Congratulations! You're in, you did it -- after all that hard work, the 42 rewrites of your resume, the hours preparing for interviews - you landed your internship. Now, before we get too carried away and start sending ourselves flowers or calling the Pope, let's remind ourselves why we worked so hard for this internship in the first place:
To get work experience
The reason most students apply for internships? Unquestionably, it's because they know that a good internship provides relevant, career-building work experience that they need in order to land a job after graduation. Whether it's experience in a certain industry (automotive, for instance) or functional area (marketing), an internship provides tremendous learning opportunities for students who take advantage of them.
To apply your skills and learning
As anyone who has studied French knows, it's one thing to conjugate verbs in a classroom. It's entirely another story to try to say, "More cheese with that, please" to a waiter inside some quaint Parisian cafe. The beauty of your internship is that it allows you to take what you've learned in the classroom and apply it in a real world, real-time setting. Rather than simply discussing ideas or theories, you can receive terrific on-the-job training that allows you to see how real decisions, projects, or programs can impact the bottom line of a company.
To explore a specific career or company
Like it or not, many of us rely on hunches or "notions" to guide our career choices, particularly when we're starting out. For instance, maybe you've always had a feeling you'd enjoy working in advertising, or you had a sense that you'd like consulting...but you couldn't exactly say why. As a result, many of us begin internships feeling 89% certain that we've made the right choice for ourselves, and we use our internship experience as an opportunity to help us further define our professional selves and to see how we fit within a certain type of company.
Whatever the reason, your decision to pursue an internship was a smart one, and now that you've landed a job, it's time to take advantage of the terrific opportunities in front of you. And while it may seem like you've got all the time in the world to figure things out, the truth is that your internship will be over before you know it -- so it's time to hit the ground running. The question is -- where to begin? After all, most of us starting out have little to no work experience, with many of us beginning our internships in completely unfamiliar territory. To start off strong and finish even stronger this summer, consider a few suggestions to making the most of your internship:
Set goals for yourself
To make the most out of your internship, it pays to know ahead of time what you specifically hope to accomplish while you are on the job. Before your internship gets underway, sit down and write out several measurable, specific goals that can realistically be achieved during your time at work. If you're not sure where to start, use the job description of your summer internship to help guide you. (If you were provided with a job description, it will outline your employer's priorities and expectations for the job.)
Otherwise, think about why you wanted the internship in the first place -- for example, if you wanted to learn more about marketing, one of your internship goals could be: "Have coffee/lunch each week with a marketing professional at my company." Or, maybe you selected your internship because you wanted to strengthen your overall resume in preparation for your full-time job search: "Obtain 3 written letters of recommendation from my supervisors before I leave my internship this summer." Goal-setting isn't brain surgery, but it is a critical step in helping you achieve your desired outcomes throughout your internship.
Finally, keep your goals in perspective with the larger goals of your supervisor, team, and company. Most likely, your supervisor will outline the objectives, expectations, and priorities of your internship with you during your first days on the job. With a clear understanding of what is expected from you, you'll be better able to balance and prioritize your goals with the broader set of business objectives set by your company.
It's all in the attitude
Consider a comment made by Bill Judy, Vice President for global insurance company AIG when asked about what constitutes an "ideal" employee: "I can teach an employee about our business, or help him or her develop the technical skills needed to succeed. What is much harder to find is the employee with a good attitude. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised at how hard it is to find."
As you begin your time with your company, think about how you can demonstrate your good attitude to your supervisor, your fellow employees, and even other interns. Staying positive and enthusiastic about your internship and the company and avoiding negative talk are obvious ways to show a good attitude. Other ways to show you're glad to be at work? Demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile and help out to make someone else's work life a little bit easier (even if that means photocopying and stapling more than your fair share). Simply asking the question, "Is there anything else I can do to help you?" and following through is often all it takes to show that your attitude isn't something you're faking -- it's a real reflection of your commitment to your internship and to the people inside your organization.
