Congratulations! You just landed a coveted summer internship at your dream company or organization. Now it’s your turn to maximize that valuable opportunity to the fullest.
Here are five tips to ensure you get the most out of your internship experience.
Invest In Relationships
The best part of any job I’ve ever had has always been the people. As an intern, you have incredible access to an array of interesting, talented and diverse professionals at an important moment in your budding career. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
Every person has a story to tell, and you can learn something from every person. Genuine curiosity is the bedrock of any strong professional relationship. If you’re not interested in other people–chances are they won’t be interested in you! Ask your new coworkers for coffee and dedicate time to learning about their background and experience. Prepare a list of questions in advance and be strategic and intentional about each conversation. Ten years from now, you probably won’t remember most of your internship assignments, but you will remember those early mentors, and this is one way to ensure they also remember you. Your goal should be to leave your internship with several strong professional contacts who you can rely on for professional help or use as a future reference.
You should also take time to bond with your fellow interns. Not only are these individuals in the same boat as you, they can help make or break your internship experience. At some point, you’re going to encounter a difficult day and will need a good “office bestie” in your corner. Internships can often lead to lifelong friendships. And you never know what your fellow interns will go on to achieve and how your careers might intersect in the future.
Volunteer For Everything
Not only do internships provide a great opportunity to develop tangible skills that will serve you now and in the future, they also have the power to teach you about yourself and what interests you most. You may be certain that you want to go into a particular career field, but it’s not until you’ve been exposed to other areas and experiences that you can ever be truly sure. Learning what you like–and what you dislike–is invaluable knowledge.
Seek out opportunities to learn about different departments within your company or organization. If you’re passionate about communications, go ask the operations team if they need help with any projects. If you’re certain you want to become a lawyer, don’t confine yourself to learning only about the legal department. Expand your horizon and you’ll become a more employable, well-rounded young professional.
Volunteering for projects is also one of the best ways to set yourself apart from other interns. This may require you to step up and help on projects that are unglamorous, monotonous and, yes, downright boring. Treat the worst projects with as much attention and detail as the best ones.
Employees recognize which interns consistently volunteer to help, and the more you step up and prove yourself, the more you’ll be entrusted with greater responsibilities. The best managers and executives still maintain that intern mentality and willingness to roll up their sleeves whenever duty calls. As the saying goes: never be too small to do the big things and too big to do the small things.
Master Social Cues
The COVID-19 pandemic can be measured in both lives and livelihoods. But it also cost young professionals something else: valuable exposure to in-office, professional social interaction. Now that companies and organizations are slowly returning to in-office work, young people with limited work experience are learning how to behave in an office environment for the first time.
In an age when so many of us, myself included, are glued to our screens, learning proper office etiquette and social cues is essential. Interacting with people on Zoom is very different than in person. There’s nowhere to hide, and being in-person gives you the opportunity to see how different people, with different quirks, personalities and working styles, collaborate. How do you demonstrate respect? How do you know when to speak up in a crowded meeting or appropriately challenge a superior? How do you fake interest in someone’s weekend plans at the water cooler? These soft skills will never appear on your resume, but they might dictate how far you go in your career.
Look at any job description and there’s a good chance it mentions the importance of strong writing skills. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why do I need to become a great writer when we have platforms like ChatGPT and Bard? While the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has changed the game, machines still lack the storytelling and emotional complexity of human beings. Yes, it’s very important to learn the strengths and shortcomings of these new platforms. But becoming a strong independent writer and storyteller will serve you well, both now and in the future.
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to write more and then ask others to critique your work. Ask around and learn which employees are considered the best writers. See if you can read their work, and even better, have them review your writing. One goal from your internship should be to walk away with a few pieces of exceptional writing that you’re proud to include in your portfolio or use as a future writing sample.
Learn To Say “Thank You”
The two most important words in any workplace are “thank you.” Learning to appropriately express gratitude in a professional setting is critical.
Use your internship as an opportunity to become an expert in crafting thoughtful electronic and handwritten thank you notes. When someone lends you their time, talent, or goes above and beyond the call of duty, find a way to acknowledge them.
A proper thank you note has a few main components. First, it must be genuine. It should include the person’s name and detail what they did and why you’re thankful for it. The note should be timely. Don’t wait weeks to send a note or email, do it the same day the action occurs.
A short message of gratitude goes a long way. Verbal feedback is nice, but nothing beats a good thank you note.
And on that note, thank you for reading!
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