students painting a rainbow crosswalk

Making the Most of Your Internship

by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17

Dear Intern-Acers,

So, you landed the internship (yay!). Now what? Well, there’s a lot you can do over the course of the next few weeks and throughout your whole internship. Ultimately, you’ll get out of your internship what you put into it. (Hint: your whole life is like that.)

Day One: On day one, one of the most important things for you to do is make a list of goals for the internship and share them with your supervisor so they can hold you accountable to it. You want to be friendly and show that you are eager to learn. Ask all sorts of questions and try to remember as many names as possible, though you will understandably need some reminders later when you run into co-workers you barely remember meeting while in the elevator. Make it clear that you are not a Starbucks-run kind of person by asking for a real, tangible project in the first couple of days.

Week One: In your first week, you’ll be settling in. Your supervisor may still be figuring out what the heck you’re going to be doing the next few months (or few hours), or you may be chugging away on projects already. Your main goal for week one is to maintain a positive, can-do attitude, get a feel for the office and company environment, and try to find relevant things to do to keep yourself busy when there’s down time. Be your impressive self.

The First Few Weeks: Ask yourself, “Am I adding value?” If the answer is no, figure out how you can create positive change or produce some tangible results from the internship. If you add value, your supervisor will have something good to say about you in a reference later. After the first few weeks, sit down with your supervisor and ask them about your performance. What can you do to improve? Where have you already shown strength?

Half-way Through Your Internship: How many people in the office have you met? If you’ve been staying in your little bubble of comfort, maybe it’s time to break out. Internships are all about networking, and you can learn a lot about your career path even from people in different departments. Plus, learning how to strike up conversations with professionals is a life skill, and the sooner you learn how to do it the better!

Uh-Oh: Is your internship not what you expected? Sorry…it happens. The important thing is to keep working hard, maintain a positive attitude, and try to make the best of it. But maybe your co-workers are rude. Maybe you feel like you’re in everyone’s way. Maybe you feel unappreciated. Again, it happens. If it’s truly bad, maybe you should have a talk with your supervisor about your expectations. This is your internship after all, and if you’re so miserable you’re not getting much work done or it’s a complete waste of time, it’s worth a conversation. Tough conversations are another one of those life skills that are so essential.

End of Your Internship: By now, you should have had several other progress check-ups with your supervisor, making sure to work on anything they said to work on. Your LinkedIn account should be full of all the new contacts you made at the office. Remember those goals you wrote down on day one? Now is the time to reflect and see how the internship went, how you grew and changed. Maybe you realized the field you’re interning in isn’t what you want to do with your life. Maybe you learned how to be adaptable because your supervisor threw you continuous curveballs. Maybe you learned that being an intern isn’t or is all it’s cracked up to be.

No matter what you learned, you inevitably learned something. Store those lessons away, take them with you on your way out the door for the last time. And don’t forget to ask your supervisor to be a reference if you feel comfortable with it. That reference is one of the most powerful takeaways from any internship; it could be the key that unlocks the next door for you.

That next door could be the door you’ve been waiting for.