Inside the classroom, we're given ample opportunity to ask questions and get answers. In the working world, that's not always the case. Supervisors can be extremely busy and have deadlines of their own to manage, and may assign you work without giving you an opportunity to ask all the questions you'd like. Rather than ask for clarification or help, interns can sometimes feel like their questions are excessive, or dumb, or that they are simply being a bother to their bosses, so they clam up, deciding to just figure it out on their own. Now, there's nothing wrong with being a problem-solver, but if you've got questions, and didn't get a chance to ask them, you owe it to yourself to get the help you need to get the job done right. Don't try to be a hero and do it all on your own if you're stuck. After all, you're new and you've probably never done this kind of work before, so give yourself a break.
However, there is an art to asking questions: First, respect for your supervisor's time, and make sure you've done your homework first and exhausted other channels (reading through company information online, asking less-swamped employees for help, etc.) before you approach him or her. Next, be organized with your question. Make it short, sweet, and get to the point. But finally (and most importantly), ask questions and offer solutions at the same time. Don't simply kick a ball into your supervisor's corner and expect them to do the thinking for you. It's up to you to show that you really have thought the issue through and done your work first before approaching them.
We frequently hear about the importance of networking when we're looking for a job, but it's just as important to build and develop your network while you're on the job, starting now. By building relationships with a broad range of individuals inside you're company, you'll be able to learn much more about your organization and your job than you could ever do on your own. It's also important to remember that networking isn't just about making friends with the other interns -- it's about constantly reaching out to other employees outside of your immediate circle. We also know that networking isn't a one-way street -- by building relationships with others inside your company, you can also offer to assist them in some way -- a terrific way to show you genuinely care about the relationship, and a good way for you to demonstrate your skills and abilities to others inside your organization.
How to begin the networking process? Start by deciding to have as many conversations as possible. Now, nobody is suggesting you gab on the phone all day or gossip by the water cooler for hours on end. Instead, embrace the fact that getting to know the people you work with is part of your job, too. You might begin by scheduling a weekly appointment with your supervisor to meet. Find someone you admire within your organization and ask them to be your mentor during your time on the job. As you set goals for yourself this summer, make sure to include networking among them.
Go for the subtle sell
Now, don't get the wrong idea -- selling yourself at work isn't about developing a new personality, becoming an obnoxious self-promoter, or being untrue to who you are; instead, think of it as employing some simple, sincere tactics so that others will be more aware of your already terrific self. The reality is that many interns would love the opportunity to work for their respective companies on a full-time basis after graduation, and companies have limited opportunities for full-time hires. Learning how to make others aware of your contributions is an important part of letting your company know how much you'd like to work for them once the internship is over.
How does the subtle sell work? For starters, advertise! In order for people to buy what you're selling, they've got to know you exist and be reminded of this fact. In order to raise your profile, consider joining a committee at work (how about helping out with the upcoming blood drive or joining the softball team?) or writing the office newsletter. Volunteer at the next big event, or invite your boss out to lunch. Create opportunities to (1) meet new people within the office and (2) demonstrate your skills and competencies on the job. Give people the chance to see you in action and they'll remember you long after the softball team wins the big game.
Sure, there's a little schmooze and gloss involved here, but selling yourself isn't about fancy gimmicks or slick promotions. More accurately, it requires taking some risks and above all being persistent and true to yourself in the process.
Elizabeth Freedman is an expert in career and workplace issues. She is the author of Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace without Hanging Yourself and The MBA Student's Job-Seeking Bible, and was a 2005 finalist for College Speaker of the Year, awarded by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. Elizabeth runs a Boston-based career-development and coaching firm; clients include PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Reuters and The Gillette Company. To bring Elizabeth to your next association event or workplace meeting, please visit http://www.elizabethfreedman.com.© 2014 Elizabeth Freedman
The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.