How To: Make the Most of Your Internship

As summer approaches, more and more students are searching for (and getting) awesome internships. Internships can be a great way to familiarize yourself with the industry you’re interested in, make valuable professional contacts, and gain real world, working experience to put on your resume.

So how exactly do you make the most out of your internship experience? Here are some tips.

1. Play by the Rules.

Learn the rules of the office and follow them. If you are expected to show up for work at 8:00am, then show up at 8:00am. If the office dress code is formal, don’t show up in business casual. If your lunch break is an hour, don’t go missing for two hours. It might seem simple but it is very important.

You want to make the impression that you are reliable and professional. And the best way to do that is to follow the rules and guidelines your supervisor has given to you. Even if you are an excellent intern in many ways, relatively small issues (such as repeatedly showing up late for work) can still make a bad impression on your supervisor.

2. Go Above and Beyond.

When you’re given a task, don’t settle for doing the absolute minimum work required. Produce the highest quality work that you can, within the allotted time period. You don’t have to make a masterpiece of every assignment you have been given, but take the time to do things right (don’t rush to finish and turn in sloppy work), make your assignments aesthetically pleasing when possible, and go the extra mile when you think it would be appreciated.

3. Network.

Make an effort to get to know the people in your office—this includes your coworkers and even other interns. Be friendly to everyone and join in on office events when invited (Happy Hours, picnics, birthday lunches, etc.). Of course, even if the event takes place outside the office, remember to still be professional and polite (the last thing you want is for your legacy to be ‘the intern who got drunk at Happy Hour’).

This also includes building a relationship with your direct supervisor. You might need to use them as a reference, so be sure to take the time to meet with them regularly, if they have the time, to discuss how your internship is progressing.

You should also make an effort to meet with people from different offices or departments, if you are interested in their careers. Don’t be afraid to let your supervisor know that you are interested in knowing more about X department or Y office—most of the time, your supervisor will know someone from there who would be willing to talk about their role in the organization over lunch or coffee.

4. Be Enthusiastic.

Showing a great deal of interest in your work is very important. As an intern, some days, you might be expected to spend your entire day making copies or proofreading (or doing some other mundane task). It is easy to get frustrated with such assignments, but remember, your attitude matters!

Being willing and enthusiastic about ‘grunt’ work will show your supervisor that you are hard-working and willing to work your way up. Often times, having a great attitude about not-so-great assignments will encourage your supervisor to provide you with more substantive work. Furthermore, being enthusiastic and interested about the work that your office does in general can also open certain doors for you.

One of my old supervisors used to let me tag along with her for high-level meetings because I verbalized my interest in certain topics (and the interns who didn’t, were often not invited—not because she wanted to exclude them, but merely because there was limited space and she wanted to bring along someone who was interested in that particular issue).   

5. Keep A List of Your Accomplishments

This is especially helpful later on when you are updating your resume. But it is also a good way to keep track of what you have been learning, the kind of assignments you have become familiar with, and any new skills you have gained along the way.

This is also a great way to evaluate whether you are getting what you want out of your internship. Around the mid-point of your internship, reflect on what you have accomplished and figure out if you are satisfied to continue doing the same things you have been doing, or if there is a certain area or topic you want to explore further. If so, the midway point of your internship is a great time to bring it up to your supervisor.

Remember, the key is to be positive and enthusiastic—don’t complain that all you’ve done in the last month is bring coffee, schedule meetings and make a thousand copies. It might be frustrating, but keep a good attitude. Something along the lines of, “I have really been enjoying my time working here and feel like I’ve gained some valuable experience. During this last month, I have realized that I am very interested in [something that the office does] and would love to play a role in any projects or assignments related to that.”

6. Make Yourself Valuable.

If you have free time and your supervisor hasn’t given you anything to work on, don’t be afraid to ask coworkers if they would like your help on something they are working on. Most of the time, they will probably have a task or two that you could help them with.

By helping out others in the office—even if it is with relatively minor tasks like proofreading a document or mailing out something—you are making yourself valuable to not just your supervisor, but also the office as a whole. And that is important, because you want everyone to have a great impression of you when you leave, not only your supervisor.

7. Keep in Touch!

Before you leave, be sure to send out a quick ‘thank you/goodbye’ email to everyone you worked with. Let them know that you enjoyed your internship, learned a lot and will miss working with them. Also, you should make sure you have the contact information for everyone you want to stay in touch with (especially your supervisor’s contact info!).

Once you’ve finished your internship, don’t be afraid to reach out to them once in a while. Obviously, don’t annoy them, but sending holiday e-mail in December or adding them on LinkedIn can be a great way to stay in touch and keep them in your network of professional contacts for future career opportunities.

Want more advice on how to stand out during your internship, and make the most of the experience? Check out this Forbes article.

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