Internships — your first taste of the so-called “real world” that exists beyond the confines of your college campus. Internships offer you the opportunity to gain valuable experience in your field of study, and to test drive a profession to better understand if it’s something you’d like to pursue in the future. If you’re astute, you can absorb a bounty of knowledge and make connections that can ultimately lead to a post-graduate job! Throughout the past three months of my internship at SDI, I’ve learned that the value of your experience is commensurate with how much you invest in your success. To help you get the most out of your internship, here are some of my top tips:
- Set yourself apart. Demonstrating your individuality can begin before you’re offered a position and may even encourage an offer. A thank-you email after your interview is expected, so do the unexpected — send a handwritten note. Handwriting a thank-you note is not only an unusual courtesy in this digital age, it shows you understand the value of a personal touch. In my field, public relations, that’s a highly valued trait.
- Make an effort to meet everyone in your office and to learn about their life experiences. In my opinion, the importance of building meaningful relationships with the people you work with can’t be overstated. Making strong connections with your staff members doesn’t only make your experience in the office more enjoyable but can also help you in the future, especially when you need references and for networking. A great way to get to know people you’re working with is to take note of what professional books they’re reading and add them to your reading list. You’ll expand your knowledge about your profession and may gain insights into their perspectives.
- Use your time in the office wisely. Internships offer you a once in a lifetime learning opportunity; take in as much as you can. Take advantage of the extra opportunities to work beside those above you, because it’s in those moments you learn the most. Experience is the best teacher, so be sure to jump at any opportunities that come your way, such as volunteering to stay late to help someone in your office with a deadline.
- Learn from your mistakes. Yes, you will occasionally make mistakes along the way and that’s ok as long as you learn from them and move forward. The mistakes we make often serve as some of our most valuable life lessons.
- Dress conservatively and professionally. Although my mother always told me, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” the way you dress often sets the tone for how people think of you as a professional, therefore it’s important to err on the side of conservative dress, unless your company culture suggests otherwise. Tight pants, low cut tops, short dresses, skirts, t-shirts, jeans, funky hair colors and extra piercings may be your preferred after-work style, but generally they are not the best way to make a good impression in an office.
- Be enthusiastic about the opportunity. During your internship it’s important to understand that you will most likely have to do mundane tasks. Whether it’s emptying the dishwasher or stuffing folders, maintain a positive attitude, get the job done the right way, and understand that those working above you have to trust you with the little things before they can rely on you for major projects.
- Take notes. When you are given a particular task or assignment, be sure to take notes so you remember exactly what the expectations are. Prior to starting your task, make sure you understand what to do, how to do it and the end goal. If you’re ever confused about something don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to take the time to ask questions and clarify things than to have to redo the entire project later.
- Treat every single person in your office with an equal level of respect. Whether it’s your boss or the janitor who cleans your office space, treat everyone around you with the upmost respect. Good manners, and bad ones, rarely go unnoticed.
- Be social … but be careful. We’ve all heard this time and again, but it’s crucial to be careful about what you post on social media – whether your account is private or not. Social media lives forever. You never know where your life is going to take you and you never know who will be looking into your past. Be smart and thoughtful about the things you post online. Use social media as a mechanism that can only help to enhance your professional reputation, not destroy it.
- When the time is right, speak up. It’s important to know when to speak up and offer your thoughts and ideas, and when it’s best to listen to and learn from what others have to say. One of the best pieces of advice that Susan Davis has given to me this summer is that if you listen 90% of the time, and talk 10% of the time, you can never go wrong.
These are just a few tips to help you put your best foot forward in your internship. Treat your internship like an investment, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it.
By Austin Courtney, SDI
July 23, 2015