Career Advice/ Higher Education

4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Internship

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A good internship can set you up for your dream career.

Internships help you grow your professional network, build your portfolio, and gain boots-on-the-ground experience that will give you a leg-up on other new grads. It also gives you an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at an industry or organization that you may be interested in working in and determine if it’s a good fit for your future.

Like many things career-related, internships are often opportunities to get out what you put in.

Here are four ways to make the most of your internship:

Think of your internship as a really long interview.

While not all internships will lead to a full-time job, some will, and all have the potential to connect you with a more permanent position. I recommend thinking of a summer internships as a really, really long job interview. Just like an interview, it’s important to maintain professional appearance and conduct throughout the entire internship period.

Dress professionally, don’t get drunk during happy hour, and show up on time (you’d be surprised at how hard this simple task seems to be for many new interns). Contacts that you make during your internship can provide great references and recommendations for your future endeavors. Even if they don’t hire you following the internship, chances are, they know someone that might.

Watch, learn, and ask questions.

Spoiler Alert: Your internship hiring manager didn’t recruit interns to “revolutionize” their company, gossip about clients, or stage a hostile takeover of the Marketing department (again, you’d be surprised).

They hired you because internships are a legal way for organizations to get free or really cheap labor from semi-qualified students. If they find potential talent in the intern pool, great. If not, what was wasted but a few hours of training and mentorship?

The best strategy for meeting your Intern Manager’s expectations is to watch, learn, and ask questions when you don’t understand. Be interested in the work, put out effort on your assigned projects, and research everything that just doesn’t make sense. Worry more about meeting internship expectations than making your boss or the other interns like you.

Prioritize networking opportunities.

A good internship will provide a LOT more networking opportunities than those found in school or hourly wage work. Interns will get to meet industry leaders, organizational team members, and community professionals throughout their program. When meeting these individuals, it’s important to make a good impression and have some sort of platform in which to facilitate future communications, post-internship.

Personally, I love LinkedIn as a hub for all things work-related. Most ambitious professionals in the Western world maintain a LinkedIn presence, so chances are you can find many of your internship contacts on LinkedIn. As you grow your in-person network via internship opportunities, be sure to connect with them online so you’ll have a contact once the internship is over and you’re on the job hunt.

Be responsive to feedback.

In a formal internship program, you’ll have the opportunity to work with a manager or team of managers that can provide really useful feedback regarding your performance and profession habits. Some will dole out encouraging compliments along with constructive criticisms; others may just blow their top when you mess something up. The feedback you receive during an internship may be different than the type of graded assessments you receive as a student, so don’t freak out if it’s a little uncomfortable at first. You’ll get the hang of it.

Internships provide a great opportunity for young professionals to become more accustomed to a formal organization structure, including performance reviews, and learn how to digest feedback and make requested improvements. Remind yourself that critiques are not (always) personal attacks. Treat it like a buffet – take what’s useful, apply it to your work,  and leave the rest.

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