Congratulations! You’re in, you did it – after all that hard work, the 42 rewrites of your resume, the hours preparing for interviews – you landed your internship. Now, before we get too carried away and start sending ourselves flowers or calling the Pope, let’s remind ourselves why we worked so hard for this internship in the first place:
o To Get Work Experience – The reason most students apply for internships? Unquestionably, it’s because they know that a good internship provides relevant, career-building work experience that they need in order to land a job after graduation. Whether it’s experience in a certain industry (automotive, for instance) or functional area (marketing), an internship provides tremendous learning opportunities for students who take advantage of them.
o To Apply Your Skills and Learning – As anyone who has studied French knows, it’s one thing to conjugate verbs in a classroom. It’s entirely another story to try to say, “More cheese with that, please” to a waiter inside some quaint Parisian cafe. The beauty of your internship is that it allows you to take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it in a real world, real-time setting. Rather than simply discussing ideas or theories, you can receive terrific on-the-job training that allows you to see how real decisions, projects, or programs can impact the bottom line of a company.
o To Explore a Specific Career or Company – Like it or not, many of us rely on hunches or ‘notions’ to guide our career choices, particularly when we’re starting out. For instance, maybe you’ve always had a feeling you’d enjoy working in advertising, or you had a sense that you’d like consulting…but you couldn’t exactly say why. As a result, many of us begin internships feeling 89% certain that we’ve made the right choice for ourselves, and we use our internship experience as an opportunity to help us further define our professional selves and to see how we fit within a certain type of company.
Whatever the reason, your decision to pursue an internship was a smart one, and now that you’ve landed a job, it’s time to take advantage of the terrific opportunities in front of you. And while it may seem like you’ve got all the time in the world to figure things out, the truth is that your internship will be over before you know it – so it’s time to hit the ground running. The question is – where to begin? After all, most of us starting out have little to no work experience, with many of us beginning our internships in completely unfamiliar territory. To start off strong and finish even stronger this summer, consider a few suggestions to making the most of your internship:
o Set Goals for Yourself – To make the most out of your internship, it pays to know ahead of time what you specifically hope to accomplish while you are on the job.
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Before your internship gets underway, sit down and write out several measurable, specific goals that can realistically be achieved during your time at work. If you’re not sure where to start, use the job description of your summer internship to help guide you. (If you were provided with a job description, it will outline your employer’s priorities and expectations for the job.)
Otherwise, think about why you wanted the internship in the first place – for example, if you wanted to learn more about marketing, one of your internship goals could be: “Have coffee/lunch each week with a marketing professional at my company.” Or, maybe you selected your internship because you wanted to strengthen your overall resume in preparation for your full-time job search: “Obtain 3 written letters of recommendation from my supervisors before I leave my internship this summer.” Goal-setting isn’t brain surgery, but it is a critical step in helping you achieve your desired outcomes throughout your internship.
Finally, keep your goals in perspective with the larger goals of your supervisor, team, and company. Most likely, your supervisor will outline the objectives, expectations, and priorities of your internship with you during your first days on the job. With a clear understanding of what is expected from you, you’ll be better able to balance and prioritize your goals with the broader set of business objectives set by your company.
o It’s All in the Attitude – Consider a comment made by Bill Judy, Vice President for global insurance company AIG when asked about what constitutes an ‘ideal’ employee: “I can teach an employee about our business, or help him or her develop the technical skills needed to succeed. What is much harder to find is the employee with a good attitude. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how hard it is to find.”
As you begin your time with your company, think about how you can demonstrate your good attitude to your supervisor, your fellow employees, and even other interns. Staying positive and enthusiastic about your internship and the company and avoiding negative talk are obvious ways to show a good attitude. Other ways to show you’re glad to be at work? Demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile and help out to make someone else’s work life a little bit easier (even if that means photocopying and stapling more than your fair share). Simply asking the question, “Is there anything else I can do to help you?” and following through is often all it takes to show that your attitude isn’t something you’re faking – it’s a real reflection of your commitment to your internship and to the people inside your organization.