If you are a student, chances are you will have an internship at some point (if you haven’t already). You probably already know that internships are a great way to gain experience in a field or even at a specific company that interests you, and that in many cases, if all goes well, your internship could lead to employment opportunities.
With this in mind, making sure you do your internship “right” can feel daunting. It’s important to remember not only what projects you are working on during your internship, but also how this experience will benefit you and your long-term goals. In this article, we’ll explore strategies for making the most out of your internship experience.
#1. Set Your Intention.
A successful internship looks different for each individual. Setting personal intentions about what you want to get out of this experience at the very start can help you clarify what internship success means for you. Here are a few examples:
Intention 1: “I want to get hands-on experience doing public health research in women’s shelters, which will help me build my career in this field.”
Intention 2: “I really want to work at this specific company, so I want to make a great impression during my internship so that I’ll stand out and hopefully be offered a full-time position.”
Intention 3: “I want to make as many professional connections as possible in the secondary education world so that as I progress in my career as a teacher, I’ll have many mentors and resources available to me.”
None of these intentions is better or worse than the other, but you can see how each person might go about their internship differently depending on their focus.
#2. Be Proactive.
While it is very competitive to get an internship and some are very demanding, in many cases you’ll find yourself with some extra time on your hands. While it may be tempting to only complete the tasks assigned to you, what can you gain from being proactive and taking on more?
For one thing, taking initiative sets you apart. Your boss and coworkers will be more likely to remember a person who takes on new projects and finds ways to help out that haven’t been explicitly stated.
An active approach also allows you to have the experiences and learn the skills you really want rather than settling for whatever your boss throws your way. Although you still want to bring high-quality work to your assigned tasks, talking to your boss about additional projects that support your goals will only demonstrate your enthusiasm and drive.
Similarly, sharing your perspective and ideas on the projects at hand is a great way to make your voice heard and demonstrate your ability to think creatively. It may feel scary to put yourself out there, but it’s a fantastic way to learn and great practice for the future, too.
At the start of your internship, take an honest look at what you’ve been assigned. Does the project seem too easy? Is it in line with your intentions? What else can you bring to the table?
Your internship is yet another great opportunity to meet people in your field and establish professional relationships. If you hope to join the company you’re interning for one day, meeting as many people in the workplace as possible and making a positive impression is crucial.
What’s the point of networking if you don’t want to work there long-term?
Having good references is often an important part of getting hired somewhere else, and you never know who may hear of a position and think of you!
Learning about other potential careers is something you can gain from talking to others at the company, even if you don’t work with them directly. You might ask them for an informational interview, or you might take a more informal approach. Either way, you stand to learn a lot.
In a way, this is another aspect of being proactive. People can’t remember you if they never meet you, and following up with them after your internship will reinforce the connection.
#4. Think Long-Term.
Working at an internship is a great way to try a career path short-term and take an honest look at how much you enjoy it. You might learn about other opportunities in your field that you had never thought of before, but that actually interest you more than your original career plan. You might discover that working in a certain position is far from what you thought, and this might prompt you to reevaluate your career goals.
Asking good questions is so important here. You’re not just at your internship to benefit your employer; you’re also there to learn as much as possible.
It’s good practice to talk to your boss at the beginning of your internship about expectations and goals to make sure both of you are on the same page, and then check in about your performance down the line:
Can we talk about expectations/my progress so far?
What areas can I improve on?
After my time here, what should my next steps be to pursue this career path?
Additionally, you might ask your boss about their career:
How did you get to your current position?
What do you enjoy the most about your career?
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in this field?
Your internship will be a new and exciting experience, and it will be over before you know it. Remember, you earned this opportunity, and you deserve to get the most out of it.