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What Makes a Successful Intern?

Wed, Feb 15, 2012

Personal Experience

You might be surprised to learn that the characteristics of a successful intern are somewhat different from those of a successful employee, but when you think about it, the two groups also harbor divergent goals, despite the fact that they may be doing virtually the same job. Whereas an employee is trying to earn a living, an unpaid intern is seeking mentorship, an introduction to the working world (and their field, in particular), and feedback on their performance (not to mention class credit). While all of this is designed to prepare a student for the working world, it cannot be compared to a skilled and knowledgeable industry professional that is trading experience and know-how for a paycheck. So here are just a few of the traits that make for a successful internship experience.

The main thing that separates most interns from employees is an eagerness to learn. Internships provide an opportunity for college students to gain unfettered insight into the workings of a real-world office. While there is plenty that can be learned from books and lectures, nothing compares to the actual experience of operating within an organization when it comes to preparing for the future job market that students will face upon graduation. So if you’re not going in with at least a willingness to soak up every bit of information and advice that the pros have to offer then you’re probably not going to make a success of your venture.

And communication skills go hand-in-hand with this eager attitude. You need to be able to talk to people with confidence (as well as listen and absorb their answers) if you want to get the most out of this unique experience. You have the rare opportunity to pick the brains of people who know more than you about your area of interest, so it behooves you to be forward (but polite) so that you may take advantage of the situation to garner some interesting insights into the world you will soon enter as a professional yourself. Of course, you will also be expected to do some work, so you need good communication skills in order to ensure that you understand directives or at least have the ability to clarify instructions. Since you’re likely hoping for a good review (in order to nab a good grade and potentially get a referral for your résumé, or even a job offer), you need to make sure you excel at any task you’re given.

Finally, you need to show some restraint and diplomacy. Unless you’ve had a military education you may be a stranger to the concept of self-control. But suffice it to say that any office you work for will expect a high level of decorum in your manner. Kids with Navy scholarships aren’t the only ones who require discipline, so check your attitude and your penchant for gossip at the door. This doesn’t mean you have to hide your personality or become a wall-flower. But if you don’t know better than to engage in water-cooler gossip you’re likely to fail as an intern. If, however, you show good judgment and self-restraint during an internship, chances are good that you’ll impress the brass enough to extend you a good review and possibly an offer of employment down the road.

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