Student’s Guide to a Successful Internship

Sun, Feb 21, 2010

Internship Information

While no two internships are the same, there are some basic guidelines to follow that will lead to success at almost any office. Even if you are not being paid for your internship, work as if you were. Who knows – your hard work now might lead to a job offer later on (stranger things have happened).

“I think of a successful intern as someone who became a valuable asset to the team. By the end of their time they should have contributed concrete work that’s valuable to the group,” said Brian Clark Howard of Hearst Publishing, who does the intern hiring for his magazine, The Daily Green.

Be Professional

The most important thing to do is to distinguish yourself from a student who is playing dress-up and sitting around an office all day and a productive member of a professional team who just so happens to still be a student. Be professional in everything you do – show up on time (which usually means a few minutes early), dress appropriately for your office, and stay on top of your work load.

Being professional does not mean stuffy or dull or anything other than yourself – just be an office-appropriate version of yourself. Feel free, and encouraged, to befriend your coworkers and bosses, just remember you are at an office not a college dorm party.

Be Productive and Motivated

Former intern Katie Foley realized that her internship could be as good – or bad – as she made it. “Get involved. If something interests you, ask questions, ask to participate in meetings, ask to shadow different people within the company. It is your time to learn and take in as much as possible so if you aren’t being challenged, speak up.”

Internship bosses vary greatly in the amount of work they assign to their interns. If you are receiving too many assignments, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make sure your boss knows you are up to the challenge, but that you’d hate to complete assignments that are not up to his or her standards.

If you are not receiving enough assignments, or the assignments you are getting just aren’t challenging enough, your boss is testing you to see how much you can handle. Unfortunately, there’s more than a grain of truth to the classic stereotype of an intern as a glorified coffee-fetcher. It is your job to prove that you are qualified for much harder work, without acting like a job such as grabbing coffee is beneath you. Once you prove to your boss that you are capable of completing serious projects, more will be assigned to you. Sometimes, oftentimes actually, making this transition can require you to do something that has not been asked of you.

As simple as it sounds, hard work is the key to a successful internship. Meghan Schwarb, a former intern at the London Institution for Engineering and Technology, believes it is crucial to do your best at everything during your internship, no matter how small. “Do the best job you can at whatever task they give you. Even if it’s just putting a spread sheet together. Don’t just put it together in five minutes, spend some time on it and and make it as good as you possibly could. It’s all about integrity.”

Be Creative

“I like to work with resourceful, creative, dedicated people who work autonomously but know when to ask for help. It helps if they’re charming and fun to be around, since interns are a breath of fresh air and can introduce new ideas for the staff,” said Dan Shapley, also of Hearst Publishing.

Show your boss that you have a genuine interest in the work he or she does by coming up with new ideas or completing tasks you haven’t been asked to do. This will demonstrate your willingness to make a meaningful contribution to the office, rather than just taking up a desk in it for a few months. You have a perfect opportunity to bring a breath of fresh air into the office and come up with some creative new ideas that more experienced staff members have not thought of yet.

Be Ready to Learn

“In one word, I think a good intern would be eager. Eager to learn, to try, to grow. No job is too small or unimportant when you are an intern because everything is a learning experience. The more you learn at your internship, the more you can talk about at an interview, which really is the ultimate goal,” said Emily Meyers, an American student who interned at a London creative advertising firm.

Internships are as much a learning experience as sitting in a classroom – don’t think for a minute that you will come out of a successful internship unchanged in some significant way. The more you learn, and the more you contribute to your office, depends as much on you as your boss. Cultivate this relationship and be clear from the beginning about what you expect from the internship and what your boss expects from you. Being on the same page from day one is the best way to guarantee you both remember the experience as a positive and successful one in the end.

Don’t worry that you may not feel like you are working to your full capacity right away – just remember this is a learning process and you’ve already made it past the hardest part (the application process) and you have been accepted. Your boss clearly sees a lot of potential in you. Best of luck with this opportunity!

By Elizabeth Wolfe. Elizabeth can be reached at wolfeeli@msu.edu.

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