unhealthy, finish the job.  One thing employers look for on resumes is completed experiences.
  • Everyone has a tale to tell about a job, internship, or class they had to “get through” to reach their goal.  By finishing the internship, you will prove that you can work in adverse circumstances and still learn and grow. It will also help you be prepared for the times in your full-time job where the work may not be all you want it to be.  You will be ready for those days.

Leave with contacts and references

  • One of the best reasons for securing an internship is the contacts you will gain.  You will work with professionals in your chosen field.  These individuals can be great sources of advice, career opportunities, and support in your future.  Cultivate contacts throughout your internship.  Fill that contact list before you leave.
  • Many interns shy away from asking for a letter of recommendation from the internship employer when the internship ends.  If the experience was good and you have a good relationship with your supervisor, the end of the internship is one of the best times to ask.  The work you have done will be fresh in the mind of the supervisor.  Make sure you also ask to be allowed to list contacts as potential references.  Many employers now seek not only supervisory references but also references from co-workers.  Be ready to supply names of colleagues who will speak well on your behalf.