Internship Internships

6 Simple Tips for a Successful Internship

For current and recent college students, job hunting is difficult if you don’t have anything relevant on your resume. While some job experience is better than none, employers in your field probably don’t care about the three months you worked at a fast food restaurant over the summer last year. They’ll want to see experience in your field–which is hard to get if you don’t have any experience yet. This career catch-22 has resulted in young college-educated workers seeking out paid and unpaid internships with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to small local nonprofits.

Simple Tips for a Successful Internship

  • Ask Questions

Of course, all the reading and note-taking in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what’s happening in front of you. If you don’t know how to do a task you’ve been given, ask. If you think you know how to do it, ask one or two clarifying questions or paraphrase the instructions to make sure you understood. It’s better to come across as a little unsure than to mess up an assignment.

It’s also wise to ask questions about other people’s projects, as that knowledge could be useful later on. However, make sure to not get in the way of other people’s work. Peppering someone with questions while they’re rushing to finish a presentation is a sure way to be seen as a hindrance to office productivity.

  • Dress the Part

If you want to be more than an intern, then you have to dress like more than an intern. While you don’t necessarily have to show up in a suit and tie every day, try to dress as nicely as your colleagues. You don’t want to overdress, but unless you’re in a very casual office, you’ll want to avoid your usual college styles. A good rule of thumb is to stick to black, navy and khaki pants even if others are wearing jeans, and to wear something with a collar or with a blazer over it.

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Just because you’re only there for a few months doesn’t mean that you don’t have to dress professionally, so put your best face forward. For women, it’s vital to avoid flashy jewelry or heavy makeup, as this can make your young age more obvious. For men, make sure to stay groomed per the company dress code.

Even in casual workplaces, tattoos should be covered and unusual piercings should be removed. Remember that anyone in the room could be your boss someday, and if they ever need someone for a client-facing job, you want them to remember you as a person they can rely on to look sharp.

  • Be on Time

Proving your worth as an employee starts with being reliable. Your first day is the most important, so leave extra time to manage the unfamiliar commute. Be prepared for traffic and catch an earlier train or bus than you would usually plan on taking. If you have classes or other obligations that make it hard to arrive on time, consider asking your employer if you can push your start and end times back by half an hour or so.

Of course, sometimes bad traffic or train delays happen, but try to communicate with your supervisor if you’re running late. Sending a quick text with your approximate arrival time will make a better impression than trying to sneak in. Even if your company has a laid-back approach to start times, you’ll want to be seen as reliable.

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  • Take Notes

Internships are vital because they provide a crash course in hands-on knowledge that you won’t get in the classroom. They provide experience with specific applications of skills you learned in the classroom, but will also throw new skills at you with little to no notice. Write down as much as you can so you don’t have to be reminded of how to do things when you’re asked to do them again later.

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During times when work is slow, use the opportunity to read up on the industry. This is especially critical if your employer is in a sub-industry or niche that you don’t know much about. Use this reading to fuel conversations with colleagues when time allows.

  • Offer to Help

Sometimes, supervisors struggle to come up with appropriate tasks to give to interns. They may not know their interns’ skill levels or may not want to assign grunt work that will make their interns resent the job. They may also be too busy to assign and explain the work that needs to be done.

The best way to make more work for yourself is to volunteer for it. Offer to help with tasks like organizing meeting materials or making sure the office has enough printing supplies. In a large office, there may be opportunities to sort through old project files and flag some for potential disposal. If you have graphic design or other technology skills, there may be a way for you to help create new materials for clients or the company website. Just remember to ask before spending time on anything–especially if it involves handling other people’s supplies and materials.

  • Communicate Your Goals

Though your supervisor may have asked you about your career goals early on in the internship hiring process, those goals will likely shift as your internship goes on. You may discover a particular type of project that you enjoy or find that a specialization that you were interested in isn’t a good fit for you. Make sure you communicate these thoughts to your supervisor and other colleagues as appropriate, as they can help connect you with more opportunities to pursue those goals by developing soft and hard skills.

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Ultimately, an internship is a stepping-stone to other work. You may be seeking employment at the same company you’re interning at or you may be eyeing a job elsewhere, so ensure you have a dependable at-home printer for updating hard copies of your resume.

While it’s unwise to directly tell your company that you’re not looking to work for them in the long-term, you can always let them know you’re interested in networking. It’s up to you to make the most of your internship, and you can only do that if you think strategically with an eye on the future.

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