College: everyone tells you it will be the best years of your life. You’re finally studying something you’re interested in, meeting new people and creating memories. At the same time, looming over your head is a dark cloud called “the real world”. Ideally, after college you’ll find a nice job in your field of study with a decent salary, right? If that’s the goal, then it looks like you’re going to need to gain some real-world experience through an internship.
Congrats, you’ve landed your first internship!
Whether you apply for 10 opportunities before you hear back from a company, or you get a phone screen after your first application, at some point you will finally land an internship. Each company handles internships differently. In one you may be a coffee/errand runner, in another you may be dealing with clients directly. No matter where your internship falls on this broad scale, the questions of “what am I getting out of this internship?” and “how do I make the most of this experience?” always come up in the back of your mind. Below are some ways to make the most out of your internship.
Have a game plan
You should know what you want to get out of the internship before it begins. Write out goals that you want to accomplish over the course of the internship. Some examples are soft skills, such as speaking on the phone and writing business emails, and technical skills that are specific to your field or career.
Once you have your goals written out, schedule a time with your supervisor to discuss how you can work together to meet these goals during your time there. It is your job to hold yourself and your supervisor accountable for completing your goal list.
You will want to build relationships with coworkers that are both in and outside of your department. This can be a daunting task as you are most likely one of the youngest people in the office and may feel intimidated by many of your new colleagues. The easiest step you can take towards building relationships is introducing yourself to each person in the office when you come across them. Another thing you can do is offer help to others when you find yourself without any work to do. If you’re really up for breaking out of your comfort zone, you can ask colleagues to get lunch with you, or eat lunch with different groups in the office. Your goal is to make everyone remember your name after your internship is over.
Ask questions & make suggestions
The people you will be surrounded by and receiving projects from have quite a few years of experience on you. They will forget that you may need more specific instructions on how to do something or where to find information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking an expert for help will be a lot faster than panicking and trying to figure something out on your own. Asking questions is often encouraged and shows that you want to do well and respect that person’s expertise. Sometimes you will have to venture outside of your department to ask questions and that is just another way to build connections. You also want to ask questions to learn more about the organization. See if there are strategic goals, new initiatives or upcoming events that you can be a part of. Staying involved is the best way to feel engaged in the company rather than a visitor.
Remember, you were hired for a reason. Interns are hired to learn and assist on projects and tasks. If you see something that you think could be done differently, make a suggestion. Your supervisor should value your perspective and what you have to bring to the table. You may find something that they haven’t thought of, or if they already have thought of it, you’ll learn why they don’t do it.
Own your mistakes
This is a hard one to learn. Owning up to your mistakes is a part of learning and growing in your career. You’re going to make mistakes and the worst thing you can do is try to ignore the situation. Missed a deadline? Explain what happened to your supervisor and tell them how you are going to fix this issue so you don’t miss the next deadline. Accidentally sent an email to the wrong person? Apologize and reconcile the situation. If you don’t know what to do about your mistake, ask your supervisor how you can fix it or suggest different solutions and ask which one they recommend.
Keep a copy of projects and things you learn, as long as they are not confidential
Internships are learning experiences. You will be doing things you’ve never done before and hopefully they will be helpful in the future. Keeping a copy of projects you worked on and information you learned will be helpful for your future positions. Having a portfolio of work you’ve done could help you land a new job and keeping information on things you learned will become a great guide for when you’re on your own in a new position. Make sure you aren’t taking confidential information outside of the company. If you’re not sure whether you should keep something, ask your supervisor.
Keep in touch after the internship ends
Coworkers and supervisors from your internships are now a part of your network so you’ll want to keep up with them. A former supervisor could be a great recommendation for a future position and coworkers can become your references. These people could also become future clients depending on what field you are in. Adding colleagues on LinkedIn is the perfect way to stay in touch and keep up with what they are doing in their careers. If you ever need advice or a warm introduction, you could ask former coworkers to lunch. Building and maintaining your professional network is vital to growing your career.
Remember, you are in charge of making your internship a meaningful and useful experience. Don’t let those few months go by without making a lasting impact and creating connections. Every small step is bringing you closer to “the real world”, and you want to be as prepared as possible. Check out current openings at Anders for a full list of our internships and full-time positions available.