10 Tips for Maximizing Your Internship Experience

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By: Eva Zielinski ’15
Otterbein PRSSA Twitter Manager

At some point during or after your college experience, you will eventually be encouraged or required to complete an internship.  Interning can be an excellent opportunity because it will provide you with real hands-on experience for certain career fields.  It can also assist you in figuring out what it is you would like to do when you are seeking employment after graduation.

My experience with my first internship was in summer 2014 at Safelite Autoglass as an internal communications intern.  I was a paid intern and was hired full time, so this was my first taste of the adult working world, and I learned far more than I ever expected to.  For those of you seeking an internship, here are some tips from my internship experience:

1.   Arrive early.

You want to make a positive impression as often as possible, and being early to the job is a good way to start.  By being timely, you will let your supervisors and co-workers know that you can both reliable and responsible.  This shows that you are a dedicated individual that took the extra time to wake up early, put yourself together and fight the traffic to make good time.

2.   Dress for success.

You may think this one is obvious, but since modern fashion is constantly shifting, the idea of what is considered professional and what is not has been changing. Always ask what the dress criteria are or take a look around you to see what everyone else is wearing.  Always be professional, even if you are over-dressed.  It’s much better to be the best dressed intern rather than being under-dressed, so save the jeans for casual Fridays (if allowed).

3.   Be productive with free time.

Since this is an internship, think of it as a test drive for a real career position.  But since you are in a position that is technically temporary, there will be some days that go by slowly because you may not have as much work to do as full-time employees.  If you find yourself bored with nothing to do, don’t automatically resort to looking at your phone to pass time.

Use this time to your advantage to get organized.  Whenever I had some down time, I would use it to read up on professional blogs, establish my own portfolio, dust off and update my LinkedIn and clean out my email accounts.  If you ever feel like you have too much free time, never hesitate to ask around to see if you can help someone with something.

4.   Socialize when appropriate.

Getting to know who you are working with is essential to making your internship experience an enjoyable one.  Usually, you will get to know everyone by name and see what they do in relation to yourself.  Just keep in mind that you were hired to work, so keep the small talk to a minimum, and socialize when appropriate at meetings or lunch breaks.  You also don’t want to be bothering others while they have things to do, as well.

5.   Don’t goof off on social media.

It is a digital age where social media is now a significant part in professional and social settings. Everyone has accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Since you are an intern, it’s best not to be on these while you are working unless it is part of your job.  Even if you see other people around you checking their phones and sneaking a peek at their newsfeeds, it’s not worth conforming to the stereotypical young person that can’t keep their focus.  You also don’t want to have your supervisor walk in on you to see you looking at someone’s photos when there is work to be done.  Show some discipline, and keep the browsing on social media to a minimum.

6.   Ask questions!

When you are hired as an intern, everyone knows you are either a student or a recent graduate.  Therefore, you are not expected to just waltz in the first week and automatically know exactly what to do. Your supervisors and co-workers should be understanding and patient while you are in the learning process of how to perform your duties in this position.

However, if you are working on something and get stuck, always ask for help.  Don’t just sit there in hopes that the answer will come to you.  Never be too proud to ask questions; that’s how you will learn.

7.   Stay positive, and be yourself.

Your experience will be so much better with a positive attitude. It’s one of the most powerful attributes that an intern can possess.  Sometimes work can be a bit stressful, but staying cool under pressure and keeping  a smile can make all the difference in how you address problems.  You also don’t have to put on a constant professional robotic display for your personality. People appreciate those who can balance being themselves and while maintaining a professional persona.  Part of this experience is to integrate yourself into the company

8.   Be flexible.

Plans are constantly changing in the working world, and it’s best to know how to change with them.  Everyone has a busy schedule, but it’s important to develop a sense of understanding to work around conflict.  Interns who are able to adapt to shifting priorities are considered a valuable asset – above and beyond their skills and experience.  Being able to adjust to shifts in organizational dynamics is absolutely necessary.

9.   Share ideas, and take on more responsibilities.

Never hesitate to share your ideas or to offer to take on new projects.  You may be the youngest person there, but that doesn’t mean you are any less valuable to the organization you are working for.  Your opinion is still valued just as much as anyone else’s, so don’t be nervous to speak up in meetings.  If you feel confident in your abilities, you can also offer to take on more work.  Don’t overwhelm yourself and know when you have enough to do, but branching out of your comfort zone when it comes to your work responsibilities is a sure way to stand out.  Supervisors will appreciate an intern who is open to trying new things and has a willingness to learn.

10.   Keep in touch after your internship!

As I said earlier, an internship is usually temporary and will end after a certain amount of time depending on your situation.  Personally, I think this is one of the most important tips I learned from my experience, which is to keep in touch.

Always reach out after your internship is over to ask about the organization and to see how everyone is doing.  I find it prudent to send hand-written thank you notes and to go out on a positive note.  Every five to six weeks or so, I send out an email to my former supervisor and co-workers to keep my networking skills up to date while maintaining professional relations. You never know when an internship opportunity could turn into a full-time career, so be sure to stay connected!

 

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