This summer I’ll be working at my fifth internship. One was at a nonprofit that helped victims of sexual assault and other crimes, two were for book publishers (one small but prestigious and one large but lesser known), one was training to be a tutor at Maryland’s Writing Center, and the one this summer will be for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
All of these were different, but I’ve learned a few good practices that have applied to all of them. As you start your internship this June, it might be helpful to keep these in mind.
1. Let your supervisors know what you’re interested in, and keep them to their word. You’re doing this internship to LEARN, so have a discussion with your supervisor(s) at the beginning of the summer regarding what you’re interested in LEARNING about. They may already have a plan for what they want you to do, but if you’re interested in something specific like online marketing or a certain segment of women’s rights, your supervisor will be able to at least point you in the right direction of the office for more info.
2. Talk to as many people as possible. Don’t stay slumped in your cubicle. There may be other interns or employees you can make friends with. Talking with people your age can be fun, and making connections with multiple people around the office can never hurt. This will be more important than checking up on your Facebook Friends while your boss isn’t looking; if you are so bored that you’re on Facebook, you’re doing something wrong!
3. Go to as many meetings as possible. Meetings are something most professionals usually dread, but hey, you’re not a professional yet and they will probably be interesting to you. People around the office recognize you, too, if you show up at something every week. One of my proudest moments at an internship was when I actually spoke up and gave a suggestion at a meeting! It was scary, but my supervisor and coworkers were actually impressed. (Don’t try doing this until you’ve worked up a good rapport, though!)
4. Plan a useful lunch. “Useful” can mean different things to different people. It can be eating with other coworkers to make connections with them. It can be eating outside in order to get some fresh air or reading a book to relax. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a break. You’re not a fulltime employee yet and no way do you need to be working through lunch. Plus, if your internship is from 9-5, you’ll want to get some exercise around the office every few hours to keep up your energy.
5. Collect all materials you produce. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important. Buy a folder to keep at your desk and anytime you write something or take part in a project, make a copy of it and stick it in your portfolio. You’ll be happy you have it if you ever need to show it to a potential employer.
6. Take note of everything you do. This sort of goes along with #5, but includes intangible events like going to meetings, attending conferences, or being part of a project that you don’t get the final copy of. Some internship classes make you keep a Daily Log, which I’ve found helpful. That way at the end of the day when I wrote down everything I had done, I felt more accomplished.
7. Meet with a head honcho in your office. People love talking about what they do. Set up an informational meeting with someone important (and/or interesting) at your internship who you don’t usually talk to, and ask them about their job. Prepare questions beforehand and be ready to take notes if necessary–these people have been around for a while and can give you career advice and potential employment or employment connections, too.
8. Ask for a good recommendation. Let’s face it: internships can be grueling at times, boring at times, and UNPAID at many times. It’s not too much to ask for something from your supervisor in return. It’s a good idea to ask for the recommendation when your internship is coming to a close. That way, your supervisor has everything that you’ve done fresh in her mind, and can write you a knowledgable recommendation. You can ask for a general recommendation while you’re there, and then ask your supervisor to save the file in case you need her to make it more specific for another job application later. You’ll be glad you asked.
9. Write thank you notes. On the last day of your internship, come armed with a hand-written thank you note for your supervisor and anyone else who helped you at any time during the course of your internship. This includes that head honcho you met with earlier! It never hurts to write someone a note, and they’ll remember you later for it.
10. Keep everything in perspective. Some days, you’ll wonder why they aren’t giving your 13-year-old cousin the menial tasks they give you, or why you didn’t choose to spend your summer getting tan outside at the pool instead of avoiding the joys of the sunny outdoors like a desk-chair-ridden vampire. Don’t be discouraged. As long as you’re constantly learning or doing something new or meeting people or just getting a real-world experience, your internship will be worth it. Keep reminding your supervisor of your enthusiasm for what you’re doing, and you’ll both make it a satisfying summer for your career path. Keep all these tips in mind. And keep your eyes on the prize: LEARN, LEARN, LEARN!
Good luck, and God Speed.