If you’re one of the thousands of college student embarking on a summer internship soon, you’re taking the first step to establishing yourself as a professional in your chosen field. An internship is a great tool for learning the ropes, establishing contacts, getting recommendations and possibly even securing a job. In order to make the most of your experience and really stand out, there are a few easy things you can do to establish yourself from the start.
Even though it’s not a ‘regular’ job, it is a job. So from the moment you walk in, be professional. What minute is that? Early. If office hours start at 9:00, don’t walk in at 9:15. Don’t even walk in at 9:00. Get there a few minutes early so you can catch up on emails and messages from the day before. This will help you get a sense of what your day is going to look like before it starts. Before you start the job, find out what the general dress code is. If you don’t know, overdress – you’d rather be remembered as the intern who was always well-dressed and appropriate for any situation rather than the one who was too casual. One of my early mentors, Jean, had a summer job in the admissions office of the graduate school she attended. One afternoon, the dean of the school came in looking for her boss. The dean needed someone to introduce a speaker at a lunch event for professionals that was about to start. Her boss wasn’t there. Jean was. And Jean was not only known as being good at her job, she was also wearing a suit. Jean did the introduction, stayed for the lunch, and met her future employer at the table she was seated at.
Now that you’ve set the stage, what about the work itself? One of the most important things to remember is to take all of the work you’re given seriously – no matter how big or small the task. You may get a great manager who gives you a lot of responsibility and lets you be a part of the more exciting aspects of the job, but the day-to-day work you’re doing will likely not be glamourous. No matter what your job responsibilities are, take them all seriously and do them all well. When you’re asked to do something you’ve never done before, listen closely and take notes. Write down whatever instructions you’re given; carry a small pad and pen with you whenever you are meeting with people. If you have still have questions (and you will), clarify what is expected of you. Some of your questions may feel “stupid,” they’re not. It is far better to ask once than to have to re-do a large project because of a small mistake. When you’re done with a project, or waiting for feedback about something mid-project, follow-up.
What if you have a project you want to bring to your boss? Do it. Initiative is always appreciated. But accept the guidance that is given to you – and listen between the lines. If you suggest something and your boss answers, “You can do that, but I think it would distract from the work you need to focus on,” she is saying no.
Whoever your supervisor is, be nice to everyone you interact with. This should go without saying, but every person you work with should be treated respectfully. All of them know more about the company than you do. All of them can help make your days easier. Do, however, be mindful of people’s time. Check with someone to see if they have time before asking them a question that isn’t directly to the work at hand. People are eager to help, so let them answer when they can give you their full attention.
At the end of the day and at the end of the internship, be sure to say, “thank you.” Let the people you’ve worked with know that the experience was worthwhile and meaningful for you. Your summer internship can be a huge growth experience, so make the most of it.