This story was published on the Career & Professional Development Center’s blog, Peaks & Valleys.
Many students view internships as a box to check before getting their dream job. When I started my internship, I was disappointed in myself for not finding a job. I later realized that internships are an incredible opportunity to test-drive your desired field as well as build the foundation of your professional network (and make friends) that can benefit you down the road. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.
Have a positive outlook
An internship is simply a means to an end. You won’t be in this role forever, this is just your starting point to help you get a head-start on your career. Be grateful for the challenges you encounter
and think about how overcoming them will help you in the long run. Consistently making a good impression, no matter the circumstances, can help you progress farther than you think. No one is expecting you to be perfect or make zero mistakes, but coming to work prepared and with a smile on your face can make all the difference.
As an intern, you are not the main priority. Your to-do list may dwindle at times and it can be tempting to sit and wait for further instruction. This is the perfect time to go the extra mile and show your supervisor what you are capable of. Ask around and see if there’s any work you can help with, ask for resources that can help you sharpen your skills, look for areas of improvement and work on them. No one is going to forget the intern who helped the flow of the office or brought new ideas to the table. These are the people who you can ask for references and letters of recommendation, you want them to be impressed.
Learn everything…or as much as you can
As an intern, you may be asked to help with or take on projects that others in the office are too busy for. Don’t view this as you picking up the slack. It is an opportunity to expand your resume and experience. By helping with projects or tasks outside of your assigned duties, you not only show a dedication to the work but you build up resources for yourself. Education and learning is the one investment that no one can ever take away from you, so take in as much as you can. Be selfish.
Build relationships with those outside your immediate cohort
Just because you work in one department or area of a company doesn’t mean that other departments are off-limits. You are in a gold mine of professionals ready and willing to share what they know about their role and the working world. Everyone in the company is someone who could be in your future professional network. This is the perfect opportunity to not only grow your network but learn about different career paths and how they all operate together as a unit.
Handle your “failures” gracefully
A hidden benefit of having an internship is that you have a high threshold for failure. There may be projects that don’t go as planned, you might miss a deadline, you may hate the tasks you’re given. But regardless of all those “failures,” you are learning along the way. If you don’t like your internship, you have an opportunity to re-evaluate what alternative directions or choices you can make for a more fulfilling future. And if make mistakes or things don’t go the way you planned, that’s OK Your supervisor is there to guide you through the misfires and help you learn from those mistakes.
The best thing you can do during your internship is respecting it for what it is, an internship. By keeping your whole career journey in mind and not getting caught up in the fact that you’re “the intern,” you’ll find that the experience is actually something you can enjoy, not just endure.
As a reminder, Career & Professional Development Center is open during the summer, so if you want to take this opportunity to make progress on some career things, feel free to schedule an appointment.