Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Internship Intervention: Five Strategies to Get the Most out of Your Internship

If you are considering an internship, about to begin an internship, or are in an internship, consider these five tips to make the most of your internship experience. Many believe that they know what an internship is, but all too often internships are not utilized to their fullest potential. So it’s time for an intervention: a sit around the circle, heart-to-heart exchange to keep you from making terrible mistakes that will negatively impact your professional future. Let the healing begin.

Be appreciative: Many interns do not appreciate the time and expense that goes into their position. According to the US Department of Labor, an internship is essentially for the benefit of intern, not the employer, and internships are to be designed with the expectation that work operations are more than likely to be hindered. If you owned your own business, would you create a position exclusively to lose money and make things slower? I, personally, believe in the altruistic nature of people, so it’s entirely likely that you would. However, I hope this makes you more appreciative of the time and energy that employers put into their internship programs.

Be a sponge: From the minute your internship begins, start absorbing everything you can about your place of work. What is its mission and primary purpose for existing? What do you know about its industry and its place in that industry? Who are its competitors and what does it do to differentiate itself from them? How does the work culture support the values of the organization? What does your department or area do to contribute to the bottom-line? Since an internship is designed to be an educational experience for you, you’ll get more out of it if you treat it like an anthropological study, making keen observations and studying the operations, dynamics, and relationships therein.

Take initiative: After you have begun your internship and are feeling comfortable in your role, ask you supervisor if there is anything else you can do to help, whether it be some kind of outside project, assignment, or something else entirely. The fact that you are asking indicates that you are interested in doing more than what is expected of you and that you are open to new experiences and challenges. Even if there is nothing available at the time, a question like this and being open to future opportunities will make a huge positive impression. Another way to show your initiative is to schedule a performance evaluation yourself. Ask your supervisor for an appointment to discuss your performance to date, going over your position expectations and how well you have fulfilled them. Think this will leave a strong, positive impression on how your supervisor views your professionalism and dedication to your position? I would!

Mine for feedback: But don't just obtain information from your supervisor: ask those that you report to and work with for genuine feedback on your work. Make your questions specific areas that are important to the company, which could include attention to detail, teamwork, timeliness, critical thinking, or others.

Be résumé mindful: Finally, keep track of everything that you are doing, from the day-to-day tasks to the skills you are picking up, for it is all fodder for your résumé.

Your internship can be a box that you check off on a list of undergraduate “to dos” or it can be a transformational opportunity that accelerates your career. It’s all in the approach and the choices that you make.

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