Career counselors, employers, and others have long touted
the importance for college students to work one or more internships
during their college years, and a recent study released by
the Vault.com shows that college students are listening: almost
9 out of 10 (86 percent) college graduates reported completing
at least one internship, and more than two-thirds (69 percent)
reported completing two or more internships.
So, knowing that you will have one or more internships during
college, what are the keys to making the most of your internship?
What follows are the 12 keys to internship success. Follow
these guidelines and you should be well on your way not only
to a successful internship, but to a successful career.
Set Personal Goals. While some internships are
very structured, others are not, so you need to spend
some time before you start the internship setting goals
that you want to accomplish. Maybe itís deciding on what
area within marketing that you want to specialize, or
learning new skills, or building your network. Whatever
your goals, you will feel a greater sense of accomplishment
once you achieve them. Hint: Setting unrealistic goals
could make even a good internship seem bad, so make sure
your goals are realistic and attainable in your internship.
Have Regular Meetings with your Supervisor(s).
Sound obvious? Well, maybe, but you may get a supervisor
who never schedules meetings with you or travels quite
a bit, so you have to make sure to have regular meetings
where you can share experiences and lessons learned --
both good and bad -- as well as give progress reports.
Hint: While you want to keep your supervisor abreast of
your accomplishments, remember to also be a good listener
and learn as much as you can during these meetings.
Tackle all Tasks with Enthusiasm and a Positive Attitude.
In just about every company, the new hire/intern is going
to have to "pay his or her dues." You will undoubtedly
be given some grunt work to do, such as making photocopies,
but the key is to complete all your work assignments with
the same level of enthusiasm and professionalism. Hint:
You might also consider working extra hours (beyond the
required number for the internship) to show your work
ethic to your supervisor(s).
Avoid Negativity. The quickest way to kill a good
internship is being negative. So, avoid complaining, being
rude, disrespecting coworkers, arriving late, leaving
early, being closed-minded, missing deadlines, appearing
arrogant, wearing improper attire, acting unprofessionally,
appearing inflexible, and taking part in office politics.
Hint: A common mistake among interns and new hires is
treating secretaries and clerks as being beneath them
-- avoid this behavior at all costs.
Never Shun a Chance to Learn More About the Company/Industry.
Take every opportunity presented to you to attend company
or industry meetings, conferences, and events; participate
in training workshops; and read all company materials.
Hint: Meetings may appear (and actually be) boring to
you, but they can often offer a good chance to increase
your knowledge, network, and build relationships.
Get as Much Exposure as Possible. Some of the
best internships rotate you among departments and supervisors,
but if yours doesnít, donít let that stop you from tackling
new tasks, meeting people outside your department, and
attending company social events. The more you are exposed
to new ideas and new people, the more youíll learn. Hint:
Joining the company softball team (or other informal group)
is a great opportunity to meet new people in a relaxed
and informal environment.
Donít be Afraid to Ask Questions. Always remember
that an internship is a learning experience for you. While
the employer expects to get a certain level of work from
you, you are not expected to know everything. Seek advice
and raise questions whenever you encounter something that
is not familiar to you. Be open-minded about new ideas
and procedures -- remember that you donít know everything
and that your professors didnít teach you everything.
Hint: Smart people know that there really is no such thing
as a dumb question, so ask before doing.
Take Initiative. Employers love employees who
dive into tackling tough problems and who think "outside
the box" in finding solutions. Just make sure you work
with your supervisor(s) so you donít overstep your authority
-- and make sure you share successes with her. Hint: There
is a fine line between taking initiative and being perceived
as a "know-it-all," and for interns especially, it is
best to err on the side of caution.
Find a Mentor. A mentor is someone at a higher
level in the organization that looks out for you and makes
sure you are learning what you need to know and accomplishing
what you need to do. A mentor can also shield you from
office politics and be a good sounding board for you to
discuss ideas, ask questions, etc. Hint: Your supervisor
could be your mentor, but it could also be another person
within the organization.
Network, Network, Network. One of the key tools
of job-hunting is utilizing your network to find your
next career step, whether another internship or a job
upon graduation (and beyond). Build professional relationships
with your supervisor(s) and other managers in the organization.
These people are also a good source for getting other
job-hunting advice and tips from their years of experience.
Hint: Even if you have a bad experience on an internship,
never burn your bridges because you never know when it
could come back and hurt you. Always leave on good terms.
Leave with Tangible Accomplishments. One of your
goals with any internship is leaving it with some tangible
results - both for your resume and your career portfolio
(if you use one). Maybe you developed a brochure, computerized
an inventory system, organized a sales conference, met
with clients, tracked industry trends, etc. Hint: Keeping
a journal may help you remember all the things you accomplished
on your internship.
Enjoy Yourself. Most internships are great experiences,
so make sure you have some fun while youíre working and
learning. Donít be so uptight that you are perceived as
something youíre not. Hint: Just make sure you donít overdo
the fun -- and avoid office romances.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article?
Get more information (definitions and links) on key college,
career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's
Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Dr. Randall Hansen is currently Webmaster of Quintessential
Careers, as well as publisher of its electronic newsletter,
writes a biweekly career advice column under the name, The Career Doctor. He is
also a tenured, associate professor of marketing in the School
of Business Administration at Stetson University in DeLand,
Florida. He is a published career expert -- and has been for
the last ten years. He is co-author, with Katharine Hansen,
of Dynamic Cover Letters. And he has been an employer
and consultant dealing with hiring and firing decisions for
the past fifteen years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.