Making the Most of an Internship

So you’ve landed your dream internship. You’re not just picking up coffee for the boss; you’re shadowing professionals and doing real-world work. The challenge now is making sure you learn as much as possible and make a stellar impression on your supervisors (letters of recommendation may be in your future, after all).

An internship is a two-way situation: Your supervisor needs your assistance, but unlike an employee, you’re there to learn instead of get paid. You need to balance helping the host company with making the most of your own experience. If your supervisor wants you to work in a certain department because they’re short-staffed, but you’re curious about working somewhere else, remember: This internship is about you. Don’t let the company take advantage of you just because you’re not an official member of staff.

The flip side of this coin is, of course, impressing your new coworkers. Go above and beyond expectations whenever possible; this may mean working extra hours or doing busy work, but proving you’re hard-working and flexible is an enormous asset. Whenever you’re sitting idly at your desk (provided you have your own desk), ask how you can help. Pitch in wherever and whenever possible, not just because it makes you look good, but because you never know what you may learn.

The most important thing you can do as a new intern is ask questions. You are surrounded by professionals in your desired field, most of whom probably love talking about themselves, so socialize as much as you can. Ask about how they got where they are, what lessons they’ve learned, what they would recommend to an interested college student. Shadow coworkers from various areas and departments to get a sense of how your internship’s company works from every angle. You may have applied for the internship because of an interest in a specific area, but be flexible; you may discover new skills and passions you never knew you had.

It’s easy to get swept up in the rush of an internship — helping wherever possible, staying late, developing new skills — so much so that you may not even realize how stressed you are. But internships are inherently stressful; you’re in a strange, professional environment, and your performance may lead to further professional opportunities. It’s important, therefore, to take care of yourself. Make sure you’re not overworking in the midst of trying to make a good impression. Take breaks, remember to eat and sleep, and talk to your supervisor if you have any questions or concerns. You should be learning and enjoying yourself all along the internship process; so stay curious, ask plenty of questions, and have fun.

